Out with the old, In with the new

About 60 percent of Nones are young Americans who no longer wish to abide by the ideals of their parents and grandparents when it comes to religious conviction.

It’s not hard to imagine. After all, how many times have we heard a daughter say to her mother, “you don’t understand me!” Or a mother say, “that’s not how we did it when I was a child.” It’s the continuing struggle between the generations, and in the case of the Nones the struggle centers around religious practice.

Some Nones simply bulk at the stuffy judgmental attitude they see in traditional churches. Others want a spiritual connection but aren’t willing to live by all the rules laid out in the Bible. And still more simply reject God altogether, clinging to atheism and the rule of reason before spirit.

Here is an exert from the Pilot Catholic’s article on the Nones’ effect on United States society:

The study’s authors, sociology professors, Michael Hout of New York University and Claude S. Fischer of the University of California-Berkeley, said their research suggests that older Americans are dying off, they are being replaced in the population by younger Americans who are not as religious.

Much of the other 40 percent, they added, can be traced to the rise of the “religious right” and its political stands on social issues, leading many Americans to say, according to Fischer, “If that’s what religion means, count me out.”

Therefore, according to Fischer, and Pew, religion is fading away, but a new spirituality, or no spiritually, is quickly monopolizing the younger generations. It makes one wonder if traditional religion will soon fade into a relic of the past. Stick around for my next post to see how this may not be as plausible as it seems.

Advertisements

Connecting with nones through prayer

Via Washington Post

You might think nones would feel left out on the National Day of Prayer, but it turns out this is one of the few traditions they actually still cling to.

Just because nones are shying away from the traditional church, does not mean they have broken all ties with spiritual perception.  In fact, on a day like today when people of all religions and beliefs come together in prayer, nones feel very much at home.  According to  Elizabeth Drescher at the Washington Post:

My research shows that prayer stands alone among traditional practices like attending church and reading scripture tracked by pollsters as “spiritually meaningful” for nones. For many nones, prayer offers an openness and flexibility that makes it functional for those who have left the religions of their childhoods but who don’t’ want to—or can’t—forget them entirely.

It is true that about 20 percent of the United States population consider themselves to be unaffiliated with any religion, but 88 percent of those nones say they still pray at least once a month. Some do it simply because they were raised being taught to pray, and others pray because they want to give credence to all religions. One none from Hawaii said:

“I’ll pray with anyone. I’ll kneel down with you. I’ll make an offering at your temple. I’ll celebrate the rains and the harvest. That can’t be bad, right?”

Drescher didn’t seem to think so, but if the meaning of prayer is simply to feel accepting of other types of religion and people, does the whole communicating with God part get laid to the side? Or, is the reason nones still pray because

when no other answers will come, deep down they want to believe some higher power has a handle on things?

Maybe. But one none from Missouri says prayer is the only place he can find the peace that religion doesn’t offer him. ““I pray because I always have. [Prayer] is where religion is most true for me. You know, it’s not a show of how holy I am.”

Interestingly, prayer seems to also be a way for us to see just how diverse nones are. They are a generation full of exceptions and specialized beliefs. They make their own faith, tailored around what helps them feel happiness or peace.  But, prayer will usually make a presence in some form or another.

Boston memorial, atheists feel left out

Via the Syndicate News Service

The Boston bombings have sparked a familiar vein of conflict between religious groups and atheist groups throughout the area. During a recent inter faith vigil for the Boston marathon bombing victims the Harvard Humanist Community was excluded from helping with the event and recognition at the event.

The group was obviously very upset by the lack of inclusion and was all to eager too speak out about it. Greg M. Epstein, The Harvard humanist chaplain and author of “Good Without God” said this to The Raw Story:

“We have friends and family who are in the hospital in critical condition, who nearly died. It wouldn’t have been so difficult for those who organized the vigil today to make some kind of nod to us, and that’s all we would have wanted.”

Atheists and humanists faced the same conflict when attempting to provide comfort after the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting back in December. After all, how does an atheist respond to a grieving mother, friend, wife or child who longs only to hear they will see their loved one again someday.

Obviously religious groups are also trying to decide how to treat secular groups during times of great tragedy. These times where the church is notorious for offering aid, shelter, food and most of all prayer and spiritual encouragement. After all, it is during moments of peril when many turn to God or faith for answers.  When seen from a purely spiritual point of view, it is easy to see why religious folk would see no need to include an overtly anti-religious group in the worship service.

Pastor Brad Peters of the First Baptist Church in Niagara Falls presented his views on the matter in Niagarathisweek.com:

The irony of atheists not being able to speak at a church service would be humorous if it weren’t just so sad. I don’t mean to belittle their grief, which I’m sure was absolutely genuine, but besides a platform and publicity, what comfort would they derive from praying to God, in whom they don’t believe?

The tension is there no doubt. And no doubt atheists will continue to be bitter about this overt exclusion.  But one can’t help but wonder why they would want to attend the ceremony at all. It is a direct affront to everything they believe, and a celebration of a higher power that cannot be explained by science and reason. Therefore, one might assume the Harvard Humanist Community would rather have their own memorial ceremony, thus giving them more freedom over the content. The reason for attending could not have been with the intent to pray, so one could hypothesize that the only other reason was to be granted an audience with or recognition by President Obama (who also attended the memorial) and the rest of the world.  And if that really was the reason, many might agree that this wasn’t the time for a popularity contest.

But! Let’s remember that the line is not always as black as we might think. And views on both side need to be heard, no matter how much it muddies the water. Because at its root this issue is more than just popularity. There truly is pain and a longing for some sense and recognition of death.

Sarah Chandonnet, a staffer at Harvard University’s humanist chaplaincy, has a view that may muddy the waters. It’s good for people with religion to listen to those without religion, if only to understand at least a little of their plight. Chandonnet said in an email to the Washington Post:

I feel that the pain I feel for those close to me, and the city I have lived in my entire life, are not heard or shared. I feel excluded, and silenced, because of my identity. I wish more atheists and the nonreligious could feel supported by their city.

Are the nones really a big deal?

103052

Via Christianity Today

I believe the nones are a big deal, if only because they are fascinating to right about. But apparently a recent survey shows the nones aggressive upturn is leveling into a slow walk.

This past year marked the smallest increase in nones since 2008, when they were at 14.6 percent. It was at that time when the nones throughout the United States began to grow at noticeable rates. But this past year it has sunk to a whopping 0.3 percent.

Some prominent leaders and academic figures  have mixed feelings about the rise and crawl of the nones’ movement.

Here are some interesting quotes on the issue:

Charles Arn, a professor at Wesley Seminary:

We’re getting bent out of shape over nothing. Institutional affiliation is not a spiritual issue—it’s a generational one. Nearly every membership-based organization is losing members. Most people still come to faith through a relationship—regardless of generation.

Frank Newport, editor in chief of Gallup:

It’s an important shift, but it’s also important not to jump to conclusions about the meaning of this change. Even over the past five years, when the ‘nones’ have been going up—albeit at a slowing rate—there has been no change in Gallup’s measure of church attendance or importance of religion.

Clyde Wilcox, professor of government, Georgetown University:

This is a big story. Usually young people are a little less religiously observant, but this is a pretty substantial departure from the past. It’s not catastrophic, and religious institutions can adapt and think about what it means. But it’s not insignificant.

David Kinnaman, president, Barna Group:

This is a major trend in American religion. Millions of young adults are still devout Christians. But as one of the few areas of ‘growth’ in the realm of religion—most measures are down—we have to pay attention to what it means and why it’s happening.

New pope reaches out to Nones

Pope Francis waves from the pope-mobile during his inauguration Mass at St. Peter’s Square on Tuesday (March 19) at the Vatican. RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini

With a new pope comes new alliances. Newly ordained Pope Francis is eager to establish peace between religious and nonreligious groups. We can all work together for peace, he said.

But the new pope may have a few challenges waiting for him in this area. Martin E. Marty, professor at University of Chicago Divinity School, see’s many disconnects between the papacy and Catholic members, but a much larger disconnect between Catholics and Nones.

The “Nones” of “no-religion” haunt believers. And in Catholic cities like Chicago, half-full parking lots and pews testify to the indifference in the face of which the new Pope will try to make a difference.

But no doubt Pope Francis will do his best to reach past this indifference. During his first ecumenical meeting the new Pope expressed a desire to reach out to those who don’t belong “to any religious tradition” but feel the “need to search for the truth, the goodness and the beauty of God.”

While, he admits to continue to hold by his predecessor’s view that the elimination of God from humanity will often lead to violence, he does not let this belief cause him to dismiss the Nones altogether.

But Francis, who has set a humbler tone to the papacy since his election on March 13, added that atheists and believers can be “precious allies” in their efforts “to defend the dignity of man, in the building of a peaceful coexistence between peoples and in the careful protection of creation.”

Now, I am not a Catholic, nor do I claim to be nonreligious, but there is something truly wonderful about people from two radically different perspectives joining together for a common goal. Especially since I have just come from perusing the Westboro Baptist Church’s website where intolerance and hateful language abounds. That is one group I fear no one will be able to reach any time soon. But while the WBC seems to have lost hope in humanity, it is refreshing to see the fervor of others to keep that hope alive.

Of course, I am not naive enough to think all is sunshine and lollipops between the Pope and Nones. Nor do I have the foresight to know if his promises will be acted upon or reciprocated. I’m sure there are those who have no love for Pope Francis, and no doubt he will make mistakes and decisions that will cause debate. But it’s a step, or at least a glance, in the right direction. For now I will chose to be hopeful in his acknowledgment of the religious/nonreligious difference, while still finding some common ground to stand on.

Campus crusade for secularism

Over the past few years the secular society of United States’ colleges and universities has grown in leaps and bounds.

Student Members of the Illini Secular Student Alliance, via Religious Dispatches Magazine

This should come as little surprise to those who are watching the rise of the Nones throughout America. Most of these nones are part of the Millennial Generation, aka college students. Therefore, colleges who may have had little to no secular organization previously have now become a force to be reckoned with.

The Secular Student Alliance (SSA) is a nonprofit that was incorporated in 2001. By 2007, 80 campus groups had affiliated with them. This number grew to 100 by 2008, 174 by 2009 and doubled to a whopping 394 by 2013.  Jesse Galef, communications director of SSA is positive about the continued growth of secularism on campuses:

We have been seeing rapid growth in the past could of years, and it shows no sign of slowing down. It used to be that we would go to campuses and encourage students to pass out flyers. Now, the students are coming to us almost faster than we can keep up with.

The rise of secular groups on college campuses has been in the works for a few years. In early 2012, presidential candidate Rick Santorum said, “the indoctrination that is going on at the university level is a harm to our country,” and went on to say that “62 percent of kids who go into college with a faith commitment leave without it.” Whether Santorum was right or not, his statement still shows acknowledgment of a secular mentality on college campuses.

This semester the Illini Secular Student Alliance , at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign and one of the affiliates of SSA, has done little to shy away from its secular voice.

On February 12, they will eat cake to celebrate Darwin Day, and earlier this year, they performed “de-baptism” ceremonies to celebrate Blasphemy Day, attended a War on Christmas Party, and set up Hug An Atheist and Ask An Atheist booths in the campus quad.

Is the increase in secular students good or bad? Will this help to diversify campuses or simply pose a future problem for Christian students still weak in their faith?

Some Christian campuses are actually welcoming secular groups to form groups of their own.  The Texas Christian University (TCU) is reaching out to aitheists and non-believers by forming the Free Thinking Frogs. Alexis Lohsem, the group’s leader, has seen dozens of students come out of the crevasses of campus.

“There’s a lot of students at this college who are growing up without any  religious affiliation,” Lohse said. “People who apply different labels to  themselves, you know, atheists, agnostic, a free thinker, a skeptics.”

Some students on campus are for it, and other’s are indifferent but not in high praise of the new secular affiliation. But one thing they all do agree on, “non-believers are more common than one might think.”

 

 

Marriage and religion: does the whole “unevenly yoked” thing really matter?

Mike Bixby and Maria Peyer at their home in Longview, Wash. They have been married for two and half years but have known each other since 1981. Peyer is a church-attending Lutheran, and Bixby is an atheist. (Via NPR)

Married couples who have different religious beliefs. How do they make it work?

NPR recently started a series entitled, Losing Your Religion. It tracks the rising number of nones throughout the United States and seeks to understand why it is they are straying from religion, or more specifically, organized religion.

Here is an interesting episode which pricks the pincushion on both sides of the none advancement.  This segment looks at a couple, Maria Peyer and Mike Bixby, who married a few years ago. However Maria is a devout Lutheran and Mike is an avid atheist. But they still seem to be able to make a good marriage work.

NPR’s episode shows how they are doing it: http://www.npr.org/2013/01/17/168954402/making-marriage-work-when-only-one-spouse-believes-in-god  

Here is a helpful exert from the episode’s transcript:

“Maria’s faith plays a role in making her the person that I love, and I’m good with that. I think we’re both the people who we are because of her faith, because of my lack of faith, and I don’t want to change that,” Bixby says.

In the past, people in relationships like this often would make a change — whichever person had the stronger conviction would set the terms. But these days, people are redrawing the lines.

“These families are doing something different, and they’re making their own choices,” says Erika Seamon, who teaches religion at Georgetown University and studies interfaith relationships. She sees couples find common ground on love, ethics and even spirituality while maintaining very different religious identities.

What do you think? Should Maria and Mike learn to live in their situation? Or should they continue to debate each other’s deep-seeded worldviews?

The Bible makes it clear that two people of differing beliefs should not marry. Therefore, the argument could be made from a Christian standpoint that Mike and Maria should never have gotten married in the first place. But they did get married. Now Maria must constantly accept that her husband may one day die and go to Hell, and as a loving wife she can’t stand to see this happen.

However, even with their differences the couples seems to be doing fine. Therefore, we come to the atheist side of the argument, which states that if a couple can find happiness and love through their differences then it shouldn’t matter what they believe. All that matters is right now – eternity is an illusion.

Both are very passionate about their beliefs, and both have a lot to back up their perspective. So how do we respond to a couple is this unique situation – battling between living for now and living for eternity.