Fewer people see themselves as religious than ever, especially young people. About a quarter of those under 30 describe themselves as "atheist" or "agnostic" or "nothing in particular" according to a Pew study this year.
Could younger people simply be more secular? Scientific explanations for the mysteries of life might have more appeal than the simplistic selfcenteredness of literal biblical interpretation. Comedian Lewis Black discusses on stage those who insist that humans and dinosaurs co-existed. "...these people are watching The Flintstones as if it were a documentary." Critics of religion on the scientific front, Richard Dawkins and others, have some fun with this.
I think a purely materialistic view leaves a bit of a hole in spiritual experience. The way-back machine in my brain sometimes brings to me a decades old conversation with a psychology professor who explained that consciousness is an illusion. The question of just who is around to be fooled was of no concern to him. The great late priest and theologian, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, performed a sort of intellectual jujitsu with a counter proposal: Atoms and electrical impulses possess a sort of proto-consciousness.
None of this seems like a problem for those under thirty. Although a higher proportion will say they are not religious, the proportion who describe their beliefs in spiritual terms is pretty constant. About two out of three say they strongly believe in God, which is about the same as in previous generations. More simply go it alone.
"Church is difficult because young people today want to engage actively," says a religious leader. "They just want to experience God." This would explain the growth of non-traditional services. Contemporary music combines with more participatory worship to provide a more active spirituality.
I identify with contemporary worship. I attend both kinds of services at our church, but I am more enthusiastic about a release from old traditions and passive rituals. The identification of Olde Englishe with holiness, and centuries old hymns with piety, leaves me a little cold.
I suggest that the politicization of Christianity by extreme conservatives has also alienated those who might find more appeal in the actual teachings of Jesus. The idea that God loves you and joins you in hating gays and immigrants finds its adherents, but alienates many more who might find meaning in a more worthy message.
I encourage folks to seek out the fellowship of those with similar spiritual outlook. I see benefit and nourishment in walking in spiritual journey with others. So I am always hopeful that folks will seek out their Church, Temple, Synagogue, Mosque, or Ethical Society. When Jesus taught us to pray, first person pronouns were in plural. It was "we" and "us," not "me" and "I."
Nobody needs to walk alone.
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However, walking with God is a bit tricky, as He is diaphanous to the blessed and invisible to benighted sinners like me.
I think many very intelligent, very intellectual folk like Mr. Deming, embrace religion, and back it up with an intellectual approach. Very intelligent people end up on opposite sides of the belief spectrum all the time. Anyone who judges another’s intelligence by his position on any specific matter, has a very shallow view of what intelligence is. However, it is usually difficult for one who practices critical thinking to also embrace religion, a feat that requires a greater degree of excellence, then rejecting it. Religions are universally based on faith. It is usually more logical to say: "I don't have the answer," than it is to say: "Here is the answer to this complex question on which people do not agree." The idea that one must provide an answer to any important question laid before him is flawed. It is foolish to say you have the answer to a puzzle when you do not have enough pieces to work it out.
I think this is why more people are becoming less religious. They are becoming more educated and aware, more critical, and less indoctrinated with fables presented as fact. People are backing away from claiming to have the answer (that is not atheism and in some cases is also not agnosticism. It is critical thinking-ism). Many people who claim to not have the answer, also claim to believe there is probably a higher power. The difference is that they do not claim that there is a higher power, but only that they suspect there is, and they do not start assigning attributes to their theoretical God. They do not say He is all-good or all-loving or all-purple or omniscient or omniscient. If He were any of these things, those “facts” would not be discoverable by us, as we have no actual comprehension of what it means to be “All” any of these things.
Saying “I don't know” brings with it a certain discomfort, a cognitive dissonance that must be justified: I am an intelligent person. Others have the answer, or will tell you they do. Why don't I know? However, saying, I know because I have faith is becoming its own source of dissonance, as it can make one feel intellectually childish. To accuse someone of arguing a position on faith without a logical supporting argument is a common source of attack on one's position in any secular discourse. It is only forgiven in religious circles, because it is accepted as OK that a belief in God transcends reason. The problem is: It does not. Believing controversial things because it seems that way to you is not logical. To call that belief truth, because you feel it is true, may not be as logical as it sounds.
To believe that we could have been created or monitored by a Supreme Being seems logically absurd. To believe that it is possible that someone with abilities greater than that of mankind makes perfect sense, so long as you do not readily accept the first fairy tale that comes along. It is when we start saying it is so, and then filling in the details, that many people find it off-putting. Religion is a wonderful tool to guide your life in a positive direction. I can see embracing the wonder as very valuable. However, for me God is not the answer. God is another question.
Mr. Deming, I suspect, will not respond, as he wishes not to offend his fans with direct confrontation. I respect this annoying little policy of his, and wish to circumvent it.
If anyone can tell me how to provoke him, please do.
If your comment does not provoke Mr. Deming within the next few days, we will, on your behalf, try needles - - The Editors
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