In the wee hours of the morning well before the sun crept over the eastern horizon and illuminated the snow capped Cascade Mountains and glistened off the shimmering waters of Puget Sound I heard something interesting come through my iPhone via the earphones covering my ears. (okay–before I get back to my subject, can you tell that I”ve been wordsmithing my new novel? Anyway . . . ) What I heard was an interview on our local NPR station, KUOW, with six people who claimed themselves as having no religious affiliation. I heard its companion story yesterday, which featured an interview with Robert Putnam and some pollster I had never heard of. The radio segment is investigating the growth of the “Nones.” Nones are people who say or mark “none” when asked about religious affiliation. Apparently this number has grown to 20% of the population, and is even higher amongst people under the age of 30.
That is where this particular segment focused. The interview was with six people, under the age of 30, who claimed no religious affiliation. Here is a little excerpt from the Morning Edition program. I recommend you listen to the whole piece and hear these voices or you can read highlights: CLICK HERE.
Lizz Reeves, 23, raised by a Jewish mother and a Christian father. She lost a brother to cancer.
“I wanted so badly to believe in God and in heaven, and that’s where he was going. I wanted to have some sort of purpose and meaning associated with his passing. And ultimately the more time I spent thinking about it, I realized the purpose and meaning of his life had nothing to do with heaven, but it had to do with how I could make choices in my life that give his life meaning. And that had a lot more weight with me than any kind of faith in anything else.”
Some of my first thoughts as I listened was that I would like to play this for our church leadership to hear. I often think that church leadership, especially older leadership, too easily discounts anything young people say and don’t hear it with their heart. I believe these six people are good folks who want to do good and maybe even want to have faith; but it eludes them. I also had the following reactions.
1. It is fascinating that these people came out of a strong institution–Roman Catholic, Jewish, Seventh Day Adventist, or Islam. None of them were raised secularist or materialists, and, none of them came from a classic free-church tradition or a mainline Protestant church.
2. All six of them were the victims of a consumeristic approach to faith. They had been taught, at some point, that “If I pray then I should get what I want or asked for” and then, when that didn’t happen each one came to a conclusion that God wasn’t real.
3. I didn’t feel bothered by these people or their comments. They sound and look like people I know or those in my family. Lack of faith amongst the nones is not a sign of problems, but a sign of honesty. In the past these people might have ‘faked it’ but now they don’t. I believe that is good for those of us who truly believe in Christ for it gives us a real glimpse at the world, not a sugar-coated “We are a Christian Nation” delusion.
4. Authoritarian institutions either breed loyal and devoted followers or it breeds rebels. These six, all from rigid institutional religious structures are the rebels. For balance, it would have been nice to have six who were still in each of these faith traditions.
5. The greatest thought I had was that much of what I’ve read the past decade regarding church life has been, essentially, about how to reach these “nones.” I don’t think that is how to fix it. All of these had formative experiences as children or youth. The only way to fix it is to approach our youth and children, in our churches, right now, with care, sensitivity, and with authentic communal honesty and integrity–not mood lighting and awesome camps.
6. One more thought. I sure would like to have a cup of coffee with each of these people. I really would.