Monday, January 21, 2013

Loosing Our Religion . . . on NPR . . . and Lady Gaga

With now 33% of people under 30 saying that they have no religion affiliation  NPR did a week long series about the phenomena which they titled "Loosing Our Religion."  I listened to most of the interviews.  I found several things striking.

The first one is regarding why they are leaving. I've spoken about this many times but it appears that the main reason that the young people are leaving is that they are given few choices.  Beyond the 33% that say they have no religion, the other statistic that I quote a lot is that more than 80% of those kids raised as evangelicals, leave the church (so 50% say they have religion but no church).

It reminds me of a classic conversation I had with a mom a few years ago.  She is very involved with my old evangelical church and I had watched her son grow up in it.  Her son is now in his twenties and I see him around town.  I've tried to talk to him and he is always defensive and responds back, "I'm sorry I haven't been in church, I've been busy."

I've explained to this young man that I don't go to that church anymore either and I couldn't care less if he was going to church or not. But I did honestly care and want to know how and what he was doing ( he lost his dad just a few years ago).

I ran into this mom one day and mentioned that I had tried to talk to him.  She rolled her eyes, "He is just being rebellious right now and said he didn't want to go to church any more. He says he wants to 'just go on and find the truth,' how stupid!"

"Stupid? I thought. No, it is very, very wise and honorable . . . wanting to find the truth. It is a wonderful place for anyone to search for truth. The really regrettable place is where people settle for magic (in place of truth) or just give up searching and fill their minds with distractions so they never have to think about it again.

So if you were from another planet and looked at the church scene, you really would wonder, why in the hell does anyone stay?  Really?  Especially people under the age of 30 . . . or 40.

The Church has created this culture where, as I was talking last time, dogma is given as a substitute for seeking and knowing truth, in the same way that aspartame substitutes for sugar. But dogma is lazy, not requiring thinking.  As I've heard many people say, "the church says such and such, so I believe it . . . because it is my church."  Somewhere there is magical thinking that the church wouldn't teach certain things if they weren't true because God wouldn't allow it.  Now there are a thousand different ways (or denominations) of expressing dogma, so (continues the magical thinking) I'm at this particular church because God put me here.  The glue to really try and make this stick, beyond the "just don't think" mantra, is the "social coercion" glue.  There is tremendous pressure to just believe x,y and z . . . or you are morally bad, un-spiritual . . . or rebellious.  Additionally they also use mis-information about the proponents of the opposing sides ( "the evolutionists make up their facts, faking fossils and etc., so that they don't have a need for a god and can have orgies in their private world").

So my concern is just for those leaving, but for those choosing to stay.  The culture of the common church acts like a filter, filtering in those who don't think and those who are most vulnerable to coercion or guilt.  I'm not saying this in absolute terms, meaning that there are plenty of twenty-somethings who stay fully engaged in the Church and are thinkers and are not prone to guilt manipulation.

But I think we are loosing, not the rebellious, immoral kids (as we would like to paint the picture) but the thinking, imaginative and those with a zeal for exploration and a hunger to know . . . to know truth.  That is the sad part and it doesn't have to be this way.

Not all churches are equal.  I've been to horrible ones who pile the guilt manipulation onto the backs of the kids, saying over and over how they have grieved God with their questions (watch the movie Jesus Camp to see what I mean). Then there are good churches, that encourage thinking, exploration and never use guilt.  My present church is one of the best I've attended in this regard.  I was very pleased that when I taught a movie class a few weeks ago, the kids answered my questions correctly.  For example, I said that one of the purposes of media, after entertaining, is to ask questions.  In the end I asked, "Are there bad questions . . . that should not be asked?"  The kids quickly and unanimously answered "NO!" In my old church, I'm sure they would have said yes.

What a gift are those rare (very rare) churches that teach kids how to think and not what to think.  This "how to," is the same "how to" that could taught in any logic class taught in a department of philosophy.  For example, really getting to know the "logical fallacies" that so many fall for.

This brings me to my last point . . . Lady Gaga.  She was preforming in our area this week. The news station covered her concert and it was ironic.  She had a "tail gate" trailer where kids could seek counseling in bullying, suicide prevention and other topics . . . for free.  Several of the people in the crowd outside were obviously gay.   Lady Gaga draws them because of her message . . . they are real, they are worthy they are somebody that deserves love and respect.  But buzzing in the background, the reporter pointed out, was a propeller plane flying closely overhead pulling one of those long banners that read "You Were NOT Born This Way."  It was supposedly rented by Christian pro-family group.  I had to ask myself, where would Jesus be if He were there today?  Flying the plane . . . or in the trailer? You can guess what I think.

I didn't connect the dots as I got side tracked but other main reason people said they were loosing their religion was that they couldn't accept the Church's view of social issues and that's how I connected it to Lady Gaga.


Brendan said...

I'm curious, which church have you gone to that has encouraged you so? As a local pastor myself that sounds like a church where I'd really like to get to know the pastor.

jmj said...

The one I go to presently is a Presbyterian USA church. But what makes it unique are the people there, not the denomination. I mean, the USA Presbyterian down the road could be totally different, and the Bible Church across the street could have the same positive approach to kids.

I resisted this church when I first moved out here 10 years ago because they have had a women pastors for 15 years. My old evangelical pastor was deeply concerned about my switch as I was going over to the dark side. But, over all, I've found this church far more "Biblical" than the old one. For one, here the pastor has accountability to the elders. Here there is cultural tolerance . . . right wing republicans and left wing democrats sit on the same pew and are good friends. I don't know of a single Democrat that went to the old church and Republicanism was seen as "God's party" there. I will stop with that.

Johan said...

Good post! Glad I checked your blog ...
Especially as the past few days I have really been wondering about staying in church ...
I recently started going to church again, but it's not been a success. In four months I heard two messages that were about the gospel. All other messages were about morals, behaviour, what we should or shouldn't do. And I just can't handle it ... I know where that road leads, as I have been burnt out by doing too much bible study and prayer and so on ... But still the church talks about sacrificing your desires and your dreams, about performing. Everybody I know who took that message serious as a kid, is now struggling with the faith.
And this while I believe that the message of Jesus is good news. The way he dealt with prostitutes, lepers, tax collectors, sinners, installed in them self respect, healed them from shame and tought them they were so, so loved. And encouragend them then to love each other as they were loved by God. But in my experience the church more often increases my selfloathing, and increases my doubts about Gods acceptance of me. And that can not be good ...
I'm struggling keeping the faith, to be honest, if this is what it is for most christians ... But on the other hand I can not not believe. So here I stand, I can do no else ...

Anonymous said...

I think you made your point. And yes, I think you have a point indeed.
No question about that.

Now tell me:
what is it, that we all (and you, in this post) define the church as "something you can visit, or not". This is a very post-modern vision. We "go to church" or we do not.

Would it make a difference, if we concluded that "we ARE the church"? I mean, in that case no christian could possibly leave church, for he (or she) is part of it.

This also has the effect, that (young) people will tend to give their time, efford, money, etc. for church - because it is part of them.

You see? I am part of church - the church then becomes part of me.

There may be a part of some solution in this point.

Thanks for sharing - as you see you inspired me and my thinking!

Steven KH