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Saturday, August 08 2015 09:02
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Many, if not most, of my relatives no longer go to church.  This fact disappoints me, churchgoer as I continue to be.

What I say about family members also applies to friends.  A number of mine no longer go to church except perhaps for weddings, funerals, baptism, and other solemn occasions

Such events continue to bring them within church doors, although they may be motivated by friendship and affection rather than by religion.

In avoiding church, my relatives are in good company. Some eight percent of American Christians have dropped out over the last seven years.

My information comes from the Pew Research Center, an organization that keeps track of religion along with other aspects of American life. Findings of this sort make me wonder if my loved ones and friends have simply gone with the flow.

Some of the church drop-outs have settled for what Pew calls “nothing in particular.”  This group has risen from six to almost twenty-three percent.

Those who have joined non-Christian faiths such as Islam and Hinduism, have increased from 4.7% to 5.9%.

A growing number of Americans have given up religion entirely. In the surveys such people are referred to as “nones.”  (It amuses me to hear this term, an incongruous homonym for “nuns.”)

Interestingly, the Pew report tells us that two-thirds of the religiously unaffiliated have a favorable view of Pope Francis. It remains to be seen whether he will bring any of them to active religious practice.

 Among my family and friends who have given up on church, few tend to talk with me about the subject.  Perhaps they are afraid of offending my values.  Knowing of my long experience in the ministry they may prefer not to discus religious topics.

I have no wish to blame those who have left the church in which I have been so long active. These family members and friends remain precious to me. I want them to flourish in their lives and I stand ready to help them when possible.                       

I like to think that it might be useful to share some of what has proven valuable in my long lifetime. Some years ago I wrote a memoir explaining, among other things, what religion has meant in my life.

 I suspect that many of the people with whom I shared my book did not read it. But that’s all right: I too have sometimes filed away what my friends have written. Later on, I may return to these writings, and perhaps others will do the same for me.

Some of those close to me have left the church that I belong to because of criminal behavior by priests and bishops. I share their horror.

I am also offended by the skewed priorities and authoritarian behavior of some church leaders.

But these issues have not driven me away from the church.  I continue to find value in its spiritual power and the communities of people with whom I share insights.

As to those close to me who have broken with formal religious practice, I wonder what substitutes they have found.  Some may invoke a saying widely used in the modern world: “I’m not religious, I’m spiritual.”

This approach may be helpful to many.

However I do not like it. In turning against religion, it passes by what has had immense value for human beings. Instead, I would stand by the advantages of both spirituality and religion.  I want both.

 I’m still feeling appreciative for the religious and spiritual traditions of the past.  And the current examples of great hearts and minds continue to buoy up my spirits and those of many others.