When I read the headline “Fastest Growing Religion is ‘None’ ” (Nov. 11), I worked hard not to grimace and think, “Here we go again.”
Bless me, father, for I have sinned. In fact, I did grimace and think that.
Sorry. I can’t help myself. I come from a large Catholic family, where mass on Sunday was a given. There was no debate. No negotiation.
That is not to say we were angels. I remember my older sister dropping me off at mass while she headed to the local diner for a bagel and a smoke.
There also would be the occasional debates about the need to go to church every Sunday. The typical I-don’t-get-anything-out-of-it argument was our go-to defense. My father would fume and my mother would give us her skeptical look and pat reply:
“Baloney. You are no-good, lazy bums.”
Before you judge my mother too harshly, let me come to her defense with some observations related to the First Commandment: I am the Lord your God. You shall not have false Gods before me.
Where are today’s gods? Clearly, from the article, not in church. Some say our gods are found where we spend our time — and this is where the news gets depressing.
A recent Atlantic Monthly article reports that household television viewing, according to Nielsen, totals approximately eight hours per day. That figure does not include the shows we stream on phones, iPads and desktops.
According to Deloitte, 73 percent of Americans binge-watch. Within this percentage, 35 percent of millennials binge-watch every week, with the average binge including six episodes. GenX-ers and baby boomers binge at slightly lower rates.
As reported in a recent New York Times article, “Lower-income teenagers spend an average of eight hours and seven minutes a day using screens for entertainment, while higher income peers spend five hours and 42 minutes.”
While we sit on our butts, hour after hour, show after show, our waist lines expand and our souls shrink. We firmly plant ourselves in comfy sofas, while complete strangers shovel their version of right and wrong down our collective throats.
What does all this have to do with “Nones”?
While some seek spiritual alternatives to traditional religion, I get the sense that most simply stop going to church and fill their weekends with other stuff, other gods. They have plenty of time to go to church but, Lord knows, missing the big game is out of the question. It is not so much a conscious “I-don’t-get-anything-out-of-it” attitude but rather a competition for time given all the attractive alternatives.
Once you lose the habit of going to church, God and prayer become distant, nonessential parts of life. According to the Pew researcher quoted in the article, one-third of the Nones firmly believe in God and 3 percent are atheists. That leaves a huge chasm of people in some sort of gray space trying to figure it out.
Well, join the club. I go to church every week and I’m still trying to figure it out.
Like exercise, developing a spiritual life is a discipline that requires effort. It is not always fun. Both of my parents worked outside of the home, and getting nine kids ready for church every Sunday must have been brutal. And, yet, they were genuinely happy about the community they connected with each Sunday morning. There was joy on their faces after church while they kibbitzed with friends about this and that.
More importantly, this practice was their way of committing to what was most important in their lives.
I feel for today’s pastors. Their predecessors had much greater support from parents who made “going to church” an important family ritual, which in turn was passed down for generations. My sense is that as church-going declines, it will be up to parents — not pastors — to figure this out.
I was especially struck by the survey conducted by Saint Mary’s Press of Winona: “Among young Catholics who left church, the median age of departure was 13.” Here is my question: Where were the parents?
At age 13, had I told my mother that I wasn’t going to church, her response would have been swift:
Jim Triggs lives in Edina.