A fairly common assertion offered by atheists, freethinkers, agnostics and the like is that Americans are becoming less religious.
Some of them base this conclusion on polls showing a growing number of people who say they have no religious affiliation. They are the "nones," people who, when asked their religion, choose "none of the above."
For instance, the most recent survey of the U.S. religious landscape by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public LIfe, said 16.1 percent of Americans say they are unafiliated. (Which, by the way, doesn't mean they are hard-line atheists.)
Well, for sure the religious landscape in this country is changing, but the other day I was reading The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier, by Tony Jones, one of the gurus of the Emergent Church Movement, and Tony has a bit of pushback on this that I think is worth hearing. (On Twitter, Tony is at www.twitter.com/jonestony, while I'm at www.twitter.com/BillTammeus.)
"We are not becoming less religious, as some people argue," he writes. "We are becoming differently religious. And the shift is significant. . .
"As the second half of the twentieth century began, most sociologists, social theorists and social philosophers were proclaming that the death of religion was nigh. They were bards of an impending secularism that was lapping onto the shores of all Western countries. We are losing our religion, they calmly -- and often approvingly -- lectured from behind their podia.
"We're leaving the myths of this god and that god behind and establishing a new spirituality that is unhinged from the oppressive regimes of conventional religion. New Ageism is a nod in this direction: as we mature intellectually and scientifically, we'll realize that traditional religions are holding us back. We'll achieve our liberation by relying less on the strictures of religions and moving into the promising horizon of 'spirituality.'. . .
"But a funny thing happened on the way to the twenty-first century: we became more religious, not less. Fundamentalisms now thrive in all major religions, churches and religious schools keep popping up and religious books outsell all other categories. Nowadays you can't find a self-respecting social theorist proclaiming secularism. Instead, they're studying religion and getting face time on CNN explaining to often oblivious journalists how religious Americans really are.
"Back in the pulpits, ironically, pastors continue to bewail that we're living through the decline and fall of the Judeo-Christian American empire, that secularism is a fast-moving glacier, razing mountains of faith that have been part of America since its birth. But the data just don't back up this interpretation."
Well, no doubt statistics from other sources can be cited to counter Tony's view, but when I was asked recently by a member of the audience at a church where I was speaking whether I thought religion would die out ever or any time soon, I quickly said no. There are lots of reasons for this -- good reasons, too. But, nonetheless, the religious landscape here and in other countries will continue to evolve, and those changes shouldn't surprise any of us.
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REACHING OUT TO ROME'S JEWS
As Pope Benedict XVI prepares his important visit to the main synagogue in Rome, lots of dynamics are at work, this report correctly notes. As the writer points out, Jews have been in Rome longer than there's been a Christianity, and their relationship to the Vatican over the centuries has been dicey at best at times. The book to read (it's from 1974 but still full of good history) is Sam Waagenaar's The Pope's Jews.
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