lundi, janvier 14, 2013

Reaching out to the 'nones'

I spend a lot of time pondering this question:  why are more and more of us Americans identifying ourselves as either nonbelievers (atheists, agnostics, freethinkers) or as "spiritual but not religious?"

For some general data on the "nones," take a look at this Gallup poll, which indicates that the largest percentages of those with no religious affiliation live in the West, or in New England, trend Asian, politically independent, and male.

Some of my ideas on this subject are completely unscientific.  Others, just slightly less so.

There are lots of reasons for the increasing number of nonbelievers (although growth has slowed) that may have more to do with secularization and an increasing lack of a sense of a shared culture than with the failures of churches and other communities to reach seekers.

Somewhere along the way, we lost the sense of a "common good" -- a civic identity that encompassed people of many faiths.

But I can't help but wonder if the growth of the unbelievers is  not, in part, because Christians (who are still the majority among U.S. believers) have done such a lousy job of conveying the wonder of encountering God in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

I find it deeply troubling that we can't seem to find ways to get along among ourselves, let alone be welcoming to those who approach our doors with honest questions.

Again and again in the Hebrew Scriptures, God spurns the fatted calves and sacrificial offerings of the "righteous"-- because their hearts aren't right with Him.

I'm tired of sitting in Roman Catholic churches, wondering if the sophisticated theology behind denying me and other Protestants communion isn't just another long series of words for "pride."

Sick of Reformed theology that speculates on who is chosen -- and who isn't.

Impatient with Anglican "via media" that allows "celibate" gays to be bishops while barring heterosexual women.

These theological battles are so fact, to many who have grown up in secular environments, they may seem completely irrelevant.

We can be so prissy and precious about our faith -- as though God had given us a hammerlock on the truth.

No wonder radio hosts like Terry Gross, interviewing gay  Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson and many others, can show such shocking ignorance of the basics of Christian faith.

She doesn't need to "get it," the way she "gets" movements in art or politics or rock n' roll. She thinks she's got us nailed, as it were...because, in some ways, we've made it that easy.

Of course there is anti-Christian bigotry. Of course there is media bias (though not among all media, and not along treasured conservative-liberal lines).

But we have brought much of our problems upon ourselves, with our endless theological nitpicking and our lack of imagination -- the kind of imagination that allows God  to be God, instead of trying to remake God into our own likeness.

That's not to say that everything goes.  There are reasons that those wars were fought over phrases in the Nicene Creed (although it would have been much better for all of us if they'd figure out other ways of dealing with disagreements).

How about a little less theological judgmentalism -- and a bit more charity?

How about a little less arrogance and a bit more humility?

How about a heart open to prophetic words from others -- even if the others don't look or speak or read the same books as you?

As Christians, we need to figure out who we are to those who turn away from us. Only then can we begin to grapple with who it is we want to be.

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