1/5 of the country is in the NONE group; they don’t belong to any organized religion, and are most likely to be under the age of thirty. How many people under the age of 30 do you know? In addition many more people than in previous generations put off parenthood to their 30s. This raises a question for me: Why do we insist that church is only really thriving if we have “young families”?
The NONEs are influenced by secularization so religious life is foreign, but there are other factors. Younger generations distance themselves from ALL institutions, religious and otherwise. They don’t join. They are less involved than other generations in ALL of the institutional life of our society.
The religiously unaffiliated think religious organizations are too concerned with rules, with money and power. The religiously unaffiliated are more socially liberal and MOST religious groups in our country tend to be more socially conservative, especially on the issues of sexuality, homosexuality and abortion. NONES are in all regions of the country, all ages, all educational levels, men and women and most of them are Caucasian. This raises another question for me: What about racial diversity?
One such NONE said, “I don’t believe in God but I really want to.” He assumes that because a number of vocal Christians dismiss evolution, he must have to dismiss it as well in order to believe in God. He was served a faith that doesn’t serve us in the 21st century.
I confess I am often frustrated by what is to me a trite saying, “I’m spiritual but not religious.” My frustration however, does not provide an adequate response. I found a more helpful response from Rabbi David Wolpe, recently quoted in the Christian Century on being “spiritual but not religious”.
“Spirituality is an emotion. Religion is an obligation. Spirituality soothes. Religion mobilizes. Spirituality is satisfied with itself. Religion is dissatisfied with the world. Religions create aid organizations…the largest US based international relief and development organization is World Vision, a Seattle-based Christian group.”
Spirituality is important to develop and nurture, but by itself is limited to provoke real and lasting transformation beyond self. Religion is important to support and be part of AND includes the transforming practices of a spiritual life, for individual, community and world.
Perhaps my frustration is really with the reductionist approach of spiritual, not religious as if it’s an either/or choice. Spiritual and religious is the balance that can come from a lived faith, whether that faith is Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim. I still believe the world needs organized communities of care that nurture people to know they belong to God and that together we can live from our better selves for a better world.