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The Nones: children of the culture wars

I was addicted to the radio alarm today as NPR started a new series on Morning Edition called Losing Our Religion. Today's story begins with the rise of the category "None." That is, people in America who answer that to the question of what their religion is. This religion geek is fascinated...it's too much to include on Facebook or Twitter. So here you go.

Some 46 million Americans, 1/5 of the nation, identifies this way. It's one of the largest growing categories of faith. Including 33% of Americans under the age of 30. And, contrary to the number of atheists and agnostics rising, the Nones are actually full of spiritual practice. They tend to be socially liberal, not looking to find an organized religion, and possibly fed up with politics and inclined to call themselves independent of party. 75% favor gay marriage and legal abortion.

Contrast this with the fact that Americans for the first time are less than majority Protestant--48%. And that a fairly substantial chunk of the Nones are white.

The NPR story covers a lot of ground already...but dives right into the politics of churches leaning toward the right, the children of the culture wars, and the breakdown of institutions in general in the country. And the fact that Americans still identify at a vastly higher rate than, say, Europe as a religious nation. And that Americans in general are actually slightly more religious in scale than the people of Iran.

Interesting stuff all the way around.

The comparative religion degree in me finds nothing surprising about these numbers. America is a fairly diverse place these days and it is the second part that worries me more. We actually have better relations between faiths of all types. The bad news, however, is that those faiths are increasingly unable to adapt and meet the needs of the people they are meant to serve.

Honestly, the info is there. Contrary to my atheist/secular friends, I do think religion's true purpose in the history of humankind has been to answer the kinds of questions we are asking about the modern world. Religion is meant to be a Big Question type of endeavor. It answers the fundamental who are we, why are we here, what should we be doing with our time and life.

And, sadly, that's exactly where our institutions have broken down. But it's not like philosophical answers weren't laid down thousands of years ago to the same issues. War, poverty, famine, injustice, love, truth, power, materialism. These topics should be old hat. There is, literally, very little new that has been written since, oh, the year zero.

What we actually face is a crisis in America of...education. It's not that Americans lack religion or faith. It's that we have little interest in engaging in a discussion about the philosophia perennis. Which is what is driving the Nones, in my opinion. I'm in that same demographic. It's not that Religion is petty. It's that religions are petty. Or can be. What this means for our future is unclear. The answer is not a return to prayer in school or needing to fill the pews, per se.

Church affiliation is hardly a marker for how advanced a civilization has become. But the moral and ethical behavior of society is. Individuals will always be flawed. But how we, collectively, choose to treat each other is important. As I told a friend the other day who was asking for advice about what church to join: it's like picking a bar. Do they serve what you drink and do you like the vibe of the crowd?

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