And So It Goes

Last week (specifically July 20th), I celebrated the 11th anniversary of the day back in 2010 when I created this blog. It had it’s heyday as far as the number of posts published each month back in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015. And even though I am not as prolific as I was in those earlier years, I still publish at least two blog posts a month on this main blog, Sara’s Musings.” Plus, on April 11, 2018, I created a second blog titled, Reflections.”

There are now close to 700 blog posts published on Sara’s Musing,” and add in another 100+ blog posts on my second blog, Reflections,” that’s close to 800 blog posts total published to date. That is probably the equivalent of 4, 5 or maybe more dissertations. I mention that because I was a dissertation short of obtaining a doctoral degree (an Ed.D.) in Adult Education from a private university in Florida back in the 1990’s. However, I doubt that my blog posts would go towards receiving credit for completion of a dissertation, but I have cited thousands of authors, professionals, and scholars, and I’ve published posts on a wide variety of topics under the umbrella of a Christian worldview.

Recently, I’ve read articles on how Christianity has taken a hit in America and that it is no longer in the majority. Articles, such as this article published on March 29, 2021, titled, “Church membership in the U.S. has fallen below the majority for the first time in nearly a century,” by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, who runs The Washington Post’s religion vertical, states some of these statistics. She writes:

The proportion of Americans who consider themselves members of a church, synagogue or mosque has dropped below 50 percent, according to a poll from Gallup released Monday. It is the first time that has happened since Gallup first asked the question in 1937, when church membership was 73 percent.

In recent years, research data has shown a seismic shift in the U.S. population away from religious institutions and toward general disaffiliation, a trend that analysts say could have major implications for politics, business and how Americans group themselves. In 2020, 47 percent of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque. The polling firm also found that the number of people who said religion was very important to them has fallen to 48 percent, a new low point in the polling since 2000.

For some Americans, religious membership is seen as a relic of an older generation, said Ryan Burge, an assistant professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University and a pastor in the American Baptist Church. Gallup’s data finds that church membership is strongly correlated with age: 66 percent of American adults born before 1946 belong to a church, compared with 58 percent of baby boomers, 50 percent of Generation X and 36 percent of millennials.

Burge said many Christians still attend church but do not consider membership to be important, especially those who attend nondenominational churches. But no matter how researchers measure people’s faith—such as attendance, giving, self-identification—Americans’ attachment to institutional religion is on the decline.

Burge, who recently published a book about disaffiliating Americans calledThe Nones: Where They Came From, Who They Are, and Where They Are Going,” predicts that in the next 30 years, the United States will not have one dominant religion…. (Quote source and article here.)

And in an article published on July 8, 2021, in the titled, Nothing in particulars are America’s fastest growing religious group” subtitled, “They believe in God, do not go to church, and are largely detached from politics,” (author’s name not mentioned), the article states:

In April 1966 Time magazine stirred outrage in America when it published a cover story asking “Is God Dead?”, more than 80 years after Nietzsche had declared Him to be so. Today American religion looks less exceptional. According to a recent survey by Gallup, a pollster, for the first time a majority of Americans do not belong to a church. “We are officially living in a pagan nation,” rued the editor of one Catholic magazine. Pollsters attribute the slump in church membership to the rise of the “nones” or religiously unaffiliated, who now represent a third of the population. Yet it is a subgroup of the nones, those who believe in “nothing in particular”, that is redrawing America’s religious landscape.

Though usually lumped in with atheists and agnostics under the religiously unaffiliated category, nothing-in-particulars are a distinct religious group. They are twice as numerous as atheists and agnostics—nearly one in four Americans are nothing-in-particulars—and are growing faster than any religious group. As the cryptic name suggests, their defining characteristic is an aversion to being defined.

“They do not want to be pinned down,” says Ryan Burge, a social scientist and author of “The Nones”. In some ways they are remarkably average: unlike atheists and agnostics, who are predominantly younger men, they are more likely to be middle-aged, and are just as likely to be women as men. The majority of nothing-in-particulars believe in God, and a third of them attend church sporadically. Yet they reject allegiance to any religious group and are skeptical of institutional authorities. Wariness towards the Covid-19 vaccine is an example of this tendency.

Mr. Burge says nothing-in-particulars are alienated from society in more ways than just religious affiliation. They have the lowest educational attainment of any big religious group—only one in five have a bachelor’s degree or higher qualification. Nearly 60% make less than $50,000 a year. When it comes to politics they lean neither right, like most white evangelicals, nor left, like atheists or black Protestants. (Only a third of them voted for Donald Trump according to Mr. Burge’s analysis of the Cooperative Election Study.) They rarely take part in political activities, such as attending a protest, donating money to a campaign or even putting up a sign in the yard. “Apathy is the big word that comes to mind,” says Mr. Burge.

Whereas Christianity has dwindled in America, nothing-in-particulars are growing at a breathtaking pace. Since 2008, when social scientists first began tracking them, their ranks have swelled by 60%. Mr. Burge reckons there are two reasons for their rise. First, as America’s religious makeup changes, it is becoming more acceptable not to identify as a Christian. It could be that their emergence is less about people leaving organized religion than revealing they were never really part of it. Nothing-in-particulars are largely drawn from that segment of Americans who have become disaffected as they have seen their economic prospects sink with recessions and the loss of well-paid blue-collar jobs. “They are just left out of society, sort of drifting in space,” Mr. Burge says. (Quote source here.)

So what do we make of it all? In an article published on January 11, 2018, published in The Atlantic, titled What It Means To Be Spiritual But Not Religious,” subtitled, “One in five Americans reject organized religion, but maintain some kind of faith,” by Caroline Kitchener, a former associate editor at The Atlantic, she writes:

A growing contingent of Americans—particularly young Americans—identify as “spiritual but not religious.” Masthead member Joy wanted to understand why. On our call with Emma Green, The Atlantic’s religion writer, Joy asked, “What are they looking for?” Because the term “spiritual” can be interpreted in so many different ways, it’s a tough question to answer. I talked to people who have spent a lot of time mulling it over, and came away with some important context for the major shift happening in American faith.

Americans Who Want Faith, Not a Church

Kern Beare, a Masthead member from Mountain View, California, believes in God and studies the teachings of Jesus. But does he identify with a particular religion? “Never,” he told me. The structure and rigidity of a church, Beare believes, is antithetical to everything Jesus represents. Instead of attending services, he meditates every morning.

Americans are leaving organized religion in droves: they disagree with their churches on political issues; they feel restricted by dogma; they’re deserting formal organizations of all kinds. Instead of atheism, however, they’re moving toward an identity captured by the term “spirituality.” Approximately sixty-four million Americans—one in five—identify as “spiritual but not religious,” or SBNR. They, like Beare, reject organized religion but maintain a belief in something larger than themselves. That “something” can range from Jesus to art, music, and poetry. There is often yoga involved.

“The word ‘church’ means you need to put on uncomfortable shoes, sit up straight, and listen to boring, old-fashioned hymns,” said Matthew Hedstrom, a professor of religion at the University of Virginia. “Spirituality is seen as a larger, freer arena to explore big questions.”  

Because over 92 percent of religiously-affiliated Americans currently identify as Christian, most “spiritual-but-not-religious” people come from that tradition. The term SBNR took off in the early 2000s, when online dating first became popular. “You had to identify by religion, you had to check a box,” Hedstrom told me. “‘Spiritual-but-not-religious’ became a nice category that said, ‘I’m not some kind of cold-hearted atheist, but I’m not some kind of moralizing, prudish person, either. I’m nice, friendly, and spiritual—but not religious.’”

Religion—often entirely determined by your parents—can be central to how others see you, and how you see yourself. Imagine, Hedstrom proffered, if from the time you were born, your parents told you that you were an Italian-Catholic, living in the Italian-Catholic neighborhood in Philadelphia. “You wouldn’t wake up every morning wondering, who am I, and what should I believe?” That would have already been decided. Young people today, Emma said on our call, “are selecting the kinds of communities that fit their values,” rather than adhering to their parent’s choices.

“Spiritual is also a term that people like to use,” said Kenneth Pargament, a professor who studies the psychology of religion at Bowling Green State University. “It has all of these positive connotations of having a life with meaning, a life with some sacredness to it—you have some depth to who you are as a human being.” As a spiritual person, you’re not blindly accepting a faith passed down from your parents, but you’re also not completely rejecting the possibility of a higher power. Because the term “spiritual,” encompasses so much, it can sometimes be adopted by people most would consider atheists. While the stigma around atheism is generally less intense than it used to be, in certain communities, Hedstrom told me, “to say you’re an atheist is still to say you hate puppies.” It’s a taboo that can understandably put atheists, many of whom see their views as warm and open-minded, on the defensive. “Spiritual” doesn’t come with that kind of baggage.

For people who have struggled with faith, embracing the word “spiritual” might also leave a crucial door open. Masthead member Hugh calls himself “spiritual,” but sees the designation as more of a hope or a wish than a true faith. “I hope there is more to this wonderful world than random chemistry… Nonetheless, I do see all of that as an illusion…That does not stop me from seeking something as close to what I wish for as I am able to find.” In his class, “Spirituality in America,” Hedstrom tells his students that the “spiritual-but-not-religious” designation is about “seeking,” rather than “dwelling:” searching for something you believe in, rather than accepting something that, while comfortable and familiar, doesn’t feel quite right. In the process of traveling around, reading books, and experimenting with new rituals, he says, “you can find your identity out there.” (Quote source here.)

The “spiritual but not religious” designation has been around for a while, and it’s not actually a new phenomenon but it has a much larger audience now. While that title wasn’t around when I was a kid growing up in a non-denominational church that hired mostly Baptist pastors, as I was growing up and going through my teen years, there were others around my age who, other then when they were in church, definitely went their own way without letting their parents know. And they grew into adults who were unaffiliated with organized religion (at that point, they might have attended church maybe twice a year on Easter and at Christmas). I imagine there are a lot of Baby Boomers(born between 1946 and 1964–my generation) who are like that who may, or may not, have gone back to the church in their later years since many are either in, or soon to enter, their retirement years. Age can have a mellowing effect.

Each person has to wrestle with coming to terms regarding what they believe spiritually, and there are plenty of forces out there in the world begging for our attention. My beliefs were determined at a very young age, and even though some of the rules and regulations got old at church, my core belief in God and Jesus Christ has remained intact throughout my lifetime. Indeed, they have kept me going throughout these past dozen plus years since I lost my job and I never found another one. That is devastating to someone like me who is single and self supporting with little money to go on, and at the time I lost that job I still had ten years before normal retirement age when I should have been working if I could have found someone who would hire me. There is no way I could have navigated through these years on my own power as I was clueless as the doors kept slamming shut in my face when I tried to find employment, and then when I tried to find affordable senior housing during this time while being placed on waiting lists that never ended. In fact, as I have been going through these past dozen years day-by-day, I realized in a way unlike at any other time in my life just how real they are and how my life has been guided because of my faith in them.

So I know Who I believe in and why I believe, but I don’t ever force my beliefs on others. Everyone has to make their own choices and decisions. And nobody can do that for us.

I’ll end this post with the words from Proverbs 3:5-6Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him…

And He . . .

Shall direct . . .

Your paths . . . .

YouTube Video: “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)” by Matt Redman:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here