Ever since the Pew Research Center released their study, “Nones” on the Rise, blogs, TV, & radio (especially of the religious variety), have been in a sort of panic about this phenomenon of rising non-affiliation with a religious group.
Just hearing this fact would lead most to believe that Nones = atheism, and therefore atheism is on the rise. Atheism is on the rise. But not all Nones are atheists, in fact most aren’t.
A few weeks ago on Morning Addition, NPR did a series on the Nones. In typical NPR fashion they found individuals who fit the None profile and questioned them. One particular moment that caught my attention was when the Nones were asked if they prayed. You would think that the obvious answer would be -no. But not one of them said no. To be fair, no one said yes either, but when asked, they would describe some practice they had, in which they felt didn’t fit their exact definition of traditional prayer, but it was some sort of attempt at communing with their creator, which I would call -prayer.
Throughout the interviews it seemed clear that for these people the label of “Nones” had very little to do with their belief in God and had more to do with their identifying with a man made institution, and truthfully, I get that. I myself find that more often that not I’m embarrassed by the actions of the religious institution in which I grew up. So I understand the desire to disassociate with an institution.
Shifting gears for a second, it’s interesting to note that among those still associating with Christianity, there is a sea of hurt and wounds that have been inflicted by church culture. For many the damage was inflicted during childhood and adolescence, some by the well meaning but mislead, some by the malicious and sick. Even as adults people are wounded in the church. Someone dares to have a minority political opinion and becomes ostracized. A hurtful rumor spreads. A divorce causes us to be an outcast.
My point here is; these Christians and the Nones have something in common. It seems that at some point they had some experience with God that they could not let go of. No matter how much ugliness and darkness surrounded the institution, somewhere in there they found a living God bigger than the institution, bigger than the ugliness and darkness that they knew they could not deny!