5 Ways Believers Can Respond to the “Nones”

5 Ways Believers Can Respond to the “Nones” May 15, 2015

Nones_fb4Some of you may have heard the depressing news that the number of people unaffiliated with any religion has grown by leaps and bounds in the United States, causing a drop in the number of Christians.

The trend is nothing new but the rapidity of the growth is cause for surprise.

When I first heard that the decline of Christianity in the United States is going ahead at a clipped pace, I felt sad.

I also felt pressured to immediately blog on this topic since I have written a book on the subject. But I had to take a couple days just to sit with this news and pray about it with Jesus.

It is not that I am surprised at the numbers. It is not that I am totally depressed and cannot possibly see anything good coming out of this, (in fact, I wrote a positive post looking at the growth of the “Nones” the last time these stats made waves). But, I just needed some time to reorient my reaction to these numbers in God.

During my time in prayer, Jesus’ question in the Gospel of Luke kept ringing in my ears:

But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth? (18:18)

In my prayer with Jesus, I realized that this was not a rhetorical question. He is asking me. He is asking you. He is asking the entire Church to continue in its perennial mission to spread the Gospel. We are not helpless in the face of these disturbing trends, and there is great reason to have hope.

Here are some concrete, clear things that we can keep in mind and do as we search as a Church together to respond to these trends:

1. Stay Positive and Hopeful: The last thing the Church needs to help with sales is a membership that is pessimistic and long in the face. Pope Francis reiterates this constantly: “The Church is not a refuge for sad people, the Church is a house of joy.” So, let’s remember and rejoice that Catholicism is actually growing worldwide. It is very like us Americans to be myopic and self-involved, but it helps to widen our view and see ourselves as a worldwide, growing Church before we get down to the business of addressing problems here.

2. Embrace This Opportunity for Christian Unity: Evangelicals as well as Catholics are reading the Pew data in ways that provide reason to hope that this trend is not permanent. Also, the decline in numbers did not impact Evangelicals as much as other faiths.  In the face of these changes, there is an opportunity for all Christians to work together to help teens and young adults find Jesus. There will be a temptation to circle our perspective wagons and regard other Christian faiths as encroaching in our territory, but in a culture that is fast trying to sideline Christianity, it is time to unite our resources.

(I also have a personal, (slightly wild) hope that the decline of members from mainline traditions could lead to a situation in which people are more open and willing to shed labels and unify churches…beginning with the East and the West. I do see these kinds of ecumenical attitudes in some of my Evangelical friends, one of whom became Orthodox.)

3. Remember, We Know These Numbers: When we read impersonal statistics about millions of people who have left the Church over the past seven years it is easy to get overwhelmed. But let’s remember, we know these people. You may not personally know each and every one of them, but if you take all the faithful Catholics in this country, (at least the ones who attend Mass semi regularly), that is 30 plus million people. If we can inspire and catechize these faithful Catholics and then mobilize them to invite their loved ones back to the Church, that is nothing to sneeze at. You may be thinking, “Yeah right, that is a tall order.”

But we only need remember the words of the angel Gabriel:

“Nothing will be impossible for God” (Lk 1:37).

4. Put Evangelization on the Front Burner: I recently spoke to a pastor in Des Moines who bought fifty copies of  The Prodigal You Love: Inviting Loved Ones Back to the Church for his parish. This is a priest who understands that evangelization is the key issue of our time. We need priests, religious and lay people in the Church to put evangelization on the front burner and we need to evangelize on two levels. First, we need to “form intentional disciples” as Sherry Weddell would say. We need to make sure that the people in the pews are followers of Christ, not just in name but in their hearts. And at the same time we need to form people to go out and evangelize their friends and family.

You may question whether we can do this at the same time but the disciples were sent out way before they felt they were ready. In fact, at the end of the Gospel of Matthew we see how unready they were:

 When they saw [Jesus], they worshiped, but they doubted. (28:17)

Jesus sees his disciples’ doubt and then tells them to spread the good news!

We are ready to go out.

As the trumpets of these statistics blare, Jesus is sending us outnot as self-confident people who think we have it all figured outbut as humble followers, ready to meet his people one by one.

5. Avoid Attila the “None” Worldviews: It is easy to look at this growing number of unaffiliated “nones” as our enemy. We could paint this group of people as the face of a new, evil secularism and assume they are brainwashed, ignorant, stupid, selfish, lazy or all of the above. In this worldview, we would be happy with a remnant faith that excludes people who don’t think like us and are not on board. This is not Christian. We are here to go out.

Every generation has its problems and needs to be open to the wisdom and experience of previous generations, but every generation also has something to teach us about the truth. Instead of demonizing or patronizing the “nones,” many of whom are in our families and circle of friends, I suggest that it is better to listen, to respect, to establish trust, to love and then to invite them home.

And a bonus:

6. Engage in Self-Examination and Transformation: Responses to the Pew numbers have been varied but I have to say that the majority I have seen are “pointing.” In other words, the blame lies there or over there or in here. I am not disagreeing with these very intelligent analyses of the storm of conditions that led to this situation. But as a wise spiritual director once said to me, “Analysis leads to paralysis.” We cannot control anything in this situation but our own behavior.

As Sherry Weddell writes over on her blog:

 Now is the time to respond: “Here I am, Lord. Send me.” Now is the time for a 21st century Generation of Saints.

Instead of preparing for war with a culture that is leaving us behind, we are called as Christians to change ourselves in order to change the culture.

Saints are the most powerful weapon in any spiritual battle.

– – –

Any others wise insights or ideas in the face of the new Pew numbers?

Please leave them in the comments!

Prodigal (1)

More interesting posts on this subject:

Losing My Religion: Why People Are REALLY Leaving the Church (It’s not what you think.) by Dr. Gregory Popcak

Why Are The “Nones” Leaving Religion? by Fr. Dwight Longenecker

Reflections on the Latest Pew Survey Documenting “Religious Decline” – Not So Fast by Msgr. Charles Pope

Fewer Christians, More “Nones” by Mark Movsesian, First Things

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  • Korou

    Encouraging words. There are plenty of criticisms of the Catholic Church. It takes a big spirit to say, “Hang on – maybe there’s something in what they say. Even if we don’t disagree with everything they say nobody’s perfect and nobody’s above criticism. And just because they disagree with us that doesn’t mean they’re not sincere and that we can’t learn anything from them.”

  • On #5- a much better point of view is that these people are the victims of secularization. They have been robbed of eternal life by narcissistic happiness in the moment philosophy, it is our job to journey with them and heal whatever we can.

    • Bob Bolondz

      How can somebody be a “victim” of secularization? We have separation of church and state in this country. That is a good thing. If people have religious beliefs then they should respect other people and keep it in their church/synagogue/mosque etc. The Middle East is totally non-secular and it is a big mess because of it.

      • And yet a million children a year are killed legally under your secular state. Spouses are abandoned in your secular utopia. The terminally ill are fed poison, as is the general population through floridization and other industrial pollution. Secularization kills because it has no moral Reason to avoid harming others.

        • Bob Bolondz

          Everything you mentioned can happen under a religious state. Not all religions believe the same thing as yours. These things should be decided by people using science and reason, not ancient writings or religious authorities.

          • And yet, we’ve seen the result- repeatedly- when we try to decide things on “science and reason alone” without reference to morality.

            It does not help to cut out 95% of the history of the world and attempt to make decisions with only the remaining 5% of observed data, which is what you “science and reason alone” types try to do. You ignore all of the previous evolution of humanity in favor of your biased little century and a half of data; merely because you grew up in a Christian nation and have personal control issues.

          • Korou

            You seem to be confused about the meaning of the word “secular”. All it means is that religion doesn’t get a say in government – and that’s a very good thing. Catholics, in particular, have very good reasons to be grateful for the wall between Church and State. It protects you from persecution and permits you to practice your beliefs in freedom.

          • It is a wall of separation that has made me complicit in an economy based 9n genocide- that is, PREVENTING me from practicing my faith.

            Multiculturalism is impossible with mutually incompatible culture.

          • Korou

            Nope. Separation of Church and State has nothing to do with the clinical treatment you think of as genocide.
            And in a sense I agree with you, in that it is impossible for all religions to run a government together, which is why it was decided that none of them would be allowed to do so. And you should thank your lucky stars that it was, otherwise there would have been an awful lot of American Catholics being burned at the stake throughout history.

          • If we had a moral government, that “clinical treatment” would not be legal.

            There’d be an awful lot of Protestants burned at the stake as well. It is far better to have moral segregated governments than federal dictatorships.

          • Korou

            You’re right. Which is why the Founding Fathers decided to put an end to religious warfare in America by instituting separation of Church and State. Good for them, and lucky for you.

          • They failed.

            Since 1973, the government has been dictating morals and squeezing religion out of public life to the point that the Benedict Option is becoming a real thing very much discussed (that’s when a group of people of the same religion buy a plot of land and create a monocultural town), because it is quickly becoming the only option left.

            Evil is what happens when good men do nothing- or are prevented from doing anything for fear of hurting evil’s widdle feelings.

  • Sr Marianne Lorraine Trouve

    The Church is like the extension of the Incarnation through history. Just as the individual Christian lives the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection in his or her own life, so does the Church as a whole. My own take on this is that the Church has been going through a time which is like a kind of Passion, in terms of the loss of faith which could even be called a great apostasy. But Good Friday always leads to Easter. And I don’t know how or when God will bring it about, but I believe that God will bring about a resurrection of faith in ways that will simply astound us when it happens. It may even be sooner than we think. In the meantime we just have to keep on doing what we’re doing in terms of praying and evangelizing, and leave it to God to bring about the harvest at the right time.

  • johnnysc

    It’s really not depressing. It’s a great time to be Catholic. When you have liberals, protestants and athiests all going against you it proves all the more that we belong to the One True Church that Jesus founded, the Catholic Church. Imo, the worst thing the Church can do is place more importance on ecumenism than evangelization in the spirit of getting along. Sister…..teens and young adults will find Jesus in the Catholic Church…..

    To separate Jesus from the Church would introduce an “absurd dichotomy”, as Blessed Paul VI wrote (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 16). It is not possible “to love Christ but without the Church, to listen to Christ but not the Church, to belong to Christ but outside the Church” (ibid.). For the Church is herself God’s great family, which brings Christ to us. Our faith is not an abstract doctrine or philosophy, but a vital and full relationship with a person: Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God who became man, was put to death, rose from the dead to save us, and is now living in our midst. Where can we encounter him? We encounter him in the Church, in our hierarchical, Holy Mother Church. It is the Church which says today: “Behold the Lamb of God”; it is the Church, which proclaims him; it is in the Church that Jesus continues to accomplish his acts of grace which are the sacraments. – Pope Francis

    • Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble

      “The worst thing the Church can do is place more importance on ecumenism than evangelization”

      Ecumenism can be at the service of evangelism. Obviously, I agree it is best for a person to belong to the Catholic Church, but certainly we can also agree that it is better for someone to be an Evangelical and know Jesus than to be an atheist. This is a time for Christian unity, for working together to bring Jesus to a culture that is forgetting him. Ghetto mentalities are not helpful in this task.

      • johnnysc

        “but certainly we can also agree that it is better for someone to be an Evangelical and know Jesus than to be an atheist.”

        But it’s not okay to leave them there which is the attitude of many within the Church. There are protestant denominations that profess to knowing and loving Jesus but accept contraception, divorce, homosexual marriage and even abortion. It’s not just ‘best’ for a person to belong to the Church that Jesus founded, it is a necessity.

        • Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble

          “But it’s not okay to leave them there” – I gave no indication that I see it that way. I think you are disagreeing with what you think I am saying, not what I am actually saying.

          I do think it would be helpful to tease out what you mean by saying it is a “necessity” for someone to be Catholic. As Catholics we believe that Evangelicals can be saved. All will be saved through the Church, but the boundaries of the Church extend beyond what we can see.

          From the Catechism:

          Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it. (CCC 846)

          A good source: http://www.catholic.com/magazine/articles/what-no-salvation-outside-the-church-means

          • johnnysc

            “There will be a temptation to circle our perspective wagons and regard other Christian faiths as encroaching in our territory, but in a culture that is fast trying to sideline Christianity, it is time to unite our resources.”

            That sure sounds like I’m ok and your ok were all in this together.

            As far as uniting our resources…..well that’s the point…..we want protestants to become Catholic to receive the Graces from the resources our Lord and Savior gave us to help in our salvation…..the Catholic Church and the Sacraments.

            Of course non Catholics may be saved (may being the key word) I didn’t say otherwise. I remember what I priest told me…..you don’t have to be Catholic to get to Heaven but everyone in Heaven is Catholic.

          • Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble

            Well, the “I’m ok, you’re ok” would not be ecumenism but heresy as it would be a denial of revealed truth, so thankfully you read that wrong.

            But I DO think we are all in this together…and there is nothing heretical in that sentiment.

            “With you I desire that our Churches may soon find effective ways of resolving the urgent pastoral problems that face us, and that we may progress together in brotherly love and in our theological dialogue, for it is by these means that reconciliation among Christians and reconciliation in the world can come about.” – Saint John Paul II

            I am going to leave our conversation here but I wish you the best.

          • Ed

            Many of the Protestants and Catholics who have left the church are described as “pew warmers” or “Easter and Christmas Catholics”. Another words , they were lukewarm Christians and they weren’t all in. This is why it is important for us to become “followers of Christ”, intentional disciples, not just pew warmers going through the motions.

        • Sue Korlan

          Thankfully, the branches of Christianity losing the most members are the ones accepting those activities you mention.

    • Korou

      Well, if I may say so, that’s one way to look at it. Another might be that when you have liberals, atheists and Protestants (none of whom are necessarily friends with each other) against you there might be some reason to stop and think: Is there something we can learn from them? Perhaps we should hesitate before dismissing all of their criticisms unconditionally?

  • Justin

    Your point in #4, that we need to be sure the people in the pews are followers of Christ, has been a big part of my view on this. I think there is actually a very good benefit to the modern age, when people are less likely to “phone in” a religious identity that has little meaning to them, often solely on the basis of social expectations, family/ethnic background, etc. I wonder if a lot of the people who have left the church would have historically “stayed” in name, but lost the Church in Spirit. These people would be much harder to reach and bring back to real, meaningful communion if they were hidden in plain sight by retaining a hollow Catholic self-identification.

    • radiofreerome

      In the Catholic Church, people have left partially because BXVI and JPII before him were at war with modernity itself.

  • Sue Korlan

    As a former none, I might point out that trying to live without Jesus leads to misery. Eventually the victims of that misery realize they’re wretched, start searching, and at that point are extremely interested in what the joyful people around them have to say. A little C S Lewis at that point can be extremely effective, as can Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

    • Bob Bolondz

      Billions of people “live without Jesus” and they are doing just fine.

      • Justin

        As a former none also, I’d agree with both of you. I’d say I was doing “fine” as a none, certainly by the standards I held at that time. But, from where I am now, that brand of mere “fine” is certainly wretched.

        • Galorgan

          This can go both ways. There are many Catholics I see as “wretched” and I, personally, was less “fine” as a Catholic than I am now.

          • Justin

            I’m sorry to hear that- I hope that a more enriching expression of the faith reaches you one day! 🙂

          • Galorgan

            And I hope a more enriching expression of none-ness reaches you one day! 😉

    • Nathaniel

      Speaking as an atheist, you are quite wrong. I am reasonably happy with my life, and its people like you who make me quite comfortable never stepping foot inside of a church.

    • Lark62

      Someone has just informed me that I am actually miserable and wretched but I am somehow unable to realize that I am miserable and wretched. Then she sits back and hopes that I will soon figure out that I am miserable and wretched.

      Really? Do you honestly not recognize how much arrogance and self absorbtion is required to say something so ignorant and hateful? Do you not understand that I have no desire whatsoever to act this way or be like you.?

  • Matt Draeger

    the nones are sick of this idea that the church has anything to do with a building, this idea that god calls the qualified, that the body of Christ (the church) has anything to do with being spiritual healthy.

    We wanted an experience with Jesus Christ, to be changed by the gospel of his resurrection. We never wanted a building, to be qualified by any human, nor engage is mans rules.

    When we saw that the church is happening outside the walls, and that the Christ loved us brokne, sinful misfits as much as his Church, that GOD qualifies the called, we broke down. When we saw Jesus in the faces of others impacting our lives we questioned this compassion. We were accepted for who we were, and not judged for what we had done.

    That was my expierence at least

  • Sandro Palmyra

    To the extent that Christians live good lives and do good works, they may exhibit a positive image that may cause admiration among non believers. Christian witness does no good at all. most people have given religion consideration and decided whether or not to participate actively in church life and decided against it, even though they may believe in God. Groups like right to life turn most people off.

    • Stevie D

      I think you are right in much of this, Sandro.

      If the Church wishes to influence the nones, then it MUST put its own house in order first.

  • Sophia Sadek

    I like the idea of Atilla the None. Atilla had a reputation for frugality. He refused to adopt the Roman custom of using fancy tableware. He was a popular guy with the ladies, as well.

    The Church’s position on marriage equality and women’s rights is not helping. The sooner it comes out of the sixteenth century, the better.

    • Justin

      Well, as Catholics, there’s obviously one pretty major product of the 16th century we’d like to see end ;)! Kidding aside, though, the notion of changing fundamental doctrines of the faith to improve membership numbers undermines the purpose for having the church in the first place; it would be like trying to increase business at a health food store by carrying Pepsi and Cheetos. Sure, it might increase your sales, and if that’s all you’re after then its the right choice. But you would no longer be the business you intended to be. Some people think its more important to sell food that is good for the body, even if its not the most popular food. We’re “selling” the food most nourishing for the soul. Our solution has to be along the lines of convincing people that, in the end, its better to reach for a healthy snack than junk food!

      • Sophia Sadek

        I think folks are starting to wake up to the deleterious effects of junk religion.

      • Galorgan

        I don’t like to get snarky in these comments, but to be fair you’re selling what you think is most nourishing for the soul. It’s not that people are choosing junk food over healthy food. They (at least think) they are choosing healthier food than what you are offering.

        • Justin

          No worries, the comment doesn’t come across as snark. I’d agree- like all metaphors, this one is limited. What I was saying is we don’t base what we “stock” on what will sell best, but instead on what we believe is important to provide. While I do think there are people who will seek out the “junk food” ethics in life (and not just religious ethics- also consumer, economic, etc) because they’re quick, easy, and not challenging, a lot of people will pursue a different spiritual “diet” from us because they fundamentally disagree on what is healthy!

      • radiofreerome

        But what you’re selling is both harmful and hateful. You’ve told people that their most profound capacity for love is a tendency toward evil. They reject your Church as harmful, and they are right. Many, like me, do so after a lifetime of trying to find something decent and worthwhile in the Church. But all I see is needless cruelty and a constant need of presumably “good” people like you to defend a Church that provides young people with no future and no hope but to wait for death.

        • Justin

          What we’re selling is neither harmful or hateful, but clearly your intent here is to spew venom rather than rationally discus the topic. Plenty of “nones” have weighed in with civilized, thoughtful points here; but you realize you’re the equivalent of the guy who stands out on the college green and screams at the kids that they’re going to hell, don’t you?

          • radiofreerome

            Justin, if you promote Catholic theology regarding homosexual orientation being solely a tendency to evil, you might as well be handing out razor blades as confirmation presents to gay teenagers.

            You Catholics so accustomed to treating gay people as Dalits that it no longer seems a moral question to you.

            That claim about gay Christians waiting to die is far from idle. It was true forty years ago when I experienced it, and it’s true now with the gay teenager I corresponded with last week.

            Don’t bother telling me that what I present is confrontational and that you’re too delicate a flower to deal with it. I kept silent for a decade from the age of 13 until the age of 23. For a decade after that I was polite, understanding and hopeful. In the third decade, I was militant. The last decade with the election of Ratzinger to Pope has convinced me the Catholic Church is utterly hopeless in regards to this issue.

            The next generation of my family won’t go near the Church because of the way the Church has stigmatized and persecuted gays even though they are all members of that generation are heterosexual and I didn’t discuss the topic with them.

  • captcrisis

    The teachings of Jesus are well known, are rarely criticized, and are followed by the unchurched at least as much as by the churched. So I wouldn’t worry.

    • Truth Seeker

      The teachings about torturing people forever that don’t fall in line should be criticized.

  • I’m amazed that every time there is a post on a religious website even tangentially about non believers how so many come out of the woodwork to comment. As I see the issue, the “nones” (no pun on “nun”!) are relatively young and have not had the experiences to grow. I was one of those once. They think they can do it all on their own. Wait until they mature.

    • Truth Seeker

      You’re calling “nones” immature? Not cool. We just think differently.

    • Lark62

      I’m no kid. I can remember when phones were literally dialed and hung up. I learned to type on a type writer. I was alive before Kennedy was shot or man walked on the moon. It is safe to say I’m a card carrying old fogey. I’m also a card carrying atheist who spent decades as a pushy evangelical christian.

      I care about dialogue with those I disgree with. I think echo chambers are dangerous. I liked this article because the author tried to be respectful tho there is much I dIsagree with. If you want to reach out to the “nones” you should be glad they are here talking with you.

  • trinielf

    For all the talk about “free-will” certain Christians just cannot respect people’s personal spiritual journey. If someone no longer wants to be affiliated with your religion, just respect their free will to not do so. Allow people to come of their own free will and leave of their own free will.

    • Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble

      You are correct that Christians can share their faith in a way that is disrespectful of free will. But respecting free will does not bar a Christian from sharing their faith at all. As Christians we are also called to respect and encourage the freedom of those we love. Insofar as a person is living in union with God’s will, they are living in freedom. So Christians are called to offer to others this joyful possibility, without coercion and in complete respect for their free will.

      • trinielf

        My comment does not have anything to do with sharing or not sharing one’s faith. It has to do with what happens after someone says, “Thanks but no thanks, not for me.” OR when someone who was a Christian no longer wants to be one.

        Part of this is demonizing those who do not want or no longer want to be part of the Christian religion or assuming it is because of some flaw on their part or because they don’t know. People KNOW about the basic tenants of Christian theology. What we see happening now (and I say this as a former firebrand Evangelical proselytizer with all the apologetic tricks up my sleeve) is really not about getting them to know about the whole religious doctrine of Adam and Eve, sin and Jesus sacrificing himself. They KNOW about it. It was getting them to join MY PARTICULAR CHRISTIAN SECT. Even when someone said they were already a Christian (of another denomination) or already familiar with the religion, or they appreciate the Jesus story and derive some wonderful inspiration from it, the “sale” was not closed unless they joined MY CHRISTIAN SECT. It was highly egotistical and disrespectful to expect people MUST pray like me, worship like me, believe EXACTLY like me, just because I felt I had the one true religion.

        After 1600+ years of Christian Empire, colonialism and cultural dominance, people KNOW about the religion, even those in non-Christian countries. Christians have reached “saturation point” basically and now that we are in the Age of Information, people can easily do the investigation on their own at the click of a button. Right now it is about competition for members, often using very dishonest, emotionally manipulative, sales pitches and coercive methods of circumventing people’s critical thinking and not allowing them to fully and independently explore their spiritual and intellectual path in life or respecting their right to do so.

        The particular Christian sects guilty of this seem to be about imperialism (indeed many are also into politics) and not at all about free will or respecting people’s personal spiritual and intellectual journey in life.

        • Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble

          If there is truth then particulars, including the denomination of a person’s faith, do matter, insofar as truth matters. That being said, I do agree that arguing with people about the particulars is usually not the best form of evangelization, especially if a person has rejected Christianity altogether.

          Being Jesus to another person, allowing him to act through us is the first and most important way to share the faith. If a person tries to deliver the truth without a Christlike presentation, it is not the truth.

          That being said, I do think there is a time to talk particulars. If a person is open to it, Christians are called to share our beliefs and dialogue with others in an invitational, respectful way. Unfortunately Christians don’t always do this in a Christlike way, including myself, and for this I am sorry.

          • trinielf

            I also regret my days when I was a firebrand evangelical who was not satisfied until people saw things the way MY sect saw it. I am happy I am able now to fully appreciate a true experience I had preaching to a an old Hindu man with my grandfather. The old Hindu man listened politely to my grandfather go on and on about how his religion was false and had nonsensical myths etc. Then finally he spoke and asked “So what makes my religion’s flying monkeys, many armed Gods, epic tales false and your religion’s talking snakes, donkeys, flying chariots, many faced cherubs and epic tales true?”

            My grandfather was stumped and in usual firebrand evangelical fashion chalked the man’s perfectly valid question up to a Satanic stubbornness and left with parting words about everlasting destruction.

            But today, those words still stick with me. You began your comment by mentioning “truth”. Well there are ways of determining and testing ACTUAL EMPIRICAL TRUTH and those ways invalidate most of the claims ALL religions make, which is why people require faith, “hoping something true” and some kind of personal investment, “needing it to be true” supported by some positive but subjective personal experience to cling to any particular religion.

            Therefore since religious affiliation is guided not by empirical truth but subjective personal experience, all the more reason to respect people’s personal spiritual and intellectual journey. Anything else is an imposition of an imperialistic mind-set of one human culture trying to assume supremacy over another based on little else but their own subjective ideology.

          • Lark62

            There is actually a book published just this week called Faith vs. Fact (Jerry Coyne) that addresses exactly this. I’m still in chapter 1, but the basic point is that if religion makes truth claims it is fair to ask for evidence of those claims.

        • Lark62

          Yes. And what I hate most is the vulture mentality. Christians are taught to look for people who are hurting or who have suffered a tragedy. The greater the mark’s pain and emotional vulnerability, the better.

          It was only after I left Christianity that I could see how abusive this was. And how telling.

          If the story were true, one could convince others based in its merits. The fact that people can only be convinced based on emotion when rational faculties are not in play says it all.

          • trinielf

            Lark62, I can tell you that in training to preach to others we were specifically instructed to look for opportunities where people are vulnerable; had a death in their family, some tragedy, desperate and down and out, poor and needy. Now nothing is wrong per say with offering GENUINE help to such people, unconditionally and from a place of true human compassion. But our help came with STRINGS attached. If someone was hungry or suffering and they wanted help they HAD to accommodate our religious indoctrination to get it. If they did not want it, then they were left to Satan.

            We were also told to avoid people who were too educated and started challenging our beliefs and focus on those who were “meek” aka gullible.

          • Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble

            I’m not sure which denomination is your experienc trinielf, but I have never heard anything like that among Catholics.

          • trinielf

            No you tend to find it more in the (relatively) newer Protestant sects, particularly those that burgeoned in the USA, that invest a lot in proselytizing.

          • Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble

            That’s unfortunate. Thanks for sharing.

          • Lark62

            Yes. That is pretty much what I was taught. I am embarrassed by how I used to behave.

            With hindsight, the rules for evangelism could be considered a clue.

        • Signs

          You never had a personal relationship with Him then? Thought firebrand evangelicals all do? We can only speak our truth…mine is there is no doubt in His Word or sacrament….saved my life repeatedly & extraordinarily…countless testimonies for such experiences are drown out by liberal mind think which currently promotes a paganistic spiritualism which has no defining entity or course…perhaps because we are rewriting history we believe that we can make it other than it was and is…the truth is truth matters and not learning from history means you just keep repeating it….I share my truth not to convince you to join my sect but to truly save…sulfur smells bad I know sadly too well

          • trinielf

            You are more than welcome to have your truth and beliefs. Your truth is not my truth nor my spiritual beliefs, nor will they be unless there is sufficient valid evidence for them and we both know you will not be able to provide any such thing. All you can do is assert your subjective experience, opinion and preference for a certain cultural perspective and theology.

            History is indeed being learned and people are seeing the follies of religious tyranny and robbing people of free will or using appeals to fear to make people believe as they do. Yes I can appreciate how strongly you believe in some afterlife torture designed by your deity to punish people for not believing as you believe, I was once in that thought paradigm when I did not have the knowledge and experience I do now. So appeals to fear in order to sway my free-will on philosophical and metaphysical matters, do not work. Only truth, reason, love, logic, justice do.

  • Dave

    Not sure why I’m bothering to give pointers since they’ll only be ignored but anyway…

    Re: positivity

    I can’t speak for all my fellow nonbelivers but the ones I know agree with me that by far the most immediately off putting aspect about religious people is the faux
    happiness. The presumption that we somehow need hope is it’s own issue but anyway. It looks like a cross between the stepford wives and a north Korean propaganda video. The whole ‘always look happy and sublimate your true feelings so the church won’t look bad’ angle engenders trust in no one.

    Re: unity.

    There are 30 000 xtian sects. most have a history of trying to wipe out the others. if uniting on a grand scale was possible, it would have happened long before now. Hell, catholics can’t even decide on whether or not to listen to their own pope.

    “Remember, We Know These Numbers:”

    And they know you. There’s a reason they left. Whatever it was, simply inviting them back probably won’t cut it. Put another way, every none, every non religious person, every atheist has friends, neighbours, family members who are part of some religion. What could you POSSIBLY say to them that they haven’t heard before?

    “Put Evangelization on the Front Burner:”

    Yes because that’s the problem with Christianity…it doesn’t evangelize enough.

    You have legions of priests. You have megachurches, private schools your own
    movie and book publishing companies. Christianity is standing at all the doors and holding all the keys. It’s ubiquitous. Omnipresent. And still it shrinks. Life is
    not a chick tract. People aren’t leaving because by some astounding feat of chance they haven’t heard the good news yet.

    They are leaving because they have and they don’t believe you.

    If anything evangelism should be moved to the backburner and the focus put on doing something positive in the world without asking for people’s souls in return. Worst case scenario you accidentally make the world a better place.

    “It is better to listen, to respect, to establish trust, to love and then to invite them home.”

    What happens when they say no? People are not spiritual vending machines where you put in enough niceness tokens and out pops a belief in your specific version of jesus. And to be blunt, many people have been on the receiving end of “Christian love” and are leaving to get away from it. Telling a person they are broken because of who they are in love with is not love. Robbing people of their bodily autonomy because you flunked biology is not love. Control is not love.

    It is BEYOND telling that none of your points was a variation of : ‘maybe we need
    a better message.’ Maybe try not treating the gays like garbage or treating
    women like glorified broodmares?

    Maybe stop opposing proven anti disease and poverty strategies like access to education and birth control. Maybe stop blatantly cherry picking what rules you
    follow…and expecting others to follow them because you said so.

    • Sheila Connolly

      One reason so many are leaving religion these days is the Internet. We can now google a religion’s claims and find out if they hold up … and many of them unfortunately do not.

      When a person has discovered this, you’re unlikely to be able to present them with any new information or argument that’s going to change their mind.

      • Dave

        Very true. Though it also has to do with attitude. The more conservative sects are still bleeding members, but not as fast. Probably due to the more conservative sects spending more time discouraging questioning authority.

        • Signs

          Two thousands years my friend and thousands of people who died and are dying for it …faith is ultimately a choice…your tolerance of other people will be tested….why did they crucify Him and His followers? There is truth but it is not self-serving and the bible predicted all of this…in the end we will walk His path to show our faith or you will be tolerant of others right to believe.