I didn’t get around to thinking about Eric Weiner’s op-ed in the New York Times several weeks ago. In it, he discusses the increased numbers of Americans who identify themselves as “non-religious.” Weiner sees the problem as a result of organized religion. God is not fun, he says and goes on to observe that increased polarization in religion as in politics, leaves growing numbers of people marginalized. He cites his own experience:
In my secular, urban and urbane world, God is rarely spoken of, except in mocking, derisive tones. It is acceptable to cite the latest academic study on, say, happiness or, even better, whip out a brain scan, but God? He is for suckers, and Republicans.
I used to be that way, too, until a health scare and the onset of middle age created a crisis of faith, and I ventured to the other side. I quickly discovered that I didn’t fit there, either. I am not a True Believer. I am a rationalist. I believe the Enlightenment was a very good thing, and don’t wish to return to an age of raw superstition.
We Nones may not believe in God, but we hope to one day. We have a dog in this hunt.
I have no doubt that his experience is shared by many. His proposed solution, though, seems misguided, at best:
We need a Steve Jobs of religion. Someone (or ones) who can invent not a new religion but, rather, a new way of being religious. Like Mr. Jobs’s creations, this new way would be straightforward and unencumbered and absolutely intuitive. Most important, it would be highly interactive. I imagine a religious space that celebrates doubt, encourages experimentation and allows one to utter the word God without embarrassment. A religious operating system for the Nones among us. And for all of us.
It’s particularly ironic, given the response to Jobs’ death. It would seem he is already perceived as a spiritual guru, or even a saint.
I wonder whether Weiner actually experienced religious communities that do not deal with “raw superstition.”
Here’s another take on the same question, from an unlikely source, The Mennonite Weekly Review (hat/tip to Brian McLaren).
Lauren Sessions Stepp writes about the growing trend of young adult evangelicals leaving church which she attributes to this:
I’m not surprised. These young dropouts value the sense of community their churches provide but are tired of being told how they should live their lives. They don’t appreciate being condemned for living with a partner, straight or gay, outside of marriage or opting for abortion to terminate an unplanned pregnancy.
Cathy Grossman at USA Today, covers the story as well, profiling the apathetic or “so whats?” as she calls them. She quotes several conservative religious leaders who see the rise in religious apathy as a disaster for Christians. And other scholars see the rise in non-identification as a significant trend.
But I wonder if that’s the case. Certainly there has been a collapse in institutional religion in the last decade, but does the decline in membership actually reflect a decline in religious interest or affiliation. I wonder how many of those regular churchgoers of a previous generation had rich spiritual lives. How many of them went because of custom, or duty, or civic obligation? The difference may be attributable in part that there are no social consequences for non-attendance at religious services as there might have been fifty years ago.