Thursday, June 13, 2013

The "Nones"

a vast and open desert terrain

Yesterday a friend of mine posted a link to an online article that I found exceptionally interesting. The article was titled, "Actually Listening to Religious Nones." The word, "nones" has taken on a life of its own in recent months. It refers to those people who, when asked to indicate their religious affiliation, reply: "none." 

Several months ago, a Pew study was published. The study reported that one in five Americans are "nones," and perhaps more importantly, one in three Americans under 30 are "nones." So, 1/3 of the younger generation of Americans have no religious affiliation. They don't attend any house of worship (of any stripe),  nor do they ascribe to the tenets of any official religion. 

The prediction is that we will see more and more "nones" in the years to come. 

Personally, I think this is stunning information - critically important for religious institutions that are becoming more and more irrelevant to people in this country (especially younger people).

The article I read yesterday reported on a national meeting of American Lutherans. The meeting was attended by church leaders and "professional" religious people,  and a group of under 30 "nones" were also invited to attend. At the meeting, the professional religious people sat back and, instead of planning on how they would grow their churches or get new people in the future, they simply listened to what the "nones" had to say, and the "nones" were not at all afraid of speaking up. 

The young people at that meeting clearly and carefully articulated some of the reasons for their disinterest in organized religion, and they explained why they never go to church:

-They believe that church is an unsafe place for doubt and questioning.

-They reject a singular religious label, and are more interested in multiple spiritual traditions. (They don't want to be "put in a box.")

-They already have a fullness in their own life and they have a sense of their spirituality. They don't need religion or a church to make their life richer,  fuller or more spiritual (one panelist said, "I bristle at someone saying, 'I've got this thing you are missing,' as if I'm lacking.)

As I read and re-read yesterday's article, I thought to myself, "In some sense, I totally agree with the problems these 'nones'  have with the religious institutions of our day."

I  have been a professional church person all my life,  and I often got into trouble with church people  because I expressed my doubts. Far too often, church people want answers and avoid asking questions. 

I also think it's true that churches (religious institutions) can be far too myopic - thinking that the spiritual path they travel is the only way or the right way. A great common wisdom can be found  in multiple and diverse spiritual paths, but far too often other paths are never honored or explored inside the institution. 

And I think it's very true that people inside a religion think they have something more spiritually authentic than those who are outside.  Yet, I know many "nones" who are deeply spiritual, leading lives marked by compassion.  I want to celebrate their wisdom and honor their lives. 

If the religious institutions of our day have any hope for being viable and vibrant in this 21st century, a lot more listening needs to happen. Religious people of our own day need to take off the blinders and venture out into unchartered territory. 

Otherwise, "The last one out, turn off the lights."



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