A couple of years ago when I first wrote my book proposal for my spiritual memoir No Religion, Too, I cited a Pew Report that said the fastest growing religious group in America is people who don’t claim a certain religious identity. Dubbed “The Nones,” they had about 16-20 million among their disparate grouping that includes atheists, agnostics, 12-steppers, eclectic spiritualists and anyone who felt stifled by a certain label.
Whenever I spoke about the trend, I had to spell out what I meant when I said, “The Nones.” Everyone thought I meant the esteemed female servants of the Catholic Church dressed in a black habit.
Earlier this month the Pew Report updated its figures. There are now 59 million who fall into the classification of The Nones. Now, people are talking about it to me.
What is this huge shift? Christians were quick to clarify that only “nominal” Christians have shifted into these groups, but committed Christian numbers haven’t fallen off. A story in The Washington Post calls it “The End of Casual Christianity,” which, according to many of “committed” Christians I’ve been reading, may not be such a bad thing. Evangelicals have been quick to point out they are holding steady. It’s the major denominations that are leaking people like the San Francisco 49ers bandwagon of late. Besides, the “casual” Christians have long muddied the waters of belief anyway.
If only it were that easy, for both the so-called “committed” and the “casual.” If only we didn’t strive so hard to label and divide people in the first place.
Let’s have a reality check:
The Brand of Christianity is in trouble, not that Jesus himself would likely be too troubled. I’m not sure he’s been all that thrilled with the brand anyway. But if the best Evangelicals can do (the very name is defined by increasing numbers) is holding steady, then The Nones not just a concern for the Catholics and Presbyterians.
If more “committed” Christians actually talked with other people, they’d hear the crescendo of antipathy that has risen. The Brand of Christianity is too closely aligned with conservative politics and anti-positions (gay marriage, abortion, environment, social justice). I know many incredible, devoted, authentic Christians. It pains me how out of touch or unconcerned they are about how non-religious or other-religious people view them. But they aren’t being viewed. The brand is.
Until authentic Christianity separates itself from the dogma of the brand the people of Christ are failing to live the calling of discipleship and community that Christ himself initiated in John 13.
But, The None’s got a problem too. Namely 59 million people with 59 million concepts of God (or the lack thereof) isn’t a compelling message for those seeking truth. If we all can simply invent our God, then we haven’t moved that far from the first conflict of the scriptures, where man, woman and a snake all tried to be God themselves. Talk to The Nones and soon God sounds like a Genie in the Bottle, a nicely crafted hodge-podge of various faiths and ideas and personal tastes that is supposed to come through when we need Him/Her/It to do its Godly duties.
That isn’t a deity. It’s a Mr. Potato God with a weird nose and a silly hat and some crazy looking fingers that don’t make sense to anyone but its creator.
What good is a God we create anyway?
Conservative social commentator David Brooks has talked about how a Gallup poll found that 12 percent of people in 1950 said they were a “very important person.” Now 80 percent feel that way. It’s Generation Narcisist, according to Brooks.
Well, why the hell not? If you get to define God then you really are damn important.
Only you don’t (not if God is more real than Santa Claus) and most of us are not. Sooner or later reality comes home and for The Nones it could be a real problem. And where do they turn? To the churches that have already failed them once?
Atheists win the day here because if they are convinced there is no God, then they are the only ones who don’t have to worry about the aforementioned problems. Everyone else, would do well to the heed the advice Native American wisdom literature that says, “We need to dream this all again.”