A ton of articles this week on a new Pew
that shows a dramatic drop in the number of people self-identifying as Christian. From
2007 and 2014. Catholics have lost 3 million people since 2007, in spite of an influx of immigrants from Catholic countries.
But the drop in religious affiliation in the young is especially worrisome:
Younger adults have been particularly likely to join the unaffiliated in recent years. In 2007, 25 percent of 18-to-26-year-olds were unaffiliated; now 34 percent of the same cohort is unaffiliated.
One in three young people have joined the "nones" -- those who profess no religion.
As the dad of two young men, it's not hard to imagine why people would shun the church. It's a place that worships ugliness -- dismissal of women and exclusion of gays being high on the list. It is clueless about human sexuality, offering little more than ancient and bizarre nostrums that don't tally with the lived experience of young people -- or older ones, for that matter. To be against birth control, when the alternative is a house full of kids living in poverty, seems downright perverse. To continue issuing blanket condemnations of abortion -- even when women die as a result -- seems monstrous. To condemn entire nations and ethnic groups because of the God they believe in goes against the grain of tolerance and friendship that millennials have with people of different colors, beliefs, genders and sexualities.
Then again, the kids are following the church's teachings to their logical conclusions. If God is a loving Father, not a raging monster who throws his children into eternal flames, what's the need to placate him with worship and prayer? And then there is the ever-expanding reach and influence of science and technology. If it is the modern health care system -- with its stents, vaccines, transplants and bypasses -- that heals bodies and minds, what is the need for intercessory prayer to the saints? And what of Church as the primary teacher of morality? The kids might say "If even unreligious people are experienced as moral, what's the need for Sunday school and its blatherings about sin and the need for salvation?"
The Pew study should be another in a long series of wake-up calls. Religion, if it is to survive, needs to be more than about scaring people into goodness. This is the time for us to focus on the community, support and love that come from religious affiliation. Not on kicking people out of heaven.