Every age has its heresies. Every age also sees a renewal of the general rule that faith must be attacked. C.S. Lewis
Depending on how the ever-powerful digital artifically intelligent algorithm has directed your attention, you may or may not have seen the latest survey of American attitudes regarding country, God, and children. If you’re ‘old-school’ and still insist on reading words printed on paper, The Wall Street Journal placed it on its front page; from there, it has been widely disseminated.
These survey results either deepen your belief that the country is heading in the right direction or saddens you. It is a rare bird not startled by these red lines- we’re not talking subtle, barely noticeable trends here. Not caring about the steep dive that patriotism, religion, and the making of babies have taken might suggest a kind of cynicism that only money can overcome. The love of money is advancing nicely.
According to the poll, only 38% of Americans claim significant religious beliefs. If you only count those 30 years or younger, religion is essential to just 31%.
The poll interpreters want also to point out the change in attitudes post the pandemic. Most disturbing is the dramatic cliff-dive ‘Community Involvement’ took. We Americans appear to have nearly zero interest in participating in civic life. No longer joining with others, we have chosen a more isolated existence. Today, Americans consider money more important than religion, having children, or loving your country.
Besides polls such as this one, there are other ways various entities attempt to gauge our religious persuasions. Admission to a hospital will often ask for the patient's religious affiliation. The same with admission into a school. Along with a list of possible answers, they’ll always be a box for ‘none.’
A ‘none’ might mean you are an atheist, an agnostic, or even someone who believes there is a God. You might even be ‘spiritual’ or a ‘mystic’ or belong to a cult. But you don’t believe you are ‘religious.’ Being religious likely means you are affiliated with an organized church. Freedom from affiliations appears to be in vogue.
The ‘nones’ are growing fast. If we overlay the significant drop in ‘Community Involvement’ with the rapid decline in church attendance, we might be able to draw a correlation. Fewer and fewer Americans want to be affiliated. We could draw the same conclusion regarding the precipitous drop in patriotism. Many Americans claim some embarrassment of their country. Some even claim admiration for single-party totalitarian countries such as Venezuela and China. The CEO of Apple Computer, Tim Cook, recently twisted his tongue to find the superlatives necessary in his praise of China.
When asked about the importance of having children today, a rapidly growing number of our young check the ‘none’ box. Much has been written about our declining birthrate and its various causes (I did so here). Economists worry about the burden of maintaining an aging population without the benefit of new taxpayers. These folks are concerned about the long-term viability of our social security apparatus. But there are more significant reasons to be concerned than our old age financial security.
There was a day having a child was a significant watershed event. Cradling your baby caused a profound rethinking of life. Suddenly, we were confronted with a new kind of responsibility. We looked back at our upbringing, vowing to ensure our little bundle would get the same or better. We got serious quickly. No longer was life just about ‘me’- it was about ‘we.’ Something we loved yet so helpless depended on us being our very best.
Even more profound was the tickling of our search for meaning and purpose. Our child gave us a greater sense of both. And if youthfully ambivalent about the value and significance of faith, the transcendent, we gave it another thinking. Should our children be exposed to ideas beyond what we can touch and feel? A child demands we ask big questions. The future and its importance loom larger when bouncing your toddler on your knees.
So the ‘nones’ are multiplying. They are now a significant majority. No longer is ‘none’ the loneliest number. Some of them are our children and grandchildren. You might even be one. Or a recovering ‘none’ such as myself. This all begs the question…
So what does it take to become a ‘none?’ Perhaps there are many reasons. I’ll attempt a few.
There is a reasonably well-understood human behavior tendency toward rebellion, especially among the young. Idealistic, they hold us to a near impossible standard. It is often a result of a reaction or overreaction to one’s observations and experiences. I have heard the personal testimony of many ‘nones’ that they often sat next to hypocrites when sitting in a church pew. Who wants to do that for an hour every week? The contradiction between professed belief and observed behavior was too much. They left.
Still, others will tell of taking up various progressive causes, putting them in conflict with traditional orthodox religious beliefs. If the church doesn’t accept same-sex marriage or support ‘trans-rights,’ or pick up a BLM placard, for example, then the church is bigoted and out of touch. They now check the ‘none’ box.
If you attend a mainline denomination church, you undoubtedly have noticed the growing number of empty pews. These denominations are bitterly fighting where the cultural line should be. They ask each other rhetorical questions like ‘what would Jesus do?’ with our present-day cultural milieu consumed by sexual identity and skin pigment. Ignoring the various New Testament epistles warning against disunity, the parties end up in court fighting over the real estate spoils. The young shake their head and check the ‘none’ box.
There’s a very good chance members of Antifa (that group of thugs who believe in the ‘chaos theory’ of social order) don’t think much of attending church. Just a guess, but I seriously doubt they come home in the wee hours of the morning after causing mayhem to read their children a bedtime story. Pretty good chance, if they bother with answering a survey, they identify as a ‘none.’
Antifa will admit to their nihilistic worldview, unlike the millions of Americans grappling with existential questions such as ‘Is there a God?’ Affiliations and church attendance challenge us to ask that question as our children do. To not leaves us thinking that perhaps there is nothing important other than money.
Unfortunately, the pandemic and its residue have left some of us with a case of chronic fear. We were told that gathering together physically is the ultimate Petri dish of disease. A vector of viruses that we should avoid human contact to the degree possible. So we have rationalized ourselves to spend more time alone- unaffiliated. Lonely but safe.
Hopefully, we will gather this Easter- in churches with our brothers and sisters and with our families and children as they hunt for poorly hidden easter eggs. And if a ‘none’ or two were to find their way back, please welcome them back warmly. Maybe even a hug.