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.

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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.

God out of schools, God out of gov’t, God out of good…

Out! Out! Out! But where should He go? Take Him to your churches, to your places of worship, to your homes. But get him out of our sight!

Ok, that might be a little dramatic for some secularists, but definitely not for all of them. But, more common in today’s world, a different view of atheism is surfacing. It’s not the angry and bitter secular scientist, it is the kind, caring and good person who says God is not necessary for goodness to thrive. We see this throughout government, schools, companies and so much more. The new secular movement is bent on finding a way to get by without God.

For example, the Examiner.com recently published an opinion piece by Chelsea Hoffman with the bold title, “Atheist Win.” Hoffman is enthusiastic about the secular movement’s recent win over an Ohio middle school – forcing it to remove a portrait of Jesus hanging in its halls. The Freedom from Religion Foundation and the ACLU initiated the lawsuit, saying the portrait was unconstitutional.

Hoffman’s article articulates secular pride in their accomplishment:

This is federally illegally and fundamentally unacceptable. It’s not only a win for atheism that they didn’t back down, but for America and the liberty of all who are citizens of it. Imagine had this been some other religious imagery such as a Wiccan pentacle or some imagery relative to Islam. The Christian majority would likely be up in arms about it!

The portrait was placed in the school in 1947 when a group of students arranged for it to be acquired by the school.In January of this year the school’s president vowed never to take down the portrait, to which he got overwhelming support from the school and students. But he and the rest of the school were only able to hold out for so long and on April 3rd they took down the portrait.

But God is being taken out of more than just schools. A German shoe company has embraced the name of atheists as their company motto. They have accepted the stance of no religion, while attempting to prove they can be just as morally good as the Christian shoe companies of the world. Inscribed on the bottom of the shoe is the bold statement, “Ich Bin Atheist” (I am an atheist). They are determined to show that businesses and people can be good without God.

The company is very enthusiastic about their new shoes:

Whether you’re an atheist looking to tickle the world with a foot-first declaration of godlessness, or someone who’s just keen on the aesthetics and craftsmanship of our shoes, we really do hope you’ll enjoy them.

And who can forget the age old argument of religion/Christianity in government. Secularists say government can be good without God dictating what they should believe:

[O]rganised religion has a historical monopoly on ‘good’ and continues to be proud of its ‘do-gooding’, in preach and practice, despite the strong likelihood that it has done far more harm than good in it’s long, yarn-spinning history.

We find this sad. Not only because organised religion survives, scandal after scandal, unscathed, but because the atheists we know are amongst the kindest, most caring people we’ve met, each capable of being moral and good without god stories to show them how.We want to challenge the lowest-common-denominator view of atheism, to demonstrate that you don’t need god to be good.

Conversely, Christians, like the late Chuck Colson, say government cannot hold to true goodness without God’s direction:

In the city of man, there is no moral consensus, and without a moral consensus there can be no law. Chairman Mao expressed the alternative well: in his view, morality begins at the muzzle of a gun.

There has never been a case in history in which a society has been able to survive for long without a strong moral code. And there has never been a time when a moral code has not been informed by religious truth. Recovering our moral code – our religious truth – is the only way our society can survive. The heaping ash remains at Auschwitz, the killing fields of Southeast Asia, and the frozen wastes of the gulag remind us that the city of man is not enough; we must also seek the city of God.

Where does good come from? Each side has a different answer for this question – which then dictates how they view “good.”  And what is even more frustrating is that each side has some dirt to dig up on the other side, allowing them to give credence to their point of view.

Secular leaders throughout much of history have committed crimes of unspeakable magnitude, but then again, so have religious leaders who hide behind a twisted view of the Bible. We can say they were not really Christians, but not many atheists will accept that interpretation. So where does this leave us? Are we forever at an impasse – never finding a way to cross the gulf between our mountain tops of belief?

I hope not. If that is true than my blog is completely pointless. We must try and find common ground. We must try to understand what the paths are like on other mountains. But (and it’s an important “but”) there are some things we will just not agree on. And this is one of them.

Good defined by society is called progressive ethics and is a very dangerous path to fall into. When I think of a scary place to live, it is in a society that dictates what is good and bad based on its mood at the time. In an imperfect world how can we expect man to make perfect laws? Therefore, our ethics must come from something higher than ourselves, and the only person I am willing to trust with that is God.

No/Yes to government funding of churches

The secular world is amping up its call for restrictions on religion, but this past week they lost the battle over government funding of churches.

I found an urgent email in my inbox a few days ago from the Secular Coalition of America.  They urged me to email my congressman and ask him to vote no to HR 592, The Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act of 2013:

Despite its unconstitutionality, lawmakers tomorrow will consider HR 592—a bill to amend the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, to allow houses of worship to directly receive taxpayer dollars.

There’s a reason houses of worship are prohibited. This bill would reverse years of Supreme Court precedent and directly conflict with the First Amendment to the Constitution. Additionally, permitting public grants for churches and other houses of worship would unfairly privilege religious institutions above secular institutions, many of which are not eligible for the grants.

This bill is primarily to help the disaster relief effort after Hurricane Sandy. It will provide aid to church buildings damaged in the storm as well as churches that are instrumental in rebuilding the community. But depending on what side of the secular line you are standing, this may or may not be a step in the right direction.

The amendment to the bill will look like this:

“(C) HOUSES OF WORSHIP. – A church, synagogue  mosque, temple, or other house of worship, and a private nonprofit facility operated by a religious organization, shall be eligible for contribution under paragraph (1)(B), without regard to the religious character of the facility or the primary religious use of the facility.”

But while the secularists were in strict opposition to the amendment, many religious organizations couldn’t be happier. Many of these organizations have been in direct contact with the devastation of Hurricane Sandy and are acutely aware of the need for government funding to rebuild as well as help their communities. Much like the Coalition, the Jewish Press pleaded with its viewers to contact their representatives and urge a yes vote on HR 592.

After Hurricane Sandy ravaged parts of New York City and the surrounding communities last fall, many synagogues and other houses of worship became distribution centers for material goods and spiritual relief to those affected.  Many of those buildings sustaining enormous damage from the storm.  But because those types of non-profits are not specifically mentioned in the authorizing legislation, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been unwilling to provide them with available relief funds.

The HR 592 bill was voted on by congress on Sept. 13 and passed with an overwhelming vote of 354-72. It was a bipartisan decision that will have religious organizations throughout disaster areas falling to their knees in praise. But the secular society is less than amused. After receiving the plea for no votes, 2,500 letters were sent, causing 12 representative to change their yay’s to nay’s. But it was far from enough.

Should the government provide aid to churches? Will this start the government down the path of monetary influence over church function and practices? According the Bill the money is not to be used for the “primary religious use of the facility.” But secularists see this as simply one more way for the church is being tied into government, thus breaking down the wall of separation between church and state.

But Christopher Smith, R-N.J., one of the bill’s lead sponsors, would say this is about something more than the separation of church and state. It’s about not discriminating against people and organizations when they are brought to their weakest moments:

“Today’s debate and vote is about those who are being unfairly left out and left behind. It’s about those who helped feed, comfort, clothe and shelter tens of thousands of victims now being told they are ineligible for a FEMA grant.”

Do Sandy Hook victims have the ‘blessing’ of atheism?

FAMILY MEMBERS GRIEVE NEAR SITE OF CONNECTICUT SCHOOL TRAGEDY

Family members grieve near the Sandy Hook Elementary school tragedy

In a recent op-ed published in the New York Times, Susan Jacoby, a pronounced atheist, attempted to comfort the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting – she told them their children would suffer no more in the “perfect rest” of death.

In other words she said that these children, who have suffered so much, have the blessing of blissful nothingness as their consciousness is erased from existence.

During her article Jacoby quotes “The Great Agnostic” Robert Green Ingersoll who died in 1899. He often gave eulogies at funerals and said this while speaking at the service for the death of a friend’s small child:

“They who stand with breaking hearts around this little grave, need have no fear. The larger and the nobler faith in all that is, and is to be, tells us that death, even at its worst, is only perfect rest … The dead do not suffer.”

I have tried, and failed, to find the comfort in this train of thought. Jacoby’s article responds to a coworker who told her that atheism didn’t have much to offer during times of great tragedy. However, her attempt to defend her belief looks more like an attempt to grasp at straws than a deep look at what atheism really offers, in contrast to what belief in an afterlife offers.

Throughout the world today, and in years past, it has been customary to forget about God when times are good, or to rave about Man’s ability to take care of itself. But, as if on cue,  when the hard times come He is dragged back into the courtroom of our injustice and asked to come to account for the evil he has let run free on the world. Often it is times like these when Christians, or others of faith, are asked to explain His “lack of interest” in the hardship of Man.

Jacoby picks up on this beautifully, without skipping a beat she provides the answer to the question that so many people of religion struggle with giving. Where is God? She says, God does not exist:

It is a positive blessing, not a negation of belief, to be free of what is known as the theodicy problem. Human “free will” is Western monotheism’s answer to the question of why God does not use his power to prevent the slaughter of innocents, and many people throughout history (some murdered as heretics) have not been able to let God off the hook in that fashion.

I found an interesting response to Jacoby’s article inDenise Prager’s column, The Atheist Response to Sandy Hook. Prager shows how Jacoby’s compelling picture of atheistic belief actually “confirms her colleague’s assessment,” rather than disproving it. His piece astutely pinpoints the hole in atheism’s attempt to comfort those left behind in a depraved world.

Members of Trinity Episcopal Church mourn the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting.

Members of Trinity Episcopal Church mourn the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting

“The dead do not suffer” is atheism’s consolation to the parents of murdered children? This sentiment can provide some consolation — though still nothing comparable to the affirmation of an afterlife — to those who lose a loved one who had been suffering from a debilitating disease. But it not only offers the parents of Sandy Hook no consolation, it actually (unintentionally) insults them: Were these children suffering before their lives were taken? Would they have suffered if they had lived on? Moreover, it is the parents who are suffering, so the fact that their child isn’t suffering while decomposing in the grave is of no relevance. And, most germane to our subject, this atheist message offers no consolation at all when compared to the religious message that we humans are not just matter but possess eternal souls.

 Jacoby implies that since atheists have the blessing of “perfect rest,” others who believe in an afterlife cannot also have that perfect rest. If she really believes that then she is wrong.  I too can say with absolute certainty that upon my death I will have perfect rest. But I also have the blessing of leaping past where Jacoby is forced to end her monologue. I have the hope of reunion not only with my loved ones from this life, but also with God, my Creator. This is something that atheism cannot offer, and it is why Jacoby’s argument is ultimately unsatisfying to most victims of horrible tragedy.
(Note: I do not often apply so much of my personal beliefs into a post, but I believe this particular one warranted some personal reflection to contrast with Jacoby’s opinion. However  I always strive to give balance to both sides of the argument.)  

Romney, failing grade from Secular Coalition

by US Daily Review

Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney received an F on his scorecard from the Secular Coalition of America.

The grades, issued Oct. 16, are based on his public statements and actions on 17 specific issues. Some of these issues are: “Recognition of the United States as a secular nation,” “separation of church and state,” “protecting religious refusal laws,” “support of “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance and “In God We Trust” as the National Motto.” As many would expect, he failed each of these elements, making for a very unhappy secular party.

The installment of a president with a goal for a secular United States on the forefront of his campaign is a matter of prime importance for the Secular Coalition.

“With the secular character of our nation’s government being consistently threatened, voters must be aware of the positions of their elected leaders to better inform their decision at the ballot box. In addition to secular voters, a strong majority of Americans in general want a separation between religion and government: 54% of Americans believe that churches and other houses of worship should keep out of political matters and 66% say that churches and houses of worship should not endorse candidates.”

According to the Secular Coalition, Romney has done next to nothing to find common ground with secular America. His overt faith in God, which he has referred to many times on the campaign trail, definitely set him in a less than favorable light. But, his additional public policy on marriage between a man and a woman only, and the evils of abortion have really sent him on a downward spiral in secular circles. However, the majority of voters in the United States are still religious – around 80 percent, according to a recent Pew Survey on the growth of nones. So while Romney’s bad grades may put a dent in his election votes, it may  not be enough to cost him the election.

Obama received a C from the Secular Coalition scorecard. It seems his chances with secular America are better, if only slightly. But the highest grade on the electoral ballet was Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico, who received a B. Nobody gets a perfect grade from the Coalition.