Rise of the Nones

. . . as in those who check “none of the above” to queries about their religious affiliation.  Like Europe, the USA is fast becoming post-christian.  I read in a Michael Gerson op-ed piece that half of all Europeans have never attended a religious service–appalling, but that may be our future.  I recall visiting the 14th-century Cathedral of Barcelona–the cavernous sanctuary could comfortably hold several thousand and yet there were benches for maybe 300 or 400.

    The “Nones” according to a recent Pew Research Center survey now account for almost 20% of the population, and 70% of the Nones voted for Obama in the last election, and the Nones account for nearly one in four Democrat voters. For the present, the Nones and the Dems have it.

    Church attendance is down and yet, oddly enough, polls seem to show that people are becoming more “spiritual.” What they are doing is deserting mainline Protestant denominations, and orthodoxy, in droves and crafting their own “feel good” religions, ala the church of Oprah. I just finished reading Bad Religion by Ross Douthat. Its subtitle tells it all: “How We Became a Nation of Heretics.” It’s part a definitive sociological tome, and part a G. K. Chesterton-esque defense of orthodoxy for the 21st-century. Douthat traces the various religious trends throughout our nation’s history. Orthodoxy ebbs and flows–around the time of the American Revolution many of our leaders were Deists, but six or seven decades later there was a great Evangelical revival. Trends come and trends go and then resurface–perhaps, an accurate reflection of Hegel’s thesis-antithesis-synthesis paradigm.  

    Douthat casts a baleful glance at cults and the rise of the “health and wealth” preachers like Benny Hinn and Jim Bakker, and the warm fuzzies of the self-improvement gospel of Joel Osteen. Plenty of New Age fluff and a gospel laden with pop-psychology and self-improvement has invaded the church–part of the trend in our me-oriented narcissism, and our demands to never have to be discomforted–by say, oh, maybe a sermon on sin.  Several trends that are either given quick glances, or not cited at all, are the non-denominational urban megachurch, the emergent church, the organic/simple/home church movement and the ultra-new missional and radical churches (ala David Platt). I’ve had some experience with, or exposure to, all of these trends. I’ve either attended one, read their blogs posted on Fb, read their books or heard their main proponent speak as in the case of Platt.

    I’ve also been reading two influential books by an old high school classmate, Robert Putnam, who teaches poly-sci at Harvard.  Bowling Alone and American Grace are about social trends in this country. Bowling Alone is about the breakdown of our traditional means of socializing and our accelerating disconnectedness—back in the 1950-60s folks bowled in leagues—today, not so much. The subtitle of American Grace is “How religion Divides and Unites Us” and its findings to some extent parallel Douthat’s book.

    It strikes me per both Douthat and Putnam’s books that the one constant is change. It seems that way for our society and it certainly has been that way for me personally. I think that one of my few strengths is that I’m open to my spirituality and political views evolving. I learned a decade or so ago that whatever idol I happen to invest myself in the Holy Spirit will shatter–and very slowly I’ve come to realize that It will allow nothing short of me being a Jesus-follower, and that, in a sense, the 31-flavors of church and all dogma are really little more than idols.

      I’ve attended a nondenominational urban megachurch for most of the past 20 years. Most megachurches tend to be non-liturgical, seeker-driven, heavily marketed, offer entertainment as worship, have a crafted theology, topical sermons and are led by a strong charismatic leader. I still attend this church–mostly out of habit and to see my friends. It gradually ceased speaking to me a few years back, but 20 years ago it was where I needed to be, and I’m certain I was led there by the Holy Spirit–and something in me says I shouldn’t give up on this church yet. My brushes with the organic church movement and a two-year return to orthodoxy (R.C. Sproul’s church) were I think also of the Holy Spirit. I read Frank Viola’s book Pagan Christianity about three years ago and “voila!” an organic church was dropped in my lap–no coincidence. For a year and a half this church was my focus–and then it split twice–perhaps, God’s plan, but personally painful for me. I still attend this church’s spawn, and an another organic church, a couple times a month, and I’ve started going back to Sproul’s uber-Presbyterian church on occasion.  One of the nice things about living in Central Florida is the wide variety of Christian-experiences available; I can literally attend three or four broadly diverse services in a weekend. And why not offer, here in the land of Mickey, sort of an ecclesiastical theme park?

    On more than one occasion, Dr. Joel Hunter,  the pastor of my megachurch has said that we should attend other churches as well as his. In so many words, he said that if we were limiting ourselves to just one message we were missing out on all the Spirit has to offer. That had the ring of truth, and I’ve taken it literally. I think all along the Holy Spirit has been teaching me and broadening me–yet I have no idea where all of this broadening is leading.

    Some friends uncomfortable with the megachurch spent over a year “auditioning” various churches all over the Orlando area.  About a year ago they finally settled on a medium-sized one that met all their criteria. I think like many seekers they were trying to find their comfort zone.  I, for one, do not think God wants us in a comfy spot–but that’s what we all seem to look for.  None of the heroes of the Bible were comfortable for very long–the Lord was always calling them to trust Him throughout long and dangerous journeys.

    Another friend of mine’s favorite saying is: “It’s all good.”  I used to be very dismissive of that attitude, but she may be right as far as churches (as in, Christ’s Body) are concerned.  I do not think I’m an ecclesiastical dilettante, even tho my quest has been a rather restless one. I think the Lord works thru most traditional churches and mainstream movements–and per Balaam’s ass His voice will be heard one way or another.  But I also think diversity and change are parts of His plan, and of late I think His Spirit has been building His church thru smaller, more intimate churches meeting in homes per the First Century Church of Acts.  

     Change and diversity: it has certainly been that way for me and my quest. I think He’s always trying to instruct us if we are open to listening and learning thru new experiences. And the next time I’m asked, I’ll likely check “None of the Above” as well.

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About diospsytrek

I am a licensed mental health counselor in Florida. I am also the author of four books. The books have to do with coping with depression and other mood disorders, and the nexus of psychological problems and spiritual warfare.
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