A National Conversation on Religion and Disaffiliation in America

A National Conversation on Religion and Disaffiliation in America

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Some of the thoughts in this post comes from a fascinating project of The Atlantic to look carefully at the phenomenon of religious disaffiliation entitled Choosing My Religion: The Changing Experience of Faith Among Young People in America. 

On January 16, 2018 I will be attending an enlightening conference near Washington DC through the efforts of St. Mary’s Research on a national conversation on religion and disaffiliation in America. As a missionary, our work lies beyond the walls of our churches, transcending not only the Catholic Church, but Christianity, and even religiosity itself. We seek the Lord of hosts present in unseen and discover-able ways outside of the walls of our churches and institutions. The first place we go to seek his face is in the lives and stories of these young people, disenchanted with institutional religion. We go to listen, and learn.

That mission of Jesus who called the disciples to “go to all of the nations” has taken on very new orientations in a post-Christian and post-secular society, where religiosity and secularity live side by side. Fewer young Americans identify as religious or attend regular services than members of any other living generation. People in their 20s and early 30s account for more than a third of the country’s “nones,” and “dones,” a nickname for the religiously disaffiliated. Take a look at the sharing of Rachel.

The Catholic Bleed

The Catholic bleed looks at the disenchantment of our young people with their inclusion in the Church and the meaning and inspiration we wish to provide, but in many cases, do not. One way to make a snap shot of this bleed is to say this: For every Catholic convert in the US, six Catholics leave the Church. There are more than 30 million Americans who see themselves as “ex-Catholics.” Finally, our young people are disengaging themselves in droves. The number of those who left the Catholic Church has risen around 30 percent since 2007, and the number grows. Listen to the sharing of Chris.

Finding Community Outside the Church

The first thing to say is that many young people are finding a sense of community, if only tentatively tethered to faith, elsewhere. The Interfaith Youth Core provides resources and places to share for young people of all faiths. One of the largest group among them are unaffiliated young people who anchor their search for meaning, direction, and hope outside of religious institutions of any kind. This is not merely a Catholic issue, it affects all faiths, both Christian, and non-Christian.

In my work of dialogue with atheists and humanists, I find this group not to be monolithic at all, but quite diverse. Their common dissatisfaction or all out distaste for religious groups is within the context of a wide variety of experiences that disavow God all together, to a stance of openness to the possibility of God, to defining themselves with a personalized spirituality that brings together religious ritual and belief with secular groundings. Listen to the sharing of Chris.

Catholics in a Culture of Choice

Religious choices are proliferating as conscious choices. Even as they create some of the most intense and hate-filled conflicts in American politics, they’re also a source of creativity; these choices help people shape their identities and form a sense of self. This might include the choice of who to marry, whether to convert, and how to spend a Friday night or Sunday morning. Some face the dilemma of staying in a religion that upholds tenets with which they disagree, or leaving a religion they love.

People must decide whether to be public and even political about their faith, or whether to relegate it to the privacy of their home. Even those who feel apathetic about organized religion face daily questions about how to treat others and how to act. Some embrace a kind of secular humanism; this is, itself, a claim that each person can individually determine his or her own code of ethics. Listen to the sharing of Lauren.

Listen to this podcast by Interfaith Youth Core entitled: Unaffiliated but Not Unconnected: Community Among Religious Nones. Share your own reflections on this in the comment section, whether you consider yourself unaffiliated or not. Let us begin a fascinating conversation in something that is important to us all.

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