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.

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.

Are the nones really a big deal?

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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.

Mommies who don’t believe in God

Via the CNN Belief Blog

If mommies don’t believe in God the odds of them teaching their children to believe in God are slim. This seems logical, but as a recent essay by one of these mothers proves, it is more complicated than we think.

Deborah Mitchell decided when her children were young that she would not raise them to believe in an “imaginary God.” She would instead teach them to be moral and ethical because it makes them feel good about themselves, not because “God is watching.” She compared believe in God to belief in Santa, saying that she is unwilling to teach her two teenage boys what she does not believe herself.

After feeling secluded from her small community in Texas Mitchel decided to begin writing about her non-belief and how it has affected her parental style. She submitted a post, “Why I Raise My Children Without God,” to the CNN Belief Blog that hit home with many other parents throughout the United States.

In the post she wrote:

We are creating the next generation of kids, and there is a wave of young agnostics, atheists, free thinkers and humanists rising up through the ranks who will, hopefully, lower our nation’s religious fever.

She goes on to list a variety of reasons for her disbelief, including accusations that if there is a God, he is illogical, he is unfair, he is a bad parent, he is absent, he does not protect the innocent and the list goes on and on.

Mitchell asks the age old question all human beings will ask at least once: “Why does God let bad things happen?”

In an attempt to answer this question Ryan Barnett, an occupational lawyer and Methodist, wrote a respectful counter to her argument. His post, “Why I Raise My Children With God,” appeared a day later in the CNN Belief Blog. It detailed the necessity of God and the peace that comes with believing in Him. However, he also emphasized that nowhere does God say this life will be “a bed or roses.” (In fact God warns that hard times will come and they will be fierce)

Barnett tries to show the mysterious nature of God in his post:

One experiences God. You can tell me about what love is or feels like – but it defies an acid test. This is the mystery of faith. Our level of understanding is constantly changing. The fact that we did not understand basic concepts in physics years ago does not mean those laws were not present before our understanding.

Barnett brings up some good points and counters each of Mitchell’s accusations against God (although she may not be satisfied with many of them), but when it comes down to it can we really expect a woman to teach her children something she does not believe in. Something she believes to be a dangerous lie that will corrupt them?

“When we raise kids without God, we harm them,” Barnett said toward the end of his post. But no matter how much truth there is to this statement Mitchell does not believe she is harming her children. She believes she is protecting them from an unfair, narcissistic and absent God. Therefore, does the problem lie with her teaching habits, or does it lie in her perspective of God?

Read to this section of Mitchell’s  argument and honestly tell me you wouldn’t do the same thing if about something you don’t believe:

For over a year, I lied to [my three year old son] and made up stories that I didn’t believe about heaven. Like most parents, I love my child so much that I didn’t want him to be scared. I wanted him to feel safe and loved and full of hope. But the trade-off was that I would have to make stuff up, and I would have to brainwash him into believing stories that didn’t make sense, stories that I didn’t believe either… And so I thought it was only right to be honest with my children.

Should we ask her to profess what she does not believe? Or should we address the bigger issue – we live in a secular country with secular values and perspectives. This means as time goes by more mommies will recant what they were taught as children and they will love their children so much that they will not feed them the same lie their parents fed them. Mitchell sees belief in God as a lie and she does not want to pass on the lie to her children.

How do we respond to an argument like Mitchell’s? Do we tell her to forget her personal beliefs and just teach her kids what the rest of her community thinks is best for them? Or do we address the deeper issue of a limited and tainted perspective of God?

Side note: It is important to keep track of what the American public is reading and responding to – Mitchell’s post on the CNN Belief Blog has currently received 755,339 views, 64,758 recommends on Facebook, 7,681 shares and 9,339 comments.  Barnett’s post a day later has currently received 145,781 views, 1,215 recommends on Facebook, 376 shares, and 983 comments.