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Why Are the “Nones” Leaving Religion?


by Fr. Dwight Longnecker via

Everybody’s buzzing about this new survey which charts the decline of institutionalized religion in the USA.

The statement which summarizes religious trends today is this:

Catholics dropped both in market share and in real numbers. Despite their high retention rate for people reared in the faith, they have a low conversion rate. Today, Cooperman said, 13% of U.S. adults are former Catholics, up from 10% in 2007.

Generational shifts are also hurting Catholic numbers. Greg Smith, Pew’s associate director of research, said “just 16% of the 18-to-24-year-olds today are Catholic, and that is not enough to offset the numbers lost to the aging and switching.”

Where are they going? To religious nowhere.

The “nones” — Americans who are unaffiliated with brand-name religion — are the new major force in American faith. And they are more secular in outlook — and “more comfortable admitting it” than ever before, said John Green, director of the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron.

The article also recognizes the “generational shift” each generation of Christians is less religious than the one before.

What is the reason for this?

People are leaving religion in droves because it’s not religion anymore.

It’s become a charity with meetings on Sundays, and the problem is modernism.

Modernism is the idea that the supernatural is out of date and unbelievable. The “de-mythologizers” tried to weed out all the miracles and supernatural elements from the gospels. For the last hundred years their influence has gained in seminaries and pulpits across the world.

Tales of the supernatural had to be removed. They didn’t fit with the modern world. Doctrines about devils and angels, heaven and hell had to be quietly excised from the faith because they were primitive and medieval and incredible to modern folk. Transubstantiation? A pious medieval philosophical explanation of what we all know is really symbolic. Supernatural revelation? No. Religion is all man made. Miracles? We know they don’t really happen.

Religious leaders–and I mean Catholics and Protestants alike–turned the Christian religion into an organization that does good works. Instead of the wondrous bread of heaven they were content to hand out Wonder Bread. Instead of the feeding of the five thousand they spoke about the “real miracle” being the fact that everyone shared their lunch.

All the religious talk stayed in place but it was re-interpreted. Father Wooly and Pastor Fuzzy proclaimed on Easter Day, “Alleluia! Christ is Risen!” but what they meant was “in some way the wonderful teachings of Jesus continued to be believed by his faithful followers. They said every Sunday that they believed in the Virgin Birth but what they meant was that “Mary was a very nice girl who was very courageous as she went through with her crisis pregnancy.” And so forth. And so on.

For Catholics? The necessity of the sacraments and a life of repentance and faith? Nah.

You only had to go to Mass if you really wanted to. Lay people who were married were just as able to be holy as priests and nuns. Confession? That’s only for people with low self esteem. Marriage? We can be flexible on that. It’s all about mercy after all.

Well, people aren’t dumb.

They concluded that if religion was really only about peace and justice and social work, then why did one have to get up early and go to church and sing dreary hymns and listen to a long, badly prepared homily by an uncomfortably over fed windbag? Why go to church anyway? If it was really only about social work, then why the early weekend pep talk with music? Why not sleep in?

The first generation to begin to make the connection were my generation–the ones born after 1955–when the rot started to set in.

Our kids got it real fast. They understood that church was both irrelevant and un necessary because they saw our generation treat it as such.

So they too drew the right conclusion. Church isn’t necessary.

You can be a good person without going to church.

You can be spiritual but not religious.

And you know what? They’re right. You can do all that without going to church.

So the reason the “nones” are deserting religion in droves is because it isn’t religion anymore.

They’re leaving religion for the same reason you would leave a supermarket that stopped selling food.

Religion, you see, is not primarily about doing good works, handing out sandwiches and bringing about peace and justice.

It is about a transaction between this world and the next. It’s about the s soul’s salvation, the fear of hell and the hope of heaven. It’s about the supernatural commerce with angels and demons, prayers to the saints and a glimpse of glory. It’s about the spiritual warfare and the supernatural realm. It’s about the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the supernatural sacraments of salvation and the Great Paschal Mystery.

What will bring the “nones” back to religion?

Probably when the Christian religion in America starts to become a religion again.

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