Faith Forum: October 7 through October 13

The religious news was dominated by two stories this week.  The first is historically relevant but may not be of interest to you otherwise so we’ll be spending less time on it today.  On October 11th, 1962, Pope John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council, a three-year process which altered much about how the Catholic faith operated.  Everything from the direction faced by priests during the Mass to the language used during the ceremony was changed.  It was also after this council that the Catholic Church began to focus on engaging with other faiths.  The Religion Blog at the Huffington Post summarized the major changes produced by the council.  At America Magazine, a national Catholic weekly, Pope John XXIII’s opening address was reproduced in full if you’re interested in the motivation for the council itself.

a graph showing the increase over the last five years of religiously unaffiliated adults in AmericaThe second major news topic, I think, is far more relevant to the Pagan community.  The Pew Forum on Religion & Public life, which has gotten a shout-out in the all of the last three forums, released another study showing the one in five adults have no religious affiliation.  Even more interesting is that when you look at only those adults under 30, the study shows that 1 in 3 are one of the “nones.”

Reasons for this rise were, in part, attributed to generational replacement (their term), or the simple fact that the elderly, who tend to be more religious, are … shall we say “exiting” the population while the younger generations are both more likely to be less religious than these elders but are also less likely to be affiliated with a larger, organized religion when they are religious.  Other reasons seemed to be attributed to negative views toward organized faiths, specifically that they are too concerned with money and power, too political, and focus too much on rules.

This lack of affiliation does not necessarily mean that these 20% of adults are not religious, just that they’re more likely to be unaffiliated with any specific religious tradition.  As the chart above shows, there are more people identifying themselves as atheists and agnostics as well, but the rise in those who practice no particular religion — the so-called “nones” — are increasing even more quickly.  That said, of the 20% of unaffiliated adults, Pew learned that roughly 70% still believe in “God or [a] universal spirit,” and 58% pray daily.  Further, 65% think of themselves as a religious person while only 18% say they are spiritual but not religious.

Of particular interest to Pagans and other new religious movements is a table at the end of the report.  In it, Pew shows that only 10% of these unaffiliated define themselves as seeking a new faith.  Further, the nones are no more likely to believe in astrology and reincarnation and are only slightly more interested in “spiritual energy in physical things like mountains, trees, [and] crystals” and no more likely to feel a “deep connection [with] nature and the earth.”  Instead, at least for the moment, the nones seem to be happy being spiritual on their own with only 28% of them believing that belonging to a community of shared beliefs and values was very important to them.

There were reactions to this report throughout the media all week.  Everyone from Religion Dispatches to the Religion News Service (twice) as well as an excellent piece by Sarah Posner for the Guardian (instead of her usual gig at Religion Dispatches) seemed to chime in with their own point of view.  Worth special attention is a three-part series called “None of the Above” that began this week on the PBS Religion & Ethics Newsweekly program.

For what it’s worth, I’d be very interested to try to tease apart the nones further.  Depending on the way the question is posed to me (or the way I’m feeling that day), I’m anything from one of the nones to an atheist though generally the former.  Especially if you consider that Eclectic Paganism is unlikely to be considered a religious affiliation (perhaps even by eclectic Pagans), the likelihood that some of us have been caught in the net of the nones is high.  Especially in light of the fact that many of the nones remain spiritual.

Regardless, it should also be recognized that while there are now a bit more nones than there were even five years ago, there are still 80% of adults who are affiliated with more traditional religious organizations.  While America, and perhaps the world, may be moving into a time period where personal morality, ethics, and life are less dominated by the major world religions, we’re not there yet.


There were a number of other stores that caught my eye this week:

  • The anti-Islamic subway ads in New York and DC that I mentioned in last week’s Faith Forum continue to draw fire.  Rabbis for Human Rights North America and Sojourners posted new ads in the subways.  The Rabbis shared with us the thought that “In the choice between love and hate, CHOOSE LOVE.  Help stop bigotry against our Muslim Neighbors.”  The Sojourners ad state simply: ‘Love your Muslim neighbors.”
  • Legislative leaders in nine states announced the formation of state-based religious freedom caucuses.  These states are Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.  Upon first glance, I was worried that these would be organizations focused on protecting the freedom to use the religion of the majority against the minority, but I may be too cynical in this case.

    Time will tell, but Ethics and Public Policy Center’s American Religious Freedom Program is helping to organize and advertise these groups.  The mission of this group is to “[protect and strengthen] America’s God-given and constitutional religious freedoms.  The program brings together individuals and organizations of all religious faiths, regardless of ideological or political affiliation.”

    These caucuses likely bear watching but, for the moment, perhaps the benefit of the doubt is owed especially when you consider that the group separates the idea of god-given and constitutional rights rather than affirming that constitutional rights are god-given.  It’s a fine line to make, but it’s worth making and they seem to be doing so.

  • After spending days in a coma, a neurosurgeon woke up after having a detailed and vivid near-death experience.  He shares his experience in Newsweek.
  • The Odyssey Network shared a brief (2:53) video about the Hindu Faith and its work within America that I found enlightening, particularly the faith’s focus on service.

Finally, the major religious holiday of the week was the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah.  Frankly, I’ll take any opportunity to link to a site named, but in this case, the holiday of Simchat Torah is the date on which the Jewish community finishes their year-long reading of the Torah and turns back to the beginning to start over once more.

This post was written by
David Dashifen Kees is a mild mannered web application developer currently living in northern Virginia. He's been developing online systems since 1998 and, coincidentally, been a practicing Witch for almost as long. For many years he's considered himself simply an Eclectic, but more recently he's begun to think seriously about the integration of modern technology and modern magic on a path that he calls technocraft.


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