It's Sunday, and over this weekend many people all over the world practice their "religion." Many other people will want nothing at all to do with any anything that even comes close to being "religious."
When I was growing up, the neighborhood kids used to ask each other: "What religion are you?" In my neighborhood there were only two answers: Catholic or Protestant. The kids in my neighborhood expected and generally looked forward to the standard Sunday morning ritual: You put on the nice clothes, headed off to church, and then went to breakfast. I clearly (and fondly) recall those many Sunday mornings.
Nowadays the question isn't "what religion are you?" but rather, "Are you religious?" More and more today the answer to that question is a resounding "no" (often followed by the corollary "but I am spiritual").
For many years now, social commentators have been tracking the decline of religion especially in Western cultures.
In Europe, the decline is particularly evident. On a given Sunday morning only a small fraction of the population will pack up the family and head off to church. On any given Sunday, European churches are populated by mostly gray-haired people - many are elderly women. This is particularly poignant given that Europe was once the very bastion of Christendom.
And while the decline in religion is less evident in America, multiple surveys and an abundance of sociological research suggest that it's just a matter of time before religion in America looks way more like the way it's looking in Europe..
The very use of the word "religion" has taken on some very negative connotations in popular culture in America nowadays (especially among younger people). If you answer "yes" to the question "are you religious?" you are viewed as a simpleton - someone who accepts childish answers to the complex questions, someone who has abandoned logic, science or reason, someone who is dismissive of those who are different and judgmental of those who color outside the lines of life.
Actually, I think the current declining trend in religion and the groundswell of hostility toward religious people can be a good thing. Today's religious crisis confronts religious leaders and religious people with a need to seriously re-examine, re imagine, and maybe even re-create what religion is all about.
The current decline in American religion is an opportunity for religious folks to articulate what "true religion" is all about.
The word "religion" comes from the latin word "ligare,"meaning "to connect." Just as ligaments are the tissues connecting the body's bones, so does "religion" function to connect people. "True religion" connects people in common beliefs, common values, common mission - true religion connects and weaves people into a community.
In fact, all the great religions of the world are based on the core value and core identity of being "connected". Compassion lies at the heart of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and all other "religions." True religion does not cut people off or divide people into camps. True religion is never judgmental or arrogant or dismissive of others who are different.
So I am not at all distressed by the trend of decline in religion today. In fact, I am encouraged by it.
Today, more than ever, religions are given a "holy opportunity" to take a good close look at what they stand for and who they are and what they do. The decline in religion today can be a life-savng catalyst, forcing dying and decaying religious institutions into asking the important core questions that can breathe fresh new life into old tired answers.
Instead of trying to convince everyone that their religion is the true one, religious people today must now ask themselves if their religion is a "true religion."
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