Monday, December 12, 2011

I Met A "None" Today

I met and talked with a "None" today. I've met a number of them over the years. I think they are growing, as a group. They are not organized. They may never be, since it is hard to rally around a buffet.

What is a "None?" None-ite Eric Weiner tells us, in his nytimes piece "Americans: Undecided About God?" Weiner says that Nones "constitute the nation’s fastest-growing religious demographic. We are the Nones, the roughly 12 percent of people who say they have no religious affiliation at all. The percentage is even higher among young people; at least a quarter are Nones."

I do not doubt this.

93% of Americans believe in God, or in some "higher power." Only 7% are atheists. The percentages for Nones is the same. 93% of Nones believe in God or a "higher power"; only some of the Nones are atheists - 7% of them.

Nones are persons running away from organized religion. I don't doubt this. And, I don't blame them. I am a Jesus-follower running away from organized religion.     

We are now experiencing: THE RISE OF THE NONES.  Why? This is due, say David Campbell (Notre Dame) and Robert Putnam (Harvard), to politics. "Their idea is that we’ve mixed politics and religion so completely that many simply opt out of both; apparently they are reluctant to claim a religious affiliation because they don’t want the political one that comes along with it."

I feel certain this is true. Which is sad, since the Real Jesus was a-political, His Kingdom not being of this world. (For what some schoalrs are calling the best book on this subject since Neibuhr's Christ and Culture, see Miroslav Volf, A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good.)

Weiner is sad, too. He writes: "We Nones may not believe in God, but we hope to one day. We have a dog in this hunt."

What else can we say about Nones?  weiner: "Nones don’t get hung up on whether a religion is “true” or not, and instead subscribe to William James’s maxim that “truth is what works.” If a certain spiritual practice makes us better people — more loving, less angry — then it is necessarily good, and by extension “true.” (We believe that G. K. Chesterton got it right when he said: “It is the test of a good religion whether you can joke about it.”)"

The Nones I have talked with are like this. Which is too bad, since the "truth" issue cannot be avoided. Nones often, in my experience, make two serious epistemic errors:
  1. Nones succumb to the "subjectivist fallacy." We teach this in my Logic classes. I use Lewis Vaughn's The Power of Critical Thinking as my main text. Even though Vaughn is an atheist he and I are in agreement that "truth" is not to be understood as "what works." See his section on this in Ch. 2. If a statement is true, it is true for everyone, and if it is false, it is false for everyone. What about the statement John likes Coke better than Pepsi? Surely that is not true for everyone, but just for John. No. That statement, in its entirety, if true, is true for everyone, and if false, is false for everyone. If it is true that John likes Coke better than Pepsi than it is true for you, too, even if you like Pepsi better than Coke, or despise them both. The Nones in my classes have a very hard time understanding this.  
  2. Nones succumb to the false idea that all religions are good if they make people feel better. Some Nones reside in the land of "All religions are equal and are saying the same thing." No, they are not. See Boston U's Stephen Prothero, and his attempt to correct this uninformed idea in God Is Not One.
And, BTW, Weiner quote-mines G.K. Chesterton here, who never would affirm None-ism.

To a None like Weiner, God is rarely in a good mood. Weiner writes: "Precious few of our religious leaders laugh. They shout. God is not an exclamation point, though. He is, at his best, a semicolon, connecting people, and generating what Aldous Huxley called “human grace.” Somewhere along the way, we’ve lost sight of this."

I am certain that God appears that way to a lot of Nones. Especially if their parents are hypocritical, judgmental "Christians." I have no idea how to process Weiner's statement that God is better understood as a "semi-colon" than an "exclamation point." I feel certain that is false, because it exhibits a false dilemma (see logic once more). God is either an exclamation point or a semi-colon. I don't think so.  

Weiner writes: "Though religion contains large public components, it is at core a personal affair. It is the relationship we have with ourselves or, as the British philosopher Alfred North Whitehead said, “What the individual does with his solitariness.” There lies the problem: how to talk about the private nature of religion publicly."

I am certain that is false. Because incomplete. "Religion" has always been tribal and corporate. This remains essential to its power and appeal. Here I suspect Weiner is leading us down the road of "toleration" and about to hoist the banner of subjective relativism.

My experience with Nones is that they remain extremely interested in truth, and find the buffet of religions options intially freeing but eventually confining and non-compelling.

What to do with this? For me, the answer is a return to Jesus and Jesus-formed community, and away from performance-oriented "churches."             

A final note. The "None" I met today, plus most of the Nones I've met, have non-reflectively  succumbed to what U. of Notre Dame's Christian Smith calls "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism" (see Smith, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers).  Moralistic Therapeutic Deism consists of beliefs like these:

1. "A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth."

2. "God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions."

3. "The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself."

4. "God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem."

5. "Good people go to heaven when they die."

Much American adolescent faith can be reduced to this.