I read the follow article on CNN’s home page today. While some might be alarmed by the trends in the article, I find them encouraging. If someone never questions the religion they were raised in, or never leaves the country they were born in: how will they ever really experience and know the world for themselves? We must leave our homes and comfort zones in order to know what is real. It’s kind of like: how can a fish know what water is unless it jumps into the air? As Mark Twain put it, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” So I think some of these millennials are religious travelers, and when they return or settle down, their home will be on a much more solid foundation than those who never left. Perhaps the millennials will discover what Paul Tillich described as “the God beyond God.” The poem in the church pew photo is one I wrote during this kind of journey (which never ends).
(CNN) Christian life is a set of sacred traditions — an unbroken circle, in the words of an old hymn — connecting generations of Sunday school stories, youth ministry morals and family gatherings sanctified by prayer.
In modern America, that circle may not be completely severed, but it is wobbly and severely bent, according to a new landmark study conducted by the Pew Research Center.
Released Tuesday, the survey of 35,000 American adults shows the Christian percentage of the population dropping precipitously, to 70.6%. In 2007, the last time Pew conducted a similar survey, 78.4% of American adults called themselves Christian.
In the meantime, almost every major branch of Christianity in the United States has lost a significant number of members, Pew found, mainly because millennials are leaving the fold. More than one-third of millennials now say they are unaffiliated with any faith, up 10 percentage points since 2007.
The alacrity of their exodus surprises even seasoned experts.
“We’ve known that the religiously unaffiliated has been growing for decades,” said Greg Smith, Pew’s associate director of religion research and the lead researcher on the new study. “But the pace at which they’ve continued to grow is really astounding.”
It’s not just millennials leaving the church. Whether married or single, rich or poor, young or old, living in the West or the Bible Belt, almost every demographic group has seen a significant drop in people who call themselves Christians, Pew found.
The drops have been deepest among two of the country’s most formidable faith traditions: Catholics and mainline Protestants, so-called for their prominence in American history. At the same time, Hinduism and Islam, religions tied to recent immigrants, according to Pew, have made small but significant gains. While they have declined as a percentage of the overall population, the number of evangelicals has remained relatively steady in the past seven years.
Because the U.S. census does not ask questions about religion, Pew’s survey, called “America’s Changing Religious Landscape,” provides one of the most reliable sources of data about the country’s religious demographics. Based in Washington, Pew calls itself a nonpartisan “fact tank” and regularly produces vast and detailed studies of religion.
People who profess no faith affiliation — often called “nones,” as in “none of the above” — now form nearly 23% percent of the country’s adult population, according to the Pew study. That puts the unaffiliated nearly on par with evangelicals (25.4%) and ahead of Catholics (about 21%) and mainline Protestants (14.7%).
Seven years ago, according to Pew’s previous study, the unaffiliated formed about 16% of the population, mainline Protestants were about 18%, Catholics were about 24% and evangelicals 26.3%.
Looking at the long view, the generational spans are striking. Whereas 85% of the silent generation (born 1928-1945) call themselves Christians, just 56% of today’s younger millennials (born 1990-1996) do the same, even though the vast majority — about eight in 10 — were raised in religious homes.
To put it simply: Older generations of Americans are not passing along the Christian faith as effectively as their forebears.
“It’s not as if young people today are being raised in a way completely different from Christianity,” said Smith, the Pew researcher. “But as adults they are simply dropping that part of their identity.”
While Pew’s study will likely to cheer the hearts of atheists, the rapid rise of religiously unaffiliated Americans hasn’t necessarily spawned a generation of infidels.
Just 3% of the “nones” call themselves atheists, a small bump from 2007, when 1.5% did the same. Four percent say they are agnostic, meaning they don’t know if God exists, a gain of 1.6 percentage points from seven years ago.
“We are very cognizant that this does not mean there’s been a straight-up spike in nonbelievers,” said Paul Fidalgo, communications director for the Center for Inquiry, a secular advocacy group. “But it’s still really good news to see a whole generation of people who are making their own decisions about belief, religion and spirituality.”
It’s also good news for strict church-state separationists, Fidalgo said, especially those who want to see traditional religious morality disappear from debates over women’s health, abortion, same-sex marriage and climate change.
While the study isn’t likely to surprise many mainline Protestants, it throws their decades-long collapse in membership into stark relief. Almost every American town is dotted by historic Episcopal, United Methodist, Evangelical, Lutheran, Presbyterian and Congregationalist churches. Increasingly, those churches are empty of young faces. Just 11% of millennials call themselves mainline Protestants. (Only 16% identify with Catholicism.)
Of America’s major faiths, mainline Protestants have the worst retention rate among millennials, with just 37% staying in the fold, Pew found. By contrast, nearly two in three millennials raised without a faith continue to eschew organized religion as adults.
The collapse of American Christianity can’t simply be laid at the feet of religious leaders, demographers say. There are bigger societal swings in play: Americans are marrying later, increasingly to spouses who don’t share their faith, and having fewer children. (Mainline Protestants have particularly low birth rates.)
Other experts blame innovations such as the rise of the Internet and social web, where religions can be fact-checked in real time and seekers can find communities of like-minded iconoclasts.
But Christian leaders still bear some responsibility for not connecting with younger believers, said L. Gregory Jones, a senior strategist for leadership education at Duke University in North Carolina.
Many young Christians seemed bored by church, he said, pointing to youth ministers as particularly ineffective at engaging their intellect. One study cited by Jones showed that nearly 70% of full-time youth ministers have no theological education.
“Christianity in the United States hasn’t done a good job of engaging serious Christian reflection with young people, in ways that would be relevant to their lives.”
Instead, many Christian denominations have been riven by internal struggles over homosexuality, particularly in the last decade. While most millennials back gay rights, according to separate surveys, they are more interested in engaging with the wider world than holding endless debate over sexual morality, Jones said.
“If it is the case that millennials are less ‘atheists’ than they are ‘bored,’ then serious engagements with Christian social innovation, and with deep intellectual reflection (and these two things are connected), would offer promising signs of hope,” Jones said.
I had a dream last night. In the short dream, I see the base of a tree. Grayish crackling bark with a green stem growing through the tree’s skin. I see roots from the stem pushing into the tree. I think that must not be good (for the tree at least). I also notice that the trunk splits before it enters the ground; creating an arch above the ground that I can see through. I pull on the green stem and remove it from the tree. Then I look through the archway. There are webs and other things partially blocking the view. So I use the stem to brush them away. Then I see light like a sunrise coming through the tree’s opening, and I catch a glimpse of a young woman walking on the other side. She comes from behind the tree to stand by its side. We see each other face to face. And we both say at the same time, “It’s you! Where have you been?” We kiss, and a strong sense of love and reconnection fills me.
Since then I’ve wondered what the dream could mean. I knew this dream sequence wasn’t about a romantic kiss or the sexual attraction of some long-lost love. But what was this deep hunger for someone lost to me? Were we together at birth, but then separated?
It hit me recently while reading the book “Beauty, The Invisible Embrace.” In the chapter, “Attraction: the Eros of Beauty,” John O’Donohue quotes the Book of Wisdom 8:2-4…
“She it was I loved and searched for from my youth;
I resolved to have her as my bride,
I fell in love with her beauty.
Her closeness to God lends lustre to her noble birth,
Since the Lord of All has loved her.
Yes, she is an initiate in the mysteries of God’s knowledge,
Making choice of the works he is to do…”
And then this from the Book of Wisdom 6:12-17…
“Wisdom is bright, and does not grow dim.
By those who love her she is readily seen,
And found by those who look for her.
Quick to anticipate those who desire her, she makes herself known to them.
Watch for her early and you will have no trouble;
You will find her sitting at your gates.
Even to think about her is understanding fully grown;
Be on the alert for her and anxiety will quickly leave you.
She herself walks about looking for those who are worthy of her
And graciously shows herself to them as they go,
In every thought of theirs coming to meet them…”
The feminine aspect of God; that’s what I’ve been suppressing. She had to find me in a dream while I slept. When I’m awake, I listen to the voices of convention and avoid her wisdom. She was my birthright, but I’ve listened to our patriarchal culture’s understanding of God. I hope to embrace Sophia and the wholeness of God.
In this regard, I found this website quite interesting…
Here is a wonderful quote from the linked page…
“What we do not realize is that this patriarchal denial affects not only every woman, but also life itself. When we deny the divine mystery of the feminine we also deny something fundamental to life. We separate life from its sacred core, from the matrix that nourishes all of creation. We cut our world off from the source that alone can heal, nourish and transform it. The same sacred source that gave birth to each of us is needed to give meaning to our life, to nourish it with what is real, and to reveal to us the mystery, the divine purpose to being alive.”
Four rescuers hear a voice say “help me.” It comes from a car with a dead mother and baby who wasn’t conscious. Who’s voice did they hear? Please click on the link below (not the image). There will be a short commercial before the news video.
Every time I hear someone quote John 14:6 as proof that the Christian religion is the only way to God, I cringe. Is it possible that there is a God that condemns people because they don’t follow the correct religion? I know there are plenty of religious fundamentalists (in particular Muslims and Christians) who do believe their religion is the only true faith, and everyone else is going to hell.
I can’t imagine God is that small. Could it be that Jesus is “one way to God,” but not the “only way to God?” And that His message is more about a way of living, and less about a way of avoiding torment in an afterlife?
I found a refreshing perspective about John 14:6 by Carl Gregg on the patheos website. I hope you’ll check it out. In case you don’t read the entire article, I like this from his conclusion…
“As I have continued to wrestle with the reality of religious pluralism, I have found the following two short sayings helpful. First, theologian Huston Smith says that God is “defined by Jesus, not confined to Jesus.” Second, Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong has said, “I walk the Christ-path into the mystery of God, but I do not believe that God is a Christian.” The common core to both of these slogans is that one can affirm the validity of other religious traditions without abandoning Christianity.”
Here’s a video about being still. The place is one of my favorite spots at the North Carolina Art Museum. When I run out to the museum, I like to stop and spend a few moments in this quiet, calming courtyard of water.
Centering ourselves; being calm while the storm rages. It is good finding time and space to “unplug” in today’s super-hyper 24/7 world. Put down the mobile phone occasionally and discover the real world that is closer than your breath.
This short video (3:40 minutes) will seem like an eternity for some. For others, it could just be the beginning to a 20 minute meditation or centering prayer.
Here’s an insightful answer by Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson to a 10-year-old boy’s question, “Do you believe in God?” In the 9 minute video Dr. Tyson touches on how science and religion deal with different things; “the Bible tells you how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.” He also explains how freedom of religion in the United States is possible because our constitution is not based on religion.
Also, his answer brings up other questions like: if God is good and all-powerful, why do bad things happen? This of course is not an question for science, but a call for our theologies to make sense of our world. Science can tell us how and why something happens; religion can give meaning to that answer.
They gave me gifts, but said they came from someone else.
You gave me a gift, that others told me about.
They told me stories about these gifts.
Stories a child could believe.
One day, I no longer believed the stories.
But the gifts kept coming and I pretended to believe.
I wanted to believe, belief brought comfort;
keeping me warm inside, when the world was cold.
Now I knew too much; I had learned how to survive on my own.
I was shivering; but I couldn’t go back.
Yet the gifts kept coming;
whether I believed or not.
Then one day, I didn’t open a gift.
It opened me.
It opened up a heart that had grown cold.
And now the stories don’t matter; the gift of love is real.
– Michael Lindsay
This is how you transcend race and religion…
God’s Love: Naomi Feil, a Jewish woman, sings Christian hymns for Gladys, who has Alzheimer’s and was unable to speak. Watch what happens at the end, when Mrs. Feil opens her heart and gives Ms. Gladys what she needs so deeply.
This is a 20 minute TED talk by an English vicar soon after the South Asian tsunami in 2004. A very thoughtful speech about what could, and could not be, the nature of God; and what we don’t know.
It reminded me of Paul Tillich’s notion of “the God beyond God,” and this quote from Albert Einstein…
“A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty – it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man. I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the type of which we are conscious in ourselves…Enough for me the mystery of the eternity of life, and the inkling of the marvelous structure of reality…”
Towards the end of his talk, Vicar Honey mentions the Hindu concept and greeting of “Namaste.” (May our true selves meet, and recognize the divine spark within each of us.) I think this is what Rumi was referring to when he wrote, “Out beyond the ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I will meet you there.”
“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”
– Carl Jung
If we are to “see the light,” we have to acknowledge our shadow; and not worry so much about others’ faults (which is hard for me). Our lessons lie in our own darkness.
It’s hard to acknowledge personal “issues.” It’s easier to see them in other people. So we project our shadow onto others, “I’m good, you’re bad.” This is also a problem for groups of people, “my religion is the truth, your religion is false.” How often do we see self-righteous folks do terrible things to other people?
Fundamentalists consider God and Satan as separate entities outside of themselves. To be worshiped and feared, to fight for and against, to die for and to kill. Always trying to fix others and make the world right. Always the external.
Yet external revolutions always fail. Both culturally and personally. The Soviet Union tried to transform the world by exporting communism, but could only do it by force; and therefore failed. The United States tries to transform the world. And is successful when we improve our own country, and lead by example; letting the world follow us. But we fail when we try to force change onto others. Just look at the mess in Iraq today.
The fundamentalist Muslim world has turned Jihad into a sick external behavior. They can’t see or own their shadow. The West is bad, their societies are good (and oppressed). They are the true believers; others are infidels. They have the truth and want to force the world to acknowledge it. Until they see Jihad as an internal struggle between good and evil, their culture and societies will have their current problems.
I can’t fix anybody else; I can only heal myself. As I work on that internal revolution, maybe then I can help others without passing judgement.