'Nones' drop religion, but remain spiritually hungry

Greg Erlandson (Supplied)

If the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference, we may be having an outbreak of indifference in the realm of institutional religion, writes Catholic News Service chief Greg Erlandson. Source: Echoes.

I grew up in a family of seven kids, which I considered a mid-sized Catholic brood. I knew families that could field entire baseball and even football teams. As a kid, I kept score of such matters and felt that my parents were lagging.

I keep a different kind of score these days. I still ask folks how many kids or sibs they have. Then I ask how many remain Catholic. It’s often a more sobering tally.

Which explains why a recent report from the Pew Research Centre caught my attention. Pew has been tracking the growth of the “nones,” those who profess no religious affiliation. America seems to be having a bumper crop of “nones”, and the result is that the numbers of church-affiliated Americans are shrinking.

According to Pew, the number of people who identify as having no particular religious affiliation jumped from 17 per cent to 26 per cent in 10 years. That’s more than a 50 per cent increase.

It is cold comfort to know that atheism is not necessarily benefiting from this shift. The number of people claiming to be atheist did double, but only from 2 per cent to 4 per cent.

What seems to be happening is that people may still call themselves “spiritual” or “spiritually minded,” but they aren’t going to services, and they are telling pollsters that they are “nothing in particular.”

If the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference, we may be having an outbreak of indifference in the realm of institutional religion. It is even impacting groups that traditionally have high rates of religious observance, such as Hispanics and African Americans.

What’s to be done about this is the increasingly urgent question.

There may be a silver lining, however. Many people are spiritually hungry. An intellectually rigorous and engaging presentation of the faith may work for some. A witness that is both humble and constructive may engage others. Authenticity counts for a lot.

Greg Erlandson is director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service.

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The Fleeing Nones (Echoes, The Boston Pilot

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