Recently, I was researching why so many people are leaving the church, turning their backs on God, and not wanting to have anything to do with religion(s), particularly when it comes to Christianity. There are countless articles written on the subject, but what I found was that there are no easy answers.
It also appears there is a new ‘religion’ out there called the Nones and they are on the rise. The Nones consist of Atheists, Agnostics, those who don’t go to church, those not affiliated with a religion, those who claim to be spiritual rather than religious, and many others.
According to a National Geographic article, the Nones are considered the second largest ‘religious’ group in North America and a good part of Europe. In North America, they consist of almost a quarter of the population.
An article in the American Catholic Review magazine stated that about 70% of Nones say they believe in God, a higher power, or a life force in some form. It also stated that of these, Jesus was still a meaningful spiritual figure because of his healings, how he embraced the social outcasts, and he was critical of religious hypocrisy. He was also a great moral and spiritual example.
Worldreligionnews.com stated that 78% of the Nones were raised in highly religious families. Statistics show that when parents work hard to indoctrinate their children with their religious beliefs, then the chances are good that the child(ren) will later leave the religion or totally hate it. Some of the reasons were logic, common sense, or lack of evidence. They also cited religious scandals, sexual abuse, religious politics, religious extremism, and so on. Some claimed they were seeking a spiritual path of enlightenment and believed in being open-minded, and this segment is also on the rise.
As an Interfaith Minister, I’ve spoken with many people who don’t go to church and/or don’t believe in God. Some have said that they tried going to church, but were not made to feel welcome because of the way they looked, their lifestyle, they were judged and ostracized, and some were even kicked out the front door. I’ve personally witnessed some of these examples in various churches.
I believe a huge reason many are turning away is because of the hypocrisy they see and hear from so many religious leaders and their churches. They hear the messages of outright hatred towards those who do not believe the way they do. They also see how so many are trying to force their religion onto others, how they’re trying to make laws based on their religion, how they want only their religion, and how much their words and actions are hurting people. They see church leaders of various religions committing crimes, ripping their congregants off financially, saying they’re happy when certain segments of society are hurt or killed, and they hear them incite so much violence. They know this is not the way Jesus and the other great spiritual masters would have wanted it, and they know in their hearts that this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be! They know the spiritual masters taught messages of unconditional love, kindness, compassion, peace, harmony, and oneness.
Of course, there are many religions (including denominations, etc.) who are exceptions and who do teach and practice what their spiritual masters taught, but they’re not always easy to find. Fortunately, I’ve been to several, including several right here in Cookeville. They consist of loving groups of people, they welcome anyone into their community, and the newcomers will be loved just the way they are.
The best influence when it comes to religion is to lead by example rather than trying to force a religion on anyone. Those who are secure in their beliefs have absolutely no desire to force those beliefs on anyone. They know that unconditional love, kindness, and compassion they show towards others are their greatest testimonies.
John Shelby Spong said, “God is not a Christian, God is not a Jew, or a Muslim, or a Hindu, or a Buddhist. All of those are human systems which human beings have created to try to help us walk into the mystery of God. I honor my tradition, I walk through my tradition, but I don't think my tradition defines God, I think it only points me to God.”
If you want your religion and/or church to grow, lead by example and lead with unconditional love. More people are influenced by the example you set and when they know they are loved and accepted just as they are. It is said that God is love; therefore, love should be the greatest example. As Deepak Chopra said, “If love is universal, no one can be left out.”
Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper September 9, 2016.