My conclusions are a different than Rena’s, but I admit my own bias as progressive ecunemical Christian is to see religion as force of good, or at least potential good. So take my thoughts with that bias in mind.
First of all though, relating this story to more local trends, the survey reports that 34% of Vermonters identify as “nones” (no religion) while only 4% of Oklahomans identify as nones. This means that despite the national trends, religion is and will be for some time, the dominant cultural force in Oklahoma. While I am a-ok with expressions of all viewpoints and connections and partnerships with non-believers, I think it is critical that peace and justice movements in Oklahoma continue to find connecting points with religious communities. (I don’t see that as a real danger at this point of course. If anything, I think religious peacemakers are sometimes not respectful enough of diversity and non-belief. But still this is a good thing to remember, when trying to reach out to the religious 96% in Oklahoma.)
Second, I think many people within the category of “none” actually are very spiritual, even if not religious. During my time in the liberal mecca of Austin, I encountered many people who were critical of religion and didn’t consider themselves religious (it seemed to be the majority viewpoint of the UT campus population and the Austin activist community), yet were deeply spiritual. Some found beliefs in other religious traditions (picking and choosing what felt right to them — which by the way, I think is a-ok). Others took more free form paths, or even just had a deep and abiding faith in the power of collective humanity.
I think all of these things, while not “religous,” are spiritual in nature. A belief in a power higher than oneself, a belief in the connectedness of all existence, a belief that consciousness may continue in some way after a death, a belief that there is more to existence than that experienced through our senses . . . I think all of these things are a kind of spiritual belief.
I know that there are many who are truly atheists (which is also ok in my book… as a believer in God, I tend to think God loves everyone and believes in everyone. God doesn’t “need” our love to be able to love and care for us. And since I’m a heretic and don’t believe in hell, I don’t think atheists, infidels or anyone is going to be tormented in the afterlife), but I think most who describe themselves as atheists or agnostics, are still spiritual even though they reject religion.
So, I guess to me this survey leaves more questions than answers. And in the long-run, maybe the trends shown here will be good ones.
Or to tackle these questions from another point of view, many Americans (and especially young Americans) are increasingly finding religion to be irrelevant because it doesn’t offer an alternative vision of the world. Religion so often is a defender of the status quo and the gods of our religions are made into deities with all of the same prejudices that we have. So as we grow dissatisfied with the world as we see it (and believe me, more will feel this way as the economy continues to tank and the wars drag on), we will move away from traditional religions.
Yet, religions that are open to the prophetic voices, for the truly original spiritual connections with the divine, could take root and grow. Religion that criticizes that status quo and creates a new reality and a new vision, that could be a good thing. Instead of the institution of “The Church,” with its defense of the status quo, there could instead be alternative communities of faith.
So, time will tell what this all means, but as a person of faith, I’m not scared by these trends, Rather, I see that it could in the end be a really good thing. Jesus himself said there would come a time when hypocrisy and false faith would be thrown aside. Maybe that day is coming, and what will last and survive will be something worth believing in.
P.S. One last thing, this survey didn’t really discuss the fact that many people today practice more than one religion or who syncretize different faith traditions. I think this will be a growing trend in the future.