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A recent poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, showed that 44 percent of Americans do not belong to their childhood faith; many had just switched affiliation, some had given up on organized religion altogether. However, the survey also found an interesting trend: 54 percent of children raised unaffiliated with a religion later choose one — three-fourths of them by age 24.
The NYTimes is profiling one such young man, a 13-year-old named Ryan, who one day a few months ago announced he wanted to start going to church. The story is really interesting, so I won’t spoil it here (link to it at bottom of this post), but one part was especially intriguing, especially in light of my prior posts on why people leave the Catholic Church. When young Ryan was asked why he thought his father – raised Catholic and at one time studying for priesthood – had stopped going to church, Ryan said:
‘He probably just one day was watching a Mets game, said ‘I don’t want to go to church’ and just stopped going.'”
So much of what we do in life is practice. If you want to run a marathon, you have to start by getting out of bed each day and putting in a few miles around the neighborhood. If you want to lose weight, you have to practice abstaining from sugar and high-fat foods. If you want to learn a language, you have to speak it every day. And as anyone who has ever started an exercise program knows, once you stay off the treadmill for a day, it is easier to take off the next day, and the next. Same with sin: One you tell one lie, the next is easier, and the next even easier and pretty soon you don’t know the truth from falsehood. Or, if you’re used to justifying behavior that you know is harmful or immoral (“It was just a strip club, it wasn’t like I was having an affair.” or “I didn’t steal the whole test, for goodness sake, I just copied one answer.” or “There are a lot worse things than (fill in the blank with your favorite vice).) that justification becomes natural. Everything – good or bad – starts with baby steps.
And so it is with religious practice. If you don’t “practice” every week, pretty soon you think you don’t need it – you don’t need the only island of silence this noisy world affords, you don’t need to reflect on your life and how your actions affect others, you don’t need to commune with the Greatness that is out there. There are plenty of folks who say there is no God. But few of them, if any, have spent any time looking for God. Others say they don’t need organized religion, but what they really mean is, “There’s a Mets game on.” Read about Ryan here.