NO RELIGION: THOUGHTS ON WHAT I HEARD ON NPR THIS MORNING

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.

DEFICIT, DEBT, AND THE DOW

So I’m doing some serious Greenbean type thinking the last few days about the deficit, debt, and stock market plunge of the last few days.  Some thoughts come to mind.  They are only slightly related.

Number 1:  I remember three weeks or so ago when we were still on vacation my oldest daughter and I were driving around and I was listening to NPR on the radio and there was a piece on the deficit talks and how it was hard to get a deal made.  (Note, of course we all know how hard that was).  My daughter, who is 16, asked me what that actually meant.  So, I told her about government spending, revenues, and how for the past 40 years we have progressively spent more and more on social services and entitlements  but also systematically taken in less and less on taxes.  The result has been that we are borrowing vast amounts of money, and much of it from other countries, like China, and that in order to keep going the congress was going to have to agree to raise the limit on what they could borrow so they could borrow more.  It made me depressed and my daughter wondered, “Who is running this country?”

Number 2:  The idea of raising your own debt limit is really odd, isn’t it?  When I need to borrow money or if I wanted to raise my credit card limit, I have to ask someone else’s permission.  Not congress.  They just print more money.  Perhaps the problem lies in who gets to approve this.  Maybe congress should put deficit spending to a public vote—but only those who pay taxes get to vote.

Number 3:  Debt—that is the word used in the King James Version of the Bible for the Lord’s Prayer as a synonym for sin:  “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”  I’ve always thought the connection between a debt owed and a sin committed was telling.  Perhaps our debt problem as a nation is a collective sin which we have not confessed.  If that is so I suggest the sin we are guilty of is not materialism, (because a lot of the debt spending is actually for wonderful altruistic things like helping the poor and vulnerable) but instead it is the sin of electing spineless politicians who find it easier to kick the can down the street instead of dealing with the issue.

Number 4:  The ideologues are going to get us all in a lot of trouble.  There are two sets of ideologues which are driving this crazy train.   One ideology says never raise taxes and just cut spending while the other ideology says never cut spending and just raise taxes.  Now here’s the scoop:  taxes are going to have to be raised one way or another and spending is being cut all across the nation.  Smart leaders would acknowledge this, come square with the people and get things taken care of.  The American economy is strong and can survive both cuts and raises in revenue.   It might not be in the future if something is not done now.

Number 5:  I refuse to look at my annuity right now.  It is a bad idea to even think about looking at what your portfolio is worth right now.  It is in times like this that smart investors buy.  That is what I learned in economics classes in college.  Buy when the market is down.  That means temporarily you are losing money, but in the end, when things rebound, and they will rebound, you’ll be better off.  The ones who are getting hurt are those who are retired or near retirement.  That is why it is so silly that congress and the President (yes, he must take some of the blame) let this happen.

Number 6:  Back to my daughter and I listening to the radio news.  She asked me, “If we don’t raise the limit and pay our bills, can the other countries repossess the United States?”  I replied by saying, “No way.  Part of what we’ve been spending the borrowed money on is really big guns that fly fast.  I dare anyone to try to come and take it.”