One of the subjects that came up had to do with atheism. What, someone wondered, can people of faith say to the faithless that will make any sense and help them understand what faith is all about and why people of faith are attracted to it, despite its many mysteries?
One of our members said she says this to such people: If you heard there was a terrific symphony orchestra in town, wouldn't you want to find out if it's true and hear it?
I'm not sure I'd ever heard "symphony" as a metaphor for God, but I liked it.
Atheism, it turns out, is a lot more popular in Europe and a few other places than it is here in the U.S., though it's also true that surveys show 25 percent or so of American adults now classify themselves as religiously unaffiliated. (That doesn't mean they're atheists, though a small percentage would classify that way.)
The question of non-believers in America came up recently as this Religion News Service story notes, when "Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama recently raised eyebrows during his confirmation hearing for attorney general when he expressed doubts that secular people respected the truth as much as did those with religious convictions."
Americans, the story suggests, have always been a little distrustful of people without religious backgrounds and beliefs. No surprise, given the nation's history and founding by people with deep religious convictions.
But I see a shift going on, and it's represented not just by the growing number of people who identify as religiously unaffiliated. It's also seen in the way that millions of people who consider themselves conservative or evangelical Christians voted for Donald Trump in the presidential election despite the fact that in so many ways his life and beliefs run counter to their professions of faith. This erosion of their principles doesn't bode well for that large branch of Christianity in the U.S. People of faith who hollow out their religious commitments for perceived political gain don't value those commitments much.
So we may be moving much closer to a time when a majority of the voters (whose support, of course, Trump did not receive) will be much more willing to trust atheists, secular humanists, free thinkers, agnostics and others outside of traditional faith communities to be their elected voices -- symphony or no symphony.
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WHAT'S THE POINT OF THIS?
Who are the most religious Americans? A new survey says Mississippians. Who are the least? The same survey says Vermonters. Such surveys don't really tell us much. But, on the whole, I prefer being in Vermont to being in Mississippi. Which doesn't tell you much, either.