October 21, 2020

Open Mic: Losing Our Religion (2)


Yesterday, we began a few days of discussing the recent stories on NPR’s Morning Edition in the series, “Losing Our Religion.” Our first conversation was about the overall trend of a growing disconnect between younger people and religion in the U.S. More and more of them are identifying themselves as “Nones” — when asked to state their religious affiliation they say, “None.”

Today, we focus on the two reports featuring interviews with six young people who have come from different religious traditions, but are now finding it difficult to believe in God and/or practice religion. The six young people are:

  • Miriam Nissly, age 29, raised Jewish
  • Yusuf Ahmad, age 33, raised Muslim
  • Kyle Simpson, age 27, raised evangelical Christian
  • Melissa Adelman, age 30, raised Roman Catholic
  • Rigoberto Perez, age 30, raised Seventh Day Adventist
  • Lizz Reeves, age 23

You can listen to the interviews with these folks HERE and HERE. And here are the links to the transcripts so that you can read and refer to their conversation as you participate in ours:

Again, I’d like for us to start by responding to the actual interviews. If you were sitting in a group with these young people, how would you summarize what you hear them saying? What would you say to them? What questions might you ask them? What clarifications would you ask them to give? What do you take away from this conversation?

Here are a few quotes from these NPR pieces for your reference in our discussion:

nprlogo_138x46“You know, I find the practice of sitting and sort of being quiet, and being alone with your thoughts, to be helpful. But I don’t think I need to answer that question [about having a belief in God] in order to participate in the traditions that I was brought up with.” (Miriam)

“Yeah. Like, I wasn’t buying it. And today, if some guy told you that, “I need to sacrifice my son because God told me to do it,” he would be locked up in – like, a crazy institution.” (Yusuf)

“I think having a God would create a meaning for our lives; like, we are working towards a purpose, and it’s all worthwhile because at the end of the day, we will maybe move on to another life, where everything is beautiful. Like, I love that idea.” (Kyle)

“I remember a theology test in eighth grade, where there was a question about homosexuality. And the right answer was that if you are homosexual, then that is not a sin because that’s how God made you. But acting upon it would be a sin. And I very clearly remember the…I vividly remember thinking to myself that that was not the right answer.” (Melissa)

“I mean, while I was younger, my father drank a lot. There was abuse in the home. My brother committed suicide in 2001. So at some point, you start to say, why does all this stuff happen to people? And if I pray and nothing good happens, is that supposed to be, I’m being tried? I find that almost – kind of cruel, in some ways. It’s like burning ants with a magnifying glass. You know, eventually, that gets just too hard to believe anymore.” (Rigoberto)

“I still feel like I would benefit from that community, and I still, I think, struggle, feeling like I cannot be a member of it. And so I think if I found a religious community that made me feel accepted for who I am, that I would be much – I’d be very open to pursuing that. And I actually have some friends who are members of a particular church who’ve been really trying to get me to go with them to this church, ’cause they keep telling me, oh, don’t worry, it’s OK, everybody, you know, that’s what’s this church is all about. And so I’m certainly open to the idea and I would like my children way down the road to also have exposure to religion and ask these questions of themselves. And I think that’s really important.” (Lizz)

“As you can hear, these young Americans are conflicted. I mean, we spoke for two hours and they talked about having this respect for religion but feeling like it’s not something they can totally identify with right now.” (Host)



  1. I left this comment on the other thread but will re-post.

    Reading this post also makes me ask the following question. Do any of you guys see the rise of “The Nones” as being linked to the rise of “Reformed Theology”? I see Reformed Theology as basically being Fundamentalism 2.0. In it one encounters the following:

    1. Strict gender roles
    2. Harsh and brutal Bible teaching that is legalistic
    3. Over the top church discipline
    4. People being taught that God ordains evil.
    5. Membership covenants which are legalistic and lock a person into a church.
    6. Restrict and eliminate questions due to authoritarianism.
    7. Legalistic tithing

    Over the past 15+ years we have watched the American evangelical stage be dominated by people like John Piper, Mark Driscoll, etc… Now my poison was John Piper but its my theory and one that I have had for years is the following. The next wave of people who will follow the New Atheist Wave will be those who were burned out on Reformed Theology. I might even call it the “Reformed Atheist” wave.

    Am I the only one who thinks that John Piper’s legacy will be in creating a more secularized society?

    • I absolutely agree. I commented on the earlier post that the abandonment rate increased after a particular period in history, not during, as the children abandon the faith as soon as they are out from under their parents roof. I agree that the same up-tick in abandonment rate will follow this current neo-reformed period. The problem is that evangelicalism’s abandonment rate is not leveling off during this period as it did in the 80’s, meaning that the abandonment rate will probably double in the next decade, reaching near exponential rates. If evangelicalism is not in full-fledged collapse now, that will probably be the ultimate tipping point.

    • “Over the past 15+ years we have watched the American evangelical stage be dominated by people like John Piper, Mark Driscoll, etc…”

      That may be true for a segment of “the American evangelical stage”, but certainly not the whole thing. Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, Andy Stanley, etc… have been more influential overall.

    • Eagle, I think the problem is not so much with Calvinism and Reformed theology as it is with fundamentalism. A lot of the neo-puritans have learned to dress up fundamentalism 2.0 with cool technology to make it look centrist. Your list of seven things are completely missing from all the largest, mainline denominations of reformation heritage: PCUSA, the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, and the Reformed Church in America. Of course, they have their own issues with liberal theology, but those groups have historically, at least on paper, held to reformation theology. Yet since they as a whole have rejected fundamentalism wholesale (and indeed might even be the reactionary extreme), they can have their doctrines of grace AND grace.

      The problem is that the neo-puritans combined enthusiastic pietism and and strict biblicism with the doctrines of grace. It’s a recipe for disaster and one that leads to the destruction of personal faith, imo. They claim salvation by grace with one hand, and while you’re not looking they place the burden back on your shoulders with the other because their biblicism means rules must be followed, and their pietism means you have to be excited about it.

      Case in point: I am fairly certain you can have all 7 of your points in a fully non-Calvinist church. Traditional, fundamentalist Armianism fits the mold you describe quite well, and is alive and strong in many denominations today. They’re just not as loud on the internet as neo-puritans.

      • Miguel I can see what you are saying and yes I agree that they do dress up fundamentalism and make it look cool. When I was involved it wasn’t even looked at as being fundamentalist. Fundamentalism was seen as KJV Bible based, strict interpretation on the Bible, formal dress in church, etc… But I mostly think of this crowd as they infleunced some of the organzautions and chruches I was invovled in. And even though I am outside of the faith pond…I’m still encountering some of these guys when I am not looking.

      • “The problem is that the neo-puritans combined enthusiastic pietism and and strict biblicism with the doctrines of grace. It’s a recipe for disaster and one that leads to the destruction of personal faith, imo. They claim salvation by grace with one hand, and while you’re not looking they place the burden back on your shoulders with the other because their biblicism means rules must be followed, and their pietism means you have to be excited about it.”

        Well said…

    • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says

      My gut tells me that the rise of “nones” are less a reaction to the rise of the neo-reformed than that the rise of the neo-reformed and the rise of the “nones” are different reactions to the same societal changes. I.e. they’re different sides of the same coin. That’s just an untested hypothesis, though.

    • I replied yesterday on the other post but here’s what I basically said.

      Yes. But it’s only a slice of the pie. Your views, like those of all of us, are tainted by your experiences. They are valid experiences for you but maybe (likely?) not for a majority of the US. There are many reasons for the nones. You’ve stated one of them.

      Says he who grew up in a moderately sized southern SBC congregation. My view of religions in the US always tend to be seen through that filter. Although I like to think I’ve be able to remove most of the filter when I try.

  2. If these are the same interviews from the NPR series, I was puzzled by the testimony of the young man from an Islamic background commenting how he could not believe the stories he was taught, particularly of Abraham and Isaac. If I understood the interview correctly, it looked like he thought God turned Isaac into a goat. Is this what Islam teaches, or was he never taught the stories correctly? I found it frustrating that the NPR interviewer did not comment on this or seek clarification.

    • Yes, it was Yusuf Ahmad. Greene makes no effort to challenge his statements and leaves the impression that this is really what scripture teaches. I respect the subject matter but find the handling of it irresponsible.

    • I was Shi’a Muslim for a number of years and have never heard he goat thing. It is not in the Qur’an nor in the general hadiths. I don’t think he meant a magical thing. I think he meant the equivalent of “God provided a ram.” That said, the story might be part of the mythology of some of the deviant branches in Syria or North Africa.

      Here is what the Qur’an actually records. I’m including the relevant part of Surat 37:100-109
      My Lord, grant me [a child] from among the righteous.”
      So We gave him good tidings of a forbearing boy.
      And when he reached with him [the age of] exertion, he said, “O my son, indeed I have seen in a dream that I [must] sacrifice you, so see what you think.” He said, “O my father, do as you are commanded. You will find me, if Allah wills, of the steadfast.”
      And when they had both submitted and he put him down upon his forehead,
      We called to him, “O Abraham,
      You have fulfilled the vision.” Indeed, We thus reward the doers of good.
      Indeed, this was the clear trial.
      And We ransomed him with a great sacrifice,
      And We left for him [favorable mention] among later generations:
      “Peace upon Abraham.”

      The actual story if found in the Isra’iliyat which is one of the written oral traditions that compiled stories primarily of a more historical bend (other compilations dealt with Muhammed’s stories and moral teaching). These were compiled in the 100 years following Muhammed’s death. I no longer have an English translation of it, so I can’t look it up. My general remembrance is that it is nearly identical to the Jewish tradition. The art concerning the story varies widely but the image I used to have looked, except in style, like by kiddy Bible illustration.

      Just as a point the Qur’an does not say which son was to be sacrificed. It is assumed to be Ishamel by many but not all Muslim scholars. The Dihibah (Binding) is an important symbolic piece to a Muslim’s theology. The son in the Qur’an does not “need” to be bound. He and his father both submit fully to the will of God and the submission of the heart is the binding.

      • Regardless of the goat interpretation, his point is still: who in the world would think it a message from God to sacrifice your son?

        • It’s been quite a while since I read it, but Leonard Sweet talks about this incident in his book Out of the Question… Into the Mystery. He brings up a line of rabbinical commentary that speculates that the test that God was putting Abraham through wasn’t one of blind obedience, but rather one of character. In other words, God wanted Abraham to argue with Him, as he did when it came to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. He brings up the point that after this incident, the record of conversation between God and Abraham sort of just stops. So in contrast to a God who simply wants blind obedience like the Gods of Canaan and Babylon, Yahweh wants real interaction.

          This interpretation isn’t completely airtight, but I do appreciate it. I think the biggest problem it presents to Christians is that the NT authors hold up Abraham’s obedience as a sign of his faith rather than a negative thing. But I still think there could be some truth in it.

        • Cedric Klein says

          A MidEastern tribesman from four thousand years ago when child sacrifice was, if not common, not unheard of.

          What is missing from almost all Christian Sunday School & maybe this guy’s childhood Islamic instruction is the Jewish view that this is God’s “rough lesson” way of forbidding human sacrifice. “From now on, know that if you hear a voice telling you to kill your child, it ain’t Me!”

          • I don’t mean to be pedantic but the old testament only dates from 2700 years ago, so their is no reason to think it is giving us accurate information about 1300 years earlier

        • True. This not my favorite Bible story.

    • Yes, I caught that too. But even though he got that part of the story wrong, he clearly was most disturbed with the man hears voice in head telling him to sacrifice son and man goes to do it part of it. And he’s right we would lock people up today for doing something like that.

      The only reason I am not weirded out by the story is that I don’t believe it ever literally happened. In fact, one reason I have heard given for why it is in there is to keep the Hebrews from ever being tempted to do child sacrifice.

      • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says

        For some reason, that story never really bothered me. I think the reason is that I never thought “well, what if it wasn’t God talking to him?” Granted, I’ve been hearing the story since infancy, so it may not have been as strange as if I had come across it after I was old enough to reason.

        The thing about the story is that it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s pretty much the last major story we’re given about Abraham’s life. After everything he had experienced with God, I figure he’d have known God’s voice and trusted that God knew what he was asking and knew what he was doing. In fact, if I remember right, the rabbinical commentary often stresses that Abraham figured God would somehow bring Isaac out of it, since Abraham knew that God would keep his promise of making Isaac his heir. Hence the NT writer (in Hebrews, I think) talking about how Abraham metaphorically received Isaac back from the dead and how Abraham believed that God could raise Isaac from the dead.

        That’s why it’s a test of Abraham’s faith or trust in God: he knew God well enough to trust him. God wouldn’t have put that test on someone who didn’t know him well enough to know that God was really the one talking to him.

  3. This is all really fascinating. Isn’t it interesting how they all affirm the ideas behind religion (community, morality, meaning, love, forgiveness, and so on) but reject the actual creeds in themselves? What do we make of all this? Is the only difference between them and us the simple fact that we accept the historical resurrection of Christ while they don’t?

    • And the fact that Truth exists – regardless of our emotions. That is central to religious faith and an alien concept in today’s culture

      • Well, I’m sure they would also agree that Truth exists. They just don’t think Jesus is the embodiment of that “Truth.” Also, are you sure it’s just “emotion” to them? I’m sure they too hold some absolute ideas and beliefs, they just don’t equate them with a deity or the supernatural.

        • I don’t totally agree with you…..especially since we have Muslims and Jews rejecting their faith, and Jesus is not important at all to these creeds.

          I do NOT think that the people interviewed believe that one and immutalble “Truth” exists, and that is the source of their frustation and failed faith……although it must be hard to hold faith in a plural world of “information overload”.

          • I actually don’t see the Jewish woman rejecting her faith. Remember, Judaism has a branch called Humanist Judaism that is specifically for those who don’t believe in a literal deity. It’s not a far reach really from modern Judaic philosophy. I mean, at my lowest points of faith I take the attitude that maybe the ancient Hebrews had a brush with or thought they had a brush with the Divine. And so we honor that tangible connection by rituals and traditions.

          • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says

            Ah, yes… reciting the Sh’ma each service without believing in God. Like some groups of Christians that recite the Nicene Creed without believing in the resurrection, virgin birth, or second coming. I don’t really get that. That just seems intellectually dishonest to me.

          • It may seem that way, but it really isn’t. At least not with the Schma. When I say I believe, I do believe, sort of, perhaps in a the ancient Hebrews touched or thought they touched the Divine and we celebrate that reality today, way. I see nothing wrong with that.

            Sure, I don’t believe in a sky daddy type of deity, but I don’t know any serious religious person who does, it’s an insult after all, not the reality.

            The Nicean Creed is the same way. Spong can probably affirm it. He doesn’t literally believe in a Virgin birth or a resurrection, but he believes in the reality of what those things were meant to demonstrate.

          • That just seems intellectually dishonest to me.

            This how many people operate. They decide getting along in their social group is more important than the “details”. Our Christian churches are full of these social Christians.

          • I hear talk of “a plural world” and “a plural self,” but I have no idea what either means, because the reference is always to “a” world, or “a” self, even with the qualifier “plural.” “A” is singular.

          • Robert F — A baffling use of the word, but not a new one. The Oxford English Dictionary notes that John Donne in 1631 said, “God is a plurall God, and offers himselfe to all collectively; God is a singular God, and offers himselfe to every man distributively.”

          • Damaris– I think the quote you offer does not apply to the so-called postmodern concepts of a plural self or plural truth. Donne is talking about the power that an infinite God has to be ubiquitously present and self-giving; he’s not saying that God has no stable, enduring self. As Christians, we believe that the stable, enduring self of God exists as three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In a sense, God is both one and plural; but the triune self of God is stable and enduring: that’s why we can say that he is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. The postmodern concept of plural self claims that there really is no stable self, just a kind of projection of stability under which exists a sub-current of constant flux. I find the concept unintelligible because it begs the question: who or what is constantly in flux? Answer that and you find the hidden stability. It would be more honest to say what the Buddhists say: there is no self; what we call the self is merely a trick of perception. But once again a question is being avoided: who or what is doing the perceiving? Answer that question, and you uncover the enduring self, which as a Christian I believe is rooted in our enduring God.

          • Robert — Your answer is deeper than my comment. I was concerned with grammar and semantics, you (and Donne) with theology. Stick with it. And you’re absolutely right.

        • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says

          One of the key elements to postmodernism is the rejection of absolute truth and instead embracing a more relativistic approach to truth. “That might be true for YOU, but that’s not true for ME.” And even without knowing it, much of our current cultural assumptions are rooted in the philosophical assumptions of postmodernism. I hear a lot of that in these interviews.

          • Exactly. And there can be no reconciliation with Christianity. That is a painful truth that we must face. It is a despairing, self-absorbed ideology – but it cannot last.

          • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says

            NT Wright says that due to its shaky foundation assumptions about relativism, postmodernism is unsustainable in the long term. It was a logical reaction to some of modernism’s arrogance, but it’s bound to be a short-term transition into something else. What that something else will be is a big question mark, though.

        • I disagree. It is very possible that they do NOT believe that truth exists. That is the very end of a culture. But it is where we are today.

          The endless references to ‘community’ are an indication of the acceptance of post-modernism, which is absolute nihilism. “Community” gives an illusion of human contact over the abyss.

          • In response to Isaac:

            I quite agree. Post-modernism is a hot house plant, like the current militant atheism – which is a crude, down-market version of the real thing that burst forth in the France of 1789. Now THERE was a militant atheism.

            I believe that the next stage will be an attempt to merge spirituality with science. It is already happening. And it is not a hot-house plant. It is a form of religion that is extremely attractive.

            It is interesting to note that belief in the soul and life after death is NOT declining – quite the opposite. It is part of a generalized spirituality

  4. Stuart Boyd says

    “But you don’t have to have a sense of community from religion. I don’t get my sense of community from religion. I’m a veteran, I ride sport bikes. I’m a fan of a football team. People can get that sense of community from everywhere.” ~ Rigoberto Perez, 30

    I think his comment is very telling.

    It used to be that the local church was the place where people found “community” and they stayed even if they didn’t believe because church provided them with a sense of belonging in addition to their best social life. It was the life support system of dying churches—people stayed in order to maintain their relationships and for the socializing. This is no longer true, as this young man points out.

    If people can now “get that sense of community from everywhere” and that is no longer the exclusive domain of churches, then people will seek out churches only if they can find ones that “are accepting” and affirm their lives and choices as well as provide them with a social network of friends who share their opinions and outlooks on life and who are fun to hang out together with the way that other secular groups do.

    • “A sense of community” is a result of faith, not the point of it. The idea that it is the most important factor in life is a basis for despair.

      • I don’t know that I would totally agree, Tim. God is making a people, forming a community, bringing to pass a new creation, not just saving individuals.

        • But never as the primary goal. Community is formed by Christians. It does not create Christians. Many people come to church looking to be told who they are by a ‘community’. That never works. We are known and loved by God one by one – and then we can move into relation to others.

          • I think it’s more organic than that — like babies are born into families. Our identity and life is found in relationship with God and other people. No one becomes a Christian without becoming a member of the church.

  5. They seem rather sad, confused and sincere. The host also seems a bit lost and confused. The tone of mild, wistful pessimism does not help to bring clarity or answers, but its emotionalism and passivity fit well with the spirit of the current age.

    Altogether quite depressing.

    • Totally agree.

    • This episode is about specific people questioning and not finding answers. I’m not sure how you brighten that up. It’s almost like an anti-testimony. Plus, in this episode we’re dealing with people coming face to face with tragedy and how religion was not a help for these folk.

      • “Brighten it up”? I don’t know what that means.

        I am talking about clarity and a sense of hope and purpose. It is true that the churches no longer address tragedy and the Christian response to it. But there is a history of it that is available to those who seek for it. That is what is missing – a sense of responsibility, hope and initiative.

        They are waiting for others to give them what they should be seeking for themselves. Perhaps the general sense of despair and passivity and confusion is so widespread now that they are unable to exercise their wills.

        • I was referring to your comment that the episode was pessimistic, by not being able to brighten it up, I meant that the subject matter itself is wistful and kind of sad. They are not waiting for others, they are figuring it out for themselves, so I’m not sure what you mean by your last paragraph.

  6. There are many days when I wonder if it’s reasonable to believe in a God- surely it must be logical, right? But is our logic twisted as humans? What I read and hear from scientists and from friends at school is often condescending, or even derogatory toward religion.

    I grew up (am growing up) in the church, and I’m studying science. I talk to so many people who say “I respect religion, but it’s not for me.” There’s even some hostility toward religion- an attitude that we(a group of high achieving students) somehow must be “too smart” to believe in God. I hear about how Christians are intolerant of gays and don’t support women’s rights, and how the Bible is full of circular reasoning and old wives’ tales. How science negates the need for God, and how God is just something we invented to comfort ourselves. It scares me sometimes- and makes me wonder if I’m going to lose my faith. And thus I cry out to God- “I believe- help my unbelief!”

    • I think we have to accept the fact that we live is an age that is largely dismissive of not just Christianity, but religion in general. Sure, right now all the politicians and societal institutions might give homage to God and what not, but by the time the millennial generation comes to power, religion will be something largely ignored or condescended upon.

      I think the best we young Christians can do now is try to find a community to fit into that will hear our doubts and moments of “unbelief.” A place where we can be honest and grow in a sincere faith marked by integrity and humility. I realize more and more that Christianity isn’t something that’s meant to be lived out alone. One man alone cannot stand by himself against the rising tides of a changing society. If each of these so called “nones” who grew up in the church found such a community, I doubt they’d be so non-religious now.

      Two are better than one,
      because they have a good return for their labor:
      If either of them falls down,
      one can help the other up.
      But pity anyone who falls
      and has no one to help them up.

      A pity it is indeed.

      • Followers of Jesus Christ were never meant to be a successful world power, but the small and faithful ragamuffins trying to pass through the eye of the needle.

  7. Marcus Johnson says

    Speaking as a Christ-follower, I can understand why each of these people left their faith tradition. I listened to them speak–about their upbringing through their church, their interaction with their church’s respective mythologies and moral codes, and their learned perception that God was some sort of vindictive Santa Claus whose sole purpose is to prevent pain and tragedy, unless he wanted to punish someone–and I wondered, “Why shouldn’t they see if they can find peace and comfort outside of the church?”

    Maybe the problem isn’t the “nones”; maybe we have too many professed Christians running around with an immature faith, and we have made these folks teachers instead of students, speakers instead of listeners, and leaders instead of followers. Their schtick used to work on nonbelievers; it’s just not working anymore.

    • Maybe the problem isn’t the “nones”; maybe we have too many professed Christians running around with an immature faith, and we have made these folks teachers instead of students, speakers instead of listeners, and leaders instead of followers.

      Yep. Someone mentioned yesterday that a teacher for an adult Sunday School class said if someone was a Christian trying to live a moral life, nothing bad would happen to them. That Sunday School teacher shouldn’t be teaching anyone anything about Christianity.

    • Klasie Kraalogies says

      But have we ever had some golden age where Christians ran around with a mature faith?

  8. I read stories like these, and I guess my reaction is that it’s kind of hard for me to relate. In some ways, I think I should of had a similar crisis of faith, but I can’t say I have. I grew an AoG pastor’s kid, and I certainly saw all sorts of people doing idiotic, illegal, and downright unloving things in the name of God. I saw people treat my dad and my family like crap. When I left for college, I went to a large state school that has a reputation as a party school and I suppose I should have rejected my faith then, but if anything, I think I became somewhat more entrenched during that period.

    As it stands now, I am quite a bit more “liberal” than my parents, to be sure, and I know I see things quite differently than them – innerrancy, evolution, gay marriage are things we would probably disagree on. But I don’t doubt the reality of Christ in their lives. I guess living with people who you see under constant attack by the people they’re serving, but yet who refuse to lash out at them makes you realize that having a relationship with Christ just changes people.

    Right now, I do have sort of a strained relationship with the institutional church in the fact that my wife and I sort of wandering right now. But I don’t feel like I could ever walk away from Christ or faith in general. So while I read these people’s stories, I certainly do feel for them, and I don’t judge them at all. I honestly hope they find what they’re looking for. But my ability to empathize with them only goes so far.

  9. As I listen to these interviews, two things are standing out to me which reveal, imo, that the fallout between religion and youth has faults on both sides of the aisle. The first is that the church has done a very poor job of listening. People are walking away from faith for reasons they shouldn’t have to: fundamentalism, misrepresentation of core doctrines, mean-spirited religiosity, and close minded interaction with social and scientific issues, for starters. The other thing I’m hearing is a bit of narcissism on the part of the youth. Our culture has inculcated them to insist that a religion is only worthwhile so long as it meets your felt needs and brings you some sort of personal satisfaction. Whether religious claims are true or not seems quite secondary here. It’s almost as if they refuse to come to any God on any terms but their own. In a sense, they have no intention of submitting to a divine authority above them because they’ve been catechized to believe they don’t need to. They might, if they find one that lines up with their perspectives, but ultimately, they are looking to themselves as the authoritative source of truth. They seem to be looking to themselves and their actions as the source of purpose and meaning in life. That IS the religion of youth culture. But can we blame them? Some of them learned this religion in church. Others were let down by a religion that had the tools to help them but for some reason did not.

    The whole thing about Abraham and Isaac takes the cake. It demonstrates a deficit of critical thinking to read an ancient story like that and treat it with modernistic standards as if it was printed in yesterday’s newspaper. Child sacrifice was a common reality back then, nobody would have batted an eye at it. I do feel the rise of narcissism in younger cultures lowers educational standards (and is itself the result of poor educational philosophy) and undermines critical thinking. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to understand that science and religion do not have to be mutually exclusive, yet it seems so many are still living under that paradigm. It is also disconcerting how little effort is being made to dig deeper. But when you’re raised on self-esteem motivational therapy and confronted by fundamentalism as the face of religion, I suppose it’s understandable how many may conclude faith is simply an irrelevant fossil of history. Yet I get the impression that even the more bitter among the formerly religious secretly doubt this conclusion.

    • It does often seem that what people are rejecting is more a caricature of the Christian faith than actual orthodox faith itself. I think if I grew up in some churches, I’d probably want to become an atheist, too…

    • Stuart Boyd says

      You said, “The other thing I’m hearing is a bit of narcissism on the part of the youth. Our culture has inculcated them to insist that a religion is only worthwhile so long as it meets your felt needs and brings you some sort of personal satisfaction. Whether religious claims are true or not seems quite secondary here. It’s almost as if they refuse to come to any God on any terms but their own. In a sense, they have no intention of submitting to a divine authority above them because they’ve been catechized to believe they don’t need to. They might, if they find one that lines up with their perspectives, but ultimately, they are looking to themselves as the authoritative source of truth.”

      In other words, because of their narcissism, unless they can find an echo chamber religion where their views are mirrored back to them, they won’t commit and dismiss religion? Just curious: Do you think that this is the basis for the idea behind the spiritual but not religious mindset?

      • I think the tendency to surround ourselves with like-minded people who think and act just like us is a normal human tendency. Religious communities face the challenge of pushing back on that while still holding to clearly defined tenants which give the institution its substance. But it seems like what I’m hearing more and more is, “I’m not going to let no dumb religion tell me what to believe. I’ll decide what is true.” It’s a belief which seems to unite them all: God or truth are found by looking within, because I would never lie to myself.

    • But I think meeting psychological needs is an important part of religion. If it doesn’t create a community or a heritage, if it doesn’t meet psychological needs, why on earth would someone submit to the rules of a religion? If you don’t get the benefits, why put in the effort?

      Also, I don’t know how these young people are approaching questions of Truth. It’s difficult to have one religious truth when everyone has a different religious truth that is considered equally valid. I guess for me, I tend to lump religion into the opinion bucket (a Constitutionally protected opinion, but an opinion nonetheless). For me, Truths are things that are provable, demonstrable, and repeatable or things documented by multiple reputable sources. So the acceleration of gravity, whether and when Washington crossed the Delaware are Truths. The sacrifice of Abraham, the pregnancy of Sarah, the resurrection of Christ, on the other hand, are not, though they are important touchstones to religious folk worldwide.

      • Different religions claim to give different benefits, and deliver on their promises with varying results. I propose to you that the benefits of Christianity are three: forgiveness, live and salvation. Or put negatively, deliverance from sin, death, and the devil. Whether or not it makes you comfortable in the here and now was not a peripheral concern to the Savior who said, “He who would be my disciple must deny himself, pick up his cross and follow me.”

        It seems the way you approach the interrelation of faith and science maintains the validity of each while not forcing them to intersect. I propose to you that though supernatural events (which include pretty much most of the content of the Apostles’ Creed) are not provable by the sciences, history and science will attest to the fact that a man named Jesus, son of Joseph, was crucified by the Romans. And his tomb was found to be empty. Whether or not you believe this “proves” the resurrection, it is certainly one of a small list of options which could account for these occurrences. The question is not, imo, can this be demonstrated in court of laboratory experimentation beyond a shadow of a reasonable doubt, but rather, if this is true, what does this mean? The Christian scriptures are clear that faith is a response of the heart, and not a conclusion of the mind. Otherwise salvation would be reduced to a feat of intellect, and the cross rendered superfluous.

        • But for me, the story has to also be believable. If I were told (even by reputable sources) that Washington crossed the Delaware via a transporter beam, I would be skeptical. Just as I am skeptical of a resurrection.

          Also, hearts pump blood. That’s all they do. So I think faith is as much part of the mind as any other form of thinking.

          • Skepticism is a natural and healthy response to supernatural claims. However, the analogy of Washington is a bad one, imo, because it’s anachronistic to project sci-fi tech on to history. It would be completely ludicrous to not be skeptical of that. But for the resurrection, the question that needs to be answered is, if this is true, what does it mean? Answer that, and then decide how worthy of skepticism the whole picture is.

            And come on, you know that by “heart” I’m not referring to anatomy. Humans have emotions, they are real and a part of who we are and how we make decisions. Nobody is strictly objective and analytical in all they do (in fact, most of us could do with a bit more of that). Yes, the mind is involved with believing. But there is more to Christian faith than intellectual subscription to a list of supposed facts (with which the Devil himself would probably not argue). It is a trust in the heart of Christ’s work on our behalf. See Romans 10:9.

          • However, the analogy of Washington is a bad one, imo, because it’s anachronistic to project sci-fi tech on to history. It would be completely ludicrous to not be skeptical of that. But for the resurrection, the question that needs to be answered is, if this is true, what does it mean? Answer that, and then decide how worthy of skepticism the whole picture is.

            What’s the difference between SiFi (technology we don’t understand) and a miracle?

          • Mayor McGuinness says

            I like this reply, but not in a FB way. Speaking as a “None” I am often confused by this “heart” vs “intellect” dichotomy. What is the intellect for if not to make judgements about the veracity of truth claims (a resurrected Jesus for instance), to reason them out and weigh the evidence? What exactly is the “heart” in this instance? I been hearing about this all my life but have yet to have it clearly explained to me, not to mention why it is superior in judgement that the intellect. While I am by no means suggesting that the intellect cannot be faulty and prone to bouts of subjective interference I am convinced that the “heart” must be more subject by degrees as I don’t seem to see it presented in conversations has having any deductive properties. I read “decisions of the heart” as being the very definition of a postmodern mode. IMHO BTW.

    • On Thursday night Miguel I was talking to a guy I knew. We we’re sitting in the car and talking. I was telling him about all that I was told and taught about faith, and how my life owuld grow and develop. And none of it came to pass. When I hit obstacles I expected my faith to help (as I was taught) and none of that happened. I felt stunned and lied to do. And then you can have a culture that puts the blame back on the person and says “you didn’t do that correctly…”

      The one thing that is making me look at faith again is realizing that atheists and agnosticism has theri own problems. The biggest ones for me are the following:

      1. Seeing people in denial about their faith
      2. Looking at the world and thinking something must be responsible for all this.

      • It really is sad how pervasive this teaching about “follow Jesus and life will be good” has been among supposedly Christian churches. Jesus never promises us these things. You should feel lied to, because you were. Of course the problem gets put right back on you; the irony of the prosperity gospel is that ultimately it’s a pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps message. It works for the smiley celebrity, so if it didn’t work for you, then there must be something wrong with you (charismatic theology too often follows this route as well). Jesus is reduced to a mascot of your own personal success, however you prefer to define that. But that’s not the Jesus of the Bible.

        Every faith (or lack thereof) community is going to have problems as long as there are people involved (aka original sin). It seems to me there’s a lot of angry atheists these days saying “there is no God and I hate him.” Many of them have very justifiable reasons to be very upset with religion. But somehow, amidst all the turmoil, the real Jesus is either lost or forgotten.

        Eagle, in your exploration of faith and doubt, let me encourage you to look to the Christ of the gospels. I know that the church has miserably failed to live up to his mandates, but the church cannot be for you what only Jesus can. Sometimes it is all the church can do to just deliver his message.

      • Eagle,

        You speak for those of us (me) who were crushed by the hope that God was going to grow & change us (me). I love hearing your words, you speak for me. Both of my daughters have rejected faith, and I truly understand why. I wish with all my heart that I hadn’t raised them in the fundy church.

    • The other thing I’m hearing is a bit of narcissism on the part of the youth. Our culture has inculcated them to insist that a religion is only worthwhile so long as it meets your felt needs and brings you some sort of personal satisfaction.

      But who but the parents allowed this narcissism to grow in their kids? I feel many parents of my parents’ generation and later (I was born in 54) basically abdicated child rearing to the secular world around them.

  10. Randy Thompson says

    Peter Berger makes an interesting point about “nones” and increasing secularization on his blog “Religion and Other Curiosities.” In his words:

    “Let me venture a sociological hypothesis here: The new American secularism is in defense of the sexual revolution. Since the 1960s there has indeed been a sexual revolution in America. It has been very successful in changing the mores and the law. It should not be surprising that many people, especially younger ones, enjoy the new libidinous benefits of this revolution. Whether one approves or deplores the new sexual culture, it seems unlikely to be reversed. Yet Christian churches (notably the Catholic and Evangelical ones) are in the forefront of those who do want to reverse the libertine victory. Its beneficiaries are haunted by the nightmare of being forced into chastity belts by an all too holy alliance of clerics and conservative politicians. No wonder they are hostile!”

    Maybe Berger’s sociological hypothesis should be called “The Big Bang Theory” I(with apologies to the TV show).

    I think this is a pretty good hypothesis. The effects of the Sexual Revolution are here to stay, like it or not. A head-on assault on the “libidinous benefits” of the sexual revolution is doomed, it seems to me. What is needed is something that touches people’s hearts and souls, like the Gospel alive in a grace-shaped life. If Christians have something going for them that’s more satisfying than what can be obtained below the belt, then, like children, it should be more seen than heard.

    • I think that’s part of it, Randy, but it’s broader than that. I will write Friday along these lines, but I think the subject is more about freedom in general than about sexual freedom alone.

      • Randy Thompson says

        I’m sure you’re right about it being broader than that, but I do think we need to take Berger’s point seriously. I recently came across someone speaking to the impact of the sexual revolution on American politics. As a country we are divided over Libertarian economic policies, but, when it comes to sex, Americans generally buy the whole Libertarian package. (I wish I could remember where I read this. )

        I’d like to see some hot-shot sociologist of religion do a study on the family background of the nones. I have a suspicion that the nones might be helpfully understood as the offspring of parents who thought religion was good for the country but who weren’t terribly interested in it. I’ve met quite a number of folks like this, especially older folks. Just a theory.

        Another theory: Sometimes I think the young get just enough Christianity growing up to be inoculated against it. I have seen this on the mainline side, and suspect it’s true on the evangelical side as well.

        • My point is that the sexual revolution did not just happen. Nor did it happen because people suddenly changed their nature and became more lascivious. It happened because it became possible for large numbers of people. And it became possible because of at least three things that are not pernicious in and of themselves: (1) individual freedom, (2) technology, (3) a certain level of affluence. These huge forces have resulted in a tsunami of cultural pressure that has overwhelmed religion and traditional values (of all kinds). We live in a fundamentally different world than existed 50-60 years ago, and the church hasn’t even begun to come to terms with that. We’ve made pathetic efforts at “relevance,” but in the end we were just being swept along with the rest of our culture into a new world. And, of course, lots and lots of people have wanted to ride the waves of sexual freedom that have been a main feature of that storm.

          Note something that I’ve heard several times in this NPR piece and in other pieces like it: “I don’t practice religion/believe in God because I don’t see HOW IT FITS into today’s world.” When virtually anything is possible or accessible, it doesn’t seem right that I should restrict my life into some small religious box.

    • Exactly right. I’d add that there are churches that embrace the sexual revolution and they are just as empty as all the others. These kids could find churches that teach exactly what they say they want, but they don’t go. They know what the Bible says, and pretending Jesus is cool with living out the mores of the sexual revolution and that doing so doesn’t hurt anybody would cause more cognitive dissonance than it’s worth.

      The situation really isn’t that much different than in the early church dealing with Greek and Roman culture.

      • Randy Thompson says

        I totally agree with you about our situation being similar to that of the early church in dealing with Greek and Roman pagan culture.

    • The sexual revolution is part of a larger basket of goods (and I do think it was good) than just hassle-free sex. The freedom of women to be whatever the heck they want to be and the freedom of gay folk to be out and proud has also arisen as a result of that mind set.

      I would not live my mother’s life, so I consider it all to have been worth it. Others may have other views.

      • My sentiments are similar. Not all change has been for the better, but as a woman I’ll take 2013 over 1913.

        Any day of the week.

    • I’m not completely convinced that adultery has proliferated with the “sexual revolution.” I think the veneer of faux Puritan religiosity was shattered from cultural dominance, and what once was done in secret became proclaimed form the rooftops. But generally, mankind has never had a problem groveling before the dictates of carnal desires.

      …although I did hear a fascinating theory the other day. Apparently people who are naturally more libidinous tend to engage in procreative activity more frequently. They are therefore more likely to produce children, and more of them. Therefore the genetic predisposition to be more libidinous is passed on with more frequency than lesser libidinous genes. After (at least) thousands of years of natural selection along these lines, we are therefore currently living in the most libidinous generation in the history of mankind (and it’s only getting worse)!

      • Reading this post I am aware again of how deep the divisions are between the classic Christian view of reality and the current belief in social constructs and the combination of watered down Freud and Darwin. This results in a different understanding of almost everything – even in our concept of what being human is.

        The Christian understanding of reality is profound and provided the basis for the development of a civilization – that every individual is sacred and known by God and therefore of infinite worth.

        There is no indication in the current discussion about sex and human relations that this is true – Christianity becomes the source of all the world’s troubles, a prison for the mind and body, and something to be freed from.

        Based on this assumption it is understandable that very young people will run screaming from Christianity and into the current popular culture.

        The loss is immeasurable, and it is not entirely the fault of the church.

        Even the vocabulary has vanished. I have read through several discussion on this blog. I am new here. The posts are generally thoughtful and serious and the blog as a whole is quite impressive, but I do find that the assumptions and vocabulary are very, very far from the history of the Christian church in relation – at least – to these topics.

        Altogether it is quite sad and from a historical, temporal viewpoint, tragic. But as I (hopefully) believe we can agree that this is not our final home, then the word ‘tragedy’ is not used.

    • Yes, I’ll go along with this idea — there has been a huge shift in thinking about sex, and whatever moral difficulties have arison from it, significant new rights and freedoms have come along with it. By freedoms, I do not mean, “I can now fornicate with wild abandon” (although that may be easier), but also:

      -“now I can control my fertility” and
      -“rape can be discussed more openly and frankly” and
      -“mainstream sexual ethics now takes gender equality and consent seriously” and
      -“I will no longer be locked in a mental institution for being homosexual, and subjected to treatment against my will,” and
      -“single young women are no silently shuttled off to homes to give birth and have their babies taken away, then to return and pretend nothing happened”

      …and so on…

      So when religious folk try to defend older formulations of speaking about sex, formulations that carry with them so much baggage (along with some advantages), a lot of young people become suspicious.

      And in some cases, they should be. As a former evangelical culture crusader, the anti-feminist message is not lost on me. I guard my career and my equal partnership with my husband in marriage very jealously. It’s hard not be a little gun shy after encountering the Mark Discolls of the world.

      • Is the Christian view of human relations really as repellent and ugly as the phrases you place in quotes?

        I know this is the generally held view today, and there is the perception of Christianity as the villain and the enemy. But there is far, far more that you are leaving out. This sort of ‘feminists vs Christians’ way of thinking can never produce anything except more divisions – although on both sides it provides the excitement of conflict

        • In my view, no, it’s not. If I thought so I’d be a “none.”

          My point is that the ‘sexual revolution’ has swept away a great deal that many people now regard as deeply problematic. So when some people see attacks on that revolution–or ‘older, religious values portrayed as diametrically opposed to it–they get nervous.

          • It is appropriate to get concerned when the “older religious values” are caricatured and reduced to cases of abuse.

            The sexual revolution has not been an unqualified success – even for feminists. It has succeeded in degrading people even as the shackles have fallen away. The abuses needed to be addressed and must continue to be (and those on side of the Revolution are not themselves beyond criticism) but we have lost the concept of ennobled humanity as people have been reduced to the level of demands, emotions and desires.

            The loss of the incarnational understanding of both men and women is incalculable. The Sexual Revolution is a very poor substitute for that.

          • I think you are misreading what I am saying, as I am not reducing older religious values to any of those things. I’m saying that historically the two have been associated. So when you start talking about incarnational theology, I can guarantee you there’s a non or two who wonder if your really beautiful theology has a darkside. So, as I said, I do not think tncarnational theology has to mean any of these things. I am saying that concerns about the fate of the gains of the sexual revolution are a factor in the sociological shifts were are witnessing.I’m describing what is going on, not advocating it.

            As I said, even I am careful as a practicing Christian. I myself followed what most would regard as the straight and narrow on probably everything but birth control. But I also came out of a movement with some people who advocated beliefs about women which I do regard as deeply problematic. t. So, I do argue that some recent changing having been for the better (not all by any means). And an attempt to roll them back would be no panacea.

            I do think that on both sides of the revolution we need the aid of whatever force “ennobles” people. as you say.

          • *recent changes

  11. Tom Huguenot says

    If some people really worry about the trends revealed in these NPR series, they should come to Europe and see how things are here!!

    By the way, NPR (and PBS) are among America’s treasures. You guys should fight to keep them.

  12. I got behind in this line of posts. Posting this again. CM kill it if you want.

    Various thoughts. No time to organize into a thesis. Much of this relates back to what others have said.

    For reference my kids are in the first 1/2 of their 20s and my driver’s license says I’m way closer to 60 then my ego can comprehend.

    After WWII the youth were much better educated than the adults who were raising them. At least in “book” learning. So the simplistic answers that didn’t make sense created some serious internal conflicts with many of the youth. Not all but many. YEC being the poster child for this.

    News became open. Find pictures of FDR showing his braces. Hard to do. As to movies there’s appears to be just one 5 second clip. The press went along with hiding the deficiencies of our “leaders”. Look at JFK’s private life, even as president. Does anyone think he’d not get run out of town on a rail these days. Clinton’s issues would be trivial in comparison. All of this led to the youth of the 50s and onward seeing a huge discrepancy between our ideals and reality. In their (and mine many times in the 60s onward) mind the Emperor had no clothes. And many were not going to go along with the pretense.

    Why are more and more young people socially liberal? Maybe it’s because our entertainment choices didn’t match our supposedly spiritual statements. We watched Cheers, Frazier, whatever, and we laughed. And with our kids in the room many got the idea that the lifestyle portrayed was OK.

    Some of the chart can be explained by generational lag. Many folks continue what they started in their 20s even if they no longer believed. Their kids never got the start in their own 20s.

    The cult of personality that so many churches have become is just so obviously fake to many younger people. Many of the older people at such churches attend, again, out of habit. It wasn’t like that while they were growing up so they keep going not realizing what their kids see.

    There’s a real split in some of the churches. They drive out the better educated (STEM) kids and push hard for the ones left to attend Liberty College or similar and marry young. And the STEM and other kids who left by the time they were 20 wind up not recognizing their friends when they stop back for a visit a few years later.

    One last thing. About 20 years ago NPR was doing a story about Christian musicians who were going mainstream in their appeal. Amy Grant was in the process of doing this. One Baptist preacher they interviewed made the statement that it just wasn’t right. If music made you want to tap your toe then it was the work of Satan. And the sad part many of the people in the faith older than me felt the same way. How many people did they chase into the None section.

  13. I wonder what would happen if these same young(ish) people were able to sit down and talk with C.S. Lewis for a day? I know when I start having doubts about some of the things I say I believe, I read some Lewis and I’m all set for a while! Or, if they need some living guy to help them believe, they can try N.T. Wright.

    (I just finished Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra and just started That Hideous Strength.)

    But I can understand where they are coming from. As they look around, they will see people who are very loving, very giving and those people don’t “go to church.” Then they hear about or read about or know about people who are church-going folks who are also liars, abusers, thieves. So they decide that what matters is how you act, not what you say you believe. And that is true. But a part of them WANTS to believe in God in a way that is more than just “Be nice to people and you are all set.” They WANT to see a community that shows how special it can be when a group comes together to worship God.

    • Lester Pangs says

      “But a part of them WANTS to believe in God in a way that is more than just “Be nice to people and you are all set.” They WANT to see a community that shows how special it can be when a group comes together to worship God”

      Really? Maybe some nones want to believe in God in that way. I sure don’t. I would love a world in which “Be nice to people” was the dominant ethos.

  14. I find it very interesting that as organized religion is in decline in Euro/America (along with outposts of European culture like Australia and New Zealand), worldwide it has never exercised more influence than it does now; and in fact, while Euro/America is become less institutionally religious, the rest of the world is becoming more and more so. If you look at it globally, you could call this the “Age of World Religions.” The dichotomy is incredible.

    • Tom Huguenot says

      The surprising thing is actually that organized religion is still thriving in the US. In my mind, this American exception has not really been explained.