Earlier this week, the Pew Forum released a survey on religious affiliation and found that a number of people raised without religion became religious later in life — in higher percentages than Protestants/Catholics who later became unaffiliated.
The main reason the non-religious said they later became religious was that “spiritual needs were not being met.”
In Saturday’s New York Times, op-ed columnist Charles Blow analyzes this study. He points out what so many of us have known for a while — unless we can offer certain benefits that religions provide, minus the supernatural aspects, atheism is going to remain a hard sell for many people:
We’re getting better at that. Atheist Sunday schools are booming, local groups are thriving, and secular college groups are growing.
While science, logic and reason are on the side of the nonreligious, the cold, hard facts are just so cold and hard. Yes, the evidence for evolution is irrefutable. Yes, there is a plethora of Biblical contradictions. Yes, there is mounting evidence from neuroscientists that suggests that God may be a product of the mind. Yes, yes, yes. But when is the choir going to sing? And when is the picnic? And is my child going to get a part in the holiday play?
As the nonreligious movement picks up steam, it needs do a better job of appealing to the ethereal part of our human exceptionalism — that wondrous, precious part where logic and reason hold little purchase, where love and compassion reign. It’s the part that fears loneliness, craves companionship and needs affirmation and fellowship.
Blow even quotes my friend Dale McGowan:
Dale McGowan, the co-author and editor of the book “Parenting Beyond Belief” told me that he believes that most of these people “are not looking for a dogma or a doctrine, but for transcendence from the everyday.”
Churches, mosques and synagogues nurture and celebrate this. Being regularly surrounded by a community that shares your convictions and reinforces them through literature, art and ritual is incredibly powerful, and yes, spiritual.
The nonreligious could learn a few things from religion.
We’re hurting ourselves if we shun all the positive things churches provide just because we find their beliefs so irrational.
Community, family, traditions — those should not be confined to religion. We already can offer plenty of each, and if we took those more seriously, people wouldn’t be so quick to become religious and buy in to all the negatives that come with it.