Learning from the Non-Religious

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Posted on February 1st, 2013 | Filed under Challenges, Featured, Interfaith, Learning, Social Issues, Theology, Uncategorized
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I’m working on my thesis right now, which (allegedly) is a foray into theistic-atheistic dialogue. With the prodigious rise of atheism in this country over the past ten years as well as Europe’s steady rise of secularism, since, well, always, it seems curious to me that atheism/secularism remains the elephant in the interfaith room that everyone hates to acknowledge. Give me Christian-Buddhist or Jewish-Christian dialogue all-day everyday but slow the hell down if you want to get tricky with a group of people that don’t appeal to a grander theological schema.

And yet this is the direction we are moving in. My generation and the ones following it are finding less and less use for God and religion. Internet blogs (especially the liberal ones) brag that “the internet is killing religion” and while I haven’t found any studies that support this one way or the other, empirically their statement seems true. A few months back NPR ran a piece titled, “More Young People Are Moving Away From Religion, But Why?” It is a fascinating look into several twenty-somethings' decisions to leave religion behind. Some of them have made the move away gladly, finding liberation and life on the other side, while others bemoan their lost God and wish they didn’t live in an age where God and religions stopped making sense.

And truthfully, what sense does God make in a world where physicists and scientists are heralded as the priests and meaning makers? Natural law replaces God and the gaps God once explained away. Quantum mechanics, Higgs-Boson, and an insistence that science will eventually answer and save all have nudged God onto the sidelines. Bonhoeffer saw it coming and this generation is currently watching it happen. Whiteheadian theology has done its best to bridge the sciences with theology but his metaphysic is confusing as hell and leaves many – including myself – wondering whether or not God is necessary at all. But I digress.

For me, the purpose of my thesis or the purpose of this post are not to proclaim from the small hill that I stand on that God is real and still has a function in society. As Simon Critchley points out, God still plays a major role in society (case in point: Inauguration 2013) and probably will always play a role in society. However, as people of religion(s), it seems foolish to me that we, the religious, continue to stand on the shoulders of our rich heritage(s) and claim ourselves tall in a society that is finding less and less use for what we have to say.

Apostle Paul’s dictum to Christians not to “be of the world” should not be taken as an excuse to become social Luddites who refuse to engage in a changing society. Let’s face it: mainline Christianity and especially Liberal Christianity, is dying. In society, Christianity is primarily known (and despised) for denying queer rights, waging a war on women’s reproductive rights, and being the biggest fans Fox News could ever hope for. Yet despite all these things, and this is Critchtley again, Christianity has been the primary inspiration for the moral and ethical foundation in this country. The secular rallying cry that all people are created equal and that everyone deserves equal treatment is something my guy Jesus said 2000 years ago.

So while pastors everywhere are gaining gray hairs wondering what to do about their dropping attendance and flagging relevance, the gospel message they proclaim from their pulpits is being lived out on the streets that they are apparently oblivious to. Religion is not dead but it certainly could be more alive if it started engaging with the people they are intimidated by, which in this case are the secularists and the atheists.

And here I return to my original point and the crux of my thesis: what can the religious, in my case, Liberal Christians, learn from their atheistic and secular sisters and brothers to improve Society as well as the Church? What are we missing by excluding the non-religious from interreligious and interfaith dialogue? Let’s find out.

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4 Responses to “Learning from the Non-Religious”

  1. Such an important article! Thank you for writing it.

    Josh

  2. Kelsey Price says:

    Great stuff, Andrew. So true, Christians, if we just look at them as a general group here, are pushing people away by becoming the most judgmental and agenda-pushing and hypocritical group out there. Not only are they the biggest Fox news fans ever (love it!) but they are the NRA supporters, death penalty supporters, etc… Jesus is our guide and should be the one we are following, yet, somehow, we don’t. Jesus would not be holding a gun, flipping the electric switch, or be on religious group boards trying to prevent gay marriage or any fill-in the blank you like.

  3. Paul Carbino says:

    Andrew;
    This is very interesting stuff you’re working on…and very important as well. I fall into the agnostic, near-athiest camp myself and have been a skeptic since I was a child going to Catholic school (only 3 years thank Gawd (pun intended).

    I’m a member of a Unitarian Univeralist congregation in Philadelphia, which, in spite of my religious views, seems logical, given the overall emphises UUs place on living a meaningful life and being tolerant to others. It works for me, what else can I say?

    Good luck on your work.

  4. Lynn says:

    Great article. Christians must embrace this period in it’s history. The age of mindless tradition are over. And secularism makes faith no longer in the realm of make-believe and 35-minute weekly tributes. But faith is a real issue in everyday life from terrorism to kosher labels at major convenience stores. Personal beliefs, we subscribe to are as relevant as ever before to our social and interpersonal relationship. With respect for human freedom and dignity, the world becoming an open forum of religious debate is a good and healthy thing. Christians should people like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens as alternative theologians to be discussed in respect to patrons like Wycliffe or Augustine. Surprisingly, “atheistic or secular apologists” make Christianity more relevant in the modern context. And any publicity that reveals respect for freedom, life, and dignity is good and noble thing for Christians and all people to celebrate. Christianity fading as an irrelevant, intangible and foreign tradition is the greatest danger.

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I am a 3rd year M.Div student at Union Theological Seminary in NYC. I am focusing primarily on interfaith studies and social ethics, studying how the two fields intersect with environmental justice.


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