“There are two bibles … well … only one originally but now split in two. Half is in the book written on paper and the other half is inside of people. You are born with it but it’s up to you to find out. You gotta learn to see it for yourself … that’s the only way.” – from the book ‘City of the Dead’
PewResearch just completed another study measuring religion in America and the number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace.
In fact … one-fifth of the U.S. <a third of adults under 30> are religiously unaffiliated today. This is the highest percentages ever seen in Pew Research.
- Before I begin let me share a thought will consistent bring to bear in this post … religion, to me, is not what is written, or said, but what someone believes. It is the ‘half the book’ inside you … whatever that book <Koran, Bible, Torah, etc.> is. That said … the books and teachings provide a construct, or framework, for what someone believes. As I have noted in a past post, I do not believe you can create something from nothing … and religious belief is exactly the same.
Pew states that in the last five years alone, the unaffiliated have increased from just over 15% to just under 20% of all U.S. adults. This number includes more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics (nearly 6% of the U.S. public), as well as nearly 33 million people who say they have no particular religious affiliation (14%).
This large and growing group of Americans is less religious than the public at large on many conventional measures, including frequency of attendance at religious services and the degree of importance they attach to religion in their lives.
You can view, and download, the entire report here if you would like: http://www.pewforum.org/Unaffiliated/nones-on-the-rise.aspx
Let me begin with why I believe this is happening … and conclude with what it doesn’t mean.
- Why these study results are happening.
Intolerance and “the devil is in the details.”
<note: I believe these are significantly more impactful than trust or any – human – flaws organized religion may have exhibited in the past>
It is the extremes in religions that produce intolerance and extreme opinions and threaten a tolerant well balanced society and not the rejection of religion that is creating the results.
I will avoid same sex marriage and abortion and pick a more benign example to showcase absurd intolerance … and how it ripples out in its effect.
For example <and I include the link to this article below> … Mix It Up at Lunch Day in the United States is one of those programs that seems like the right thing to do.
The idea is that on one day of the school year, kids are invited to have lunch with the kind of kids they don’t usually hang out with: the jocks mix with the nerds, lunch tables are racially integrated, et cetera. Sponsored by the Southern Poverty Law Center as part of their Teaching Tolerance division, it arose out of a broad effort to tackle the problems of bullying in the schools and bigotry in society – and it appears to have been effective in breaking down stereotypes and reducing prejudice. Over 2,000 schools nationwide now participate in the program.
And, yet, a religious group has challenged the Day in court and threatens this initiative … and initiative that, frankly, you really have to dig deep to find something wrong.
Here is the article:
“I don’t believe for a moment that this hysterical voice that screeches in America’s political sphere is the authentic voice of religion in America. Most religious Americans want to mix it up at lunch! They want to make friends across party lines, and they want to help people who are less fortunate. A survey by the Public Religious Research Institute, released on 24 October, reveals that 60% of Catholics believe the Church should place a greater emphasis on social justice issues and their obligation to the poor, even if that means focusing less on culture war issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.” – author of linked article, Katherine Stewart
While I am still slightly dumbfounded that someone would be against an initiative like this I use it to make a point that rigidity creates the conflict & tension where organized religion doesn’t win.
The net impression is that organized religion is about … well … organized religion … and not for the overall good of the people.
The struggle that organized religion has is that I would imagine, given an opportunity, it would not want to be affiliated with this smaller group’s actions <or any of the smaller extremist groups out there>.
Organized religion is being damned by a minority <pun intended>.
Regardless … it all feeds into a cynicism for organized religion and increases the belief that all that really matters is ‘individual belief.’
<I will get back to that point at the conclusion>
The pun I used … “the devil is in the details.”
I apologize to my religious friends if they believe I am suggesting the devil is involved anywhere in this discussion. He is not. The details are the laundry list of “rules of the road” organized religion demands to be a true believer in God.
This is a tricky issue.
I have published articles that state my belief that religions need these details, eliminate some ‘on-the-ground’ ambiguity so that people don’t get stuck in the gray.
However … it is within some of these details that organized religion finds themselves trapped in some relatively absurd boxes.
The percentage of Americans who say the Bible should be taken literally has fallen in Gallup polls from an average of about 38% of the public in the late 1970s and early 1980s to an average of 31% since.
I would like to note that I believe there is a corresponding whiplash affect <going back to my initial “extremes” creating the discomfort with organized religion from an overall perspective>.
What I mean is that as the percentage of ‘literal interpretation of the bible’ people has declined I believe the percentage remaining, who believe ‘literal interpretation’, has become increasingly threatened and therefore have even stronger inclination to literalness.
In other words … that percentage is a minority <and shrinking> but more rigid and uncompromising.
By the way … that is a natural human response.
- What this study does not mean.
God is loved no less than before.
And moral underpinnings are not diminished.
You cannot equate the fact that one in five Americans having no religious affiliation with a diminished importance of the moral underpinnings. Suggesting such a thing is extremely unfair, and untrue, to those who may display a distaste for organized religion but who do not doubt the existence of a God.
In addition, even if you take into consideration a rejection of aspects of the “literal interpretation of the written word” <recorded thousands of years ago> doesn’t diminish the moral standards that exist in our minds.
One can still have the same ethics and morals as proclaimed by any of the religions without belonging to a church/mosque/temple.
In general I believe Americans have lost faith in religion … not in God.
<note: I do not believe Americans are alone in this … I just do not have the research on hand to pony up and show it beyond my opinion>
I do believe religion, or organized faith, not only has a role in society but I also believe it has an opportunity.
I said at one point earlier … “feeds into a cynicism for organized religion and increases the belief that all that really matters is ‘individual belief’ …”
I do believe construct matters. Guardrails matter. And sometimes individuals are not good at building guardrails … and I know for sure if I were to gather 100 people and have each build guardrails they would not all be the same.
In addition, humankind, in general, seems to be showing more and more flaws.
In addition, it seems we humans, in general, are becoming less and less centrist <in everything> and more extreme in our overall opinions.
This means more divisive.
In addition, leader/heroes are becoming more difficult to find.
What this means to me?
We need God.
We need a belief in a God.
And whether we like, or dislike, organized religion the role it plays is to organize people around God. They facilitate (and shouldn’t act like the end all).
I imagine I am suggesting that people are disillusioned with institutions in general.
But I don’t believe we are actually disillusioned with God.
And <God forbid> if we are?
I tend to believe it shows a lack of understanding.
And religious organizations can help people understand.
Couple of thoughts to end this research overview.
The organized opportunity.
We are better drivers when there are lines on the road. We know what lanes to stay in and even use blinkers <most of the time> when we want to shift lanes.
Rules of the road are good.
It permits us to not only judge our own actions but the actions of others.
Is this a bad analogy? Maybe. But you get the point.
I do not agree with people who say “we know the right thing to do without anyone telling us.” We all can always use someone telling us the right thing to do. I call it stimulus-response. Maybe that is organized religion’s sole responsibility to society and culture … to provide a “right” stimulus and we can ‘respond’ as we see fit <accept, adapt, reject>.
I don’t actually believe that but if that is true I can think of worse things.
I actually believe that if organized religion <of all religions> get their shit together they will be in the stimulus-response business. In other words … stimulate ‘good’ responses.
That is called ‘encouraging desired behavior’ in the business world.
Crazy talk on my part? Maybe. But it can be done … and it works.
Faith & hope.
I do not have proof of this but I have studied human behavior for years.
I get concerned that as organized religion decreases individualism <or “it is all about me” attitude> increases. In other words we lose sight of the bigger picture ‘hope’ and larger view of ‘faith in groups, culture, civilization, etc.”
I am not suggesting organized religion is necessary to keep us out of some self-satisfying individual driven society but I do believe it plays a significant role.
It helps balance.
It helps provide those societal guard rails.
Does this show that I don’t have faith in people to do the right thing all by their lonesome?
Individuals respond to the culture they exist in. If they perceive that those at the top are ‘in it for themselves’ and driven by self/individual wants/needs/desires than they will start to emulate that behavior <at least some aspects>.
It becomes a “Me” driven society.
Organized religion, for all its warts, is a constant reminder that salvation is not just through God but also society. You may not follow all their rules and regulations but you do keep a North Star view on the betterment of all versus I.
Religion is in the faith & hope business.
And, frankly, we all could use a good dose of that on occasion.
I wrote less about the Pew Research than I did my own thoughts. But I did include a link to the research and it is interesting stuff.
In the end I believe people tend to look at this research and wring their hands in dismay and start thinking about the “crumbling of civilization as we know it” rather than recognize it is simply reflecting change.
And change represents opportunity.
And I think we could all take an opportunity to do some soul searching <pun intended>.