[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The following ran in The Forum newspaper on June 6, 2015.]
In case you haven’t heard, people of faith, we’re standing on quicksand.
The Pew Forum on Religion in Public Life poll results are in: Those affiliated with religion in our country are slipping fast, while those claiming no religious affiliation are rising steadily.
The news first came to me through a news release from the Center for Inquiry (CFI), a secular organization that hailed the results as a triumph.
On the surface, their victory dance seems merited. The non-religious—including atheists, agnostics and those who claim “nothing in particular” for religious identity—now comprise nearly a quarter of our population; a “tectonic shift,” according to the CFI folks.
The sharp increase in those forgoing a life of faith—a 17-percent jump since 2007—clearly shows, CFI contends, “religion’s waning influence in the lives of many Americans.”
“America is transforming before our eyes,” says Ronald A. Lindsay, president and CEO of the group. “We need critical thinkers, not followers.”
None of this shocks the astute believer, for we’ve been witnessing this trend for a while now. Nor should we be surprised that millennials, whom Lindsay calls “the most secular generation America has even known,” comprise the largest segment of the religion-wary.
And yet, how can we not be troubled? And what can we do to turn around this disheartening trend?
One friend pointed to technology as a cause, stating that with most of the information the world can hold at our fingertips, God has slipped into oblivion. While I agree that technology probably plays a role, other factors undoubtedly have contributed as well.
“Bring the culture into church,” some have suggested. By making the faith experience more closely match the young person’s version of the familiar, faith will become more appealing, they reason.
But I’m not so sure. It seems to me that the reluctance of the young toward embracing a life of faith points less to needing more of what they already have, and more of a yearning toward something striking and solid.
Rather than looking to the culture to make faith more palatable, what if we became more passionate about the gift of faith we’ve been given, standing as beacons of hope by sharing the deepest, most compelling aspects of our relationship with God?
Our youngest generations have been surrounded by an environment of fluidity, and this has worked well for them to a point. They are resilient because of what they have experienced and lived through.
But the poll also hints at a void in their lives. We all need something to ground us in the midst of frequent flux to hold us steady.
And we who have been clinging to that anchor awhile now know of its life-giving power. The last thing our younger citizens need is to see us caving, allowing the quicksand to pull us under. To be sure, the modeling of those of us who have been living life awhile remains purposeful here.
In some measure, the poll does indicate a failure on our part, specifically, I think, in expressing well and often the joys of a faith-filled life. But let’s not beat ourselves up. It’s not all on us, after all. We’re not that powerful.
But God is, and God alone will turn the polls aright, in God’s good time.
In the meantime, let’s bend frequently in prayer and hold fast to the God who has brought us this far. Let’s rest in the hope within us, given by the creator of the world who also gave us life, as well as in God’s promises, more certain than any statistics.
Surveys can only show the status quo in parts and numbers, not necessarily as a whole and well-rounded reality. But their clues about where we’re heading can alert us when something more is needed.
In this case, I think that something more is simply unbridled fidelity to the God of the universe, who has this all in hand, and simply needs our passion, love and devotion to help carry it out.
Let’s recall what made us first hunger for faith, and grab hold of it like our lives and everyone else’s depends on it, because without one flicker of doubt, they do.