Sunday, November 4, 2012

Religion? None

One of the great challenges of pollsters, social commentators, and those who gauge the religious health of the nation is what to do with those who say "None" to the question of religion.  On the one hand, it is tempting to believe that no religion also means no belief in God.  That would be mistaken.  One in five Americans is likely to identify as no religion but that does not necessarily mean that they do not believe in God, are not spiritual, or that their values or political affiliation is radically different from those who identity with a faith.

The beliefs of the unaffiliated aren’t easy to characterize, as the Pew poll shows. The nones are far less likely to attend worship services or to say religion is important in their lives. But 68 percent say they believe in God or a universal spirit, one-fifth say they pray every day and 5 percent report attending weekly services of some kind.

You can read more of this in the Washington Post online.  Suffice it to say, this group is at the same time both much alike and much different from the generic Christian public.  They tend to believe in some sort of God and yet they do not identity with any church or congregation.  They pray but they do not worship with others very often.  They value spiritual things but they do not like dogmatic positions or the mixing of church and state.  Despite their nickname, the “nones” are far from godless.  Eight of ten American identify with a specific religious group but the "nones" seem united in the fact that none of the existing churches have been found very attractive to them or to their idea of "faith."

At best it is the result of a face away from affiliating at all and at worst this phenomenon is but one but stop away from avowed atheism.  Time will tell.  Interestingly, most of those reporting are very hesitant to sell American Christianity short or too quickly sound the death knell for religion in America.  The number of Protestants is dipping -- could that be because in some of those Protestant denominations no religion and their religion is roughly the same?  The commentators are quick to suggest that the problem is the religious right and it is always in fashion to lay blame in that direction.  I wonder if it is not equally due to the lack of much religious fervor or flavor among more and more of the liberal wing of Protestantism.  The more you can believe anything the less you need to believe something at all.  In any case I would suggest that the more faithful response is not through the media aimed at the larger landscape but one or more individuals at a time as the faith is shared and piety demonstrated.  I tend to believe the future of religion in America lies less with those who rinse distinctives out of religion and more with those who are authentic and passionate for what they believe and who they are.  But that is just me...

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