A reader asked me to explain what I meant when I said last week that “the largest religious group in America was now the NONES”. It come from polls like the famous Gallup Poll, when they do religious surveys. In a survey you are to check your box. Do you attend: Protestant, Roman Catholic, Synagogue, Mosque, none. 53% chose “none”. Twenty years ago only 30% checked that box.
What is happening? (Be careful, these are statistics.) This was a poll of attendance numbers. Fewer people identify with organized religion than they did twenty years ago. But that does not mean people are less spiritual, less religious, more violent, more immoral, more corrupt and evil, than before. It seems to be that religion is a waning influence in America. As if that puts us on a downward spiral to hate, violence, and anarchy.
We can only go up not down. The institutional church has already brought us a Catholic priest sex scandal, millionaire tele-evangelists, Hitler’s extermination of 6 million Jews, Jewish oppression of Palestinians, our Civil War where brother killed brother in God’s name. Maybe we need less of that kind of religion.
In Australia, only 8% of the people go to church. It has its problems, but it is a nice place to live. Aussies are nice people. In America 47% may be connected to a church, but that is different than the number that are active and regular in their support of their church. That real number is 20%.
In the Middlesboro Mall, LOCUS church is in one end. Their mission is to reach the 80% of the people in Bell County and surrounding states who are unchurched. In this area 80% of the people are unchurched. Does that surprise you? How can this be? It seems there is a church on every corner and there are more preachers than people, and they are building more. It is surprising to people who go to church regularly.
You show up at eleven AM on Sunday mornings and assume everybody does. Most of your circle of friends go to church, so it looks like the norm. It is not! 80% are unchurched. They’ve gone fishing. There are more over at the lake than in churches.
But you say, “Look at those growing churches. Look at those mega-churches with thousands of members and fleets of busses, where do all those people come from? They come from the 20% pool of religious-minded people in America. The great gambler in the sky is re=shuffling the deck. Maybe he’ll get a winner this time.
The power of religion is waning because school has replaced family life, politics has replaced religious life. Used to be that Baptists fought the Presbyterians, who fought the Methodists, who put down the Pentecostals. Now it is a lot simpler, Democrats and Republicans go at it, so we are left with the NONES. What do they believe and teach? These are words from one of their hymns, “Oh you who seek God in the skies, you waste your labor; better lower your eyes and look to your neighbor”, that’s where to meet God.