Life

The young converts

Roman-Catholic ChurchImage by tskdesign via Flickr

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.

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4 thoughts on “The young converts

  1. Renee, wow. I haven't read Ryan's story yet, but I don't know that I need to. Could it really be this simple, this earthly? It could be. We need to live intentionally. It's so easy to veer off course by little decisions that, in the end, become big ones; big enough to effect our salvation. Thanks for the thoughts.

  2. Wonderful story, Renee — thanks for bringing it to our attention! but above all, I appreciate and am thankful for your excellent insights. Thank you! Your spiritual depth shines in this one 🙂

  3. Sam again. Let me quote a part of your essay: "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." I think your point of view might be more persuasive if you defined God and admitted that it us indeed YOUR definition of God; that other can surely find God or their personal equivalent of what you call God in other ways. Lastly, I think it's extremely presumptuous to trivialize the views of those who shun organized religion. It seems to suggest that those of us who reject it have never been involved in it, or that we rejected it without giving the matter serious thought. I would say that many people rejected organized religion for perfectly valid reasons — maybe not valid to you, but certainly valid to them. Think of all the women who 30 or 40 years ago were advised by their doctors not to have more children because of various health concerns, but who did so anyway (and sometimes with dire consequences) because their priest told them the pill was sinful and if they used it they would be excommunicated and condemned to hell. There are serious, ethical individuals who have perfectly mature and valid reasons for conducting their lives free of any religious network. Many of those people would not disparage your decision to believe in God and worship in the culture of your choice. Your choice is different from theirs, but I think it's unjust to imply that your choice is wiser or somehow superior to the decisions that others made.

  4. Hey Sam! Thanks for reading and writing and debating. Ok, you're absolutely right about a couple things: 1. Not all people who reject organized religion do it without thought. I'm not sure I would go so far as to say that most people who reject it give it serious thought, but I'll give you some. Some think about it seriously and say, "Forget this." But, like so much of life, I think most of us just kind of do things out habit without much thought. Pews/floors/chairs are filled with people who go to church/mosque/synagogue out of habit and no thought whatsoever. One of the posts I did about why people leave the Catholic Church pointed specifically to the birth control issue. But that issue doesn't affect Jews or Mainline Protestants and they're also bleeding congregants. Have all of those people who've left really examined what their religion teaches and why they are leaving? I'm not so sure.2. The concept of God. Absolutely — in fact, one of my favorite things is to ask people who their God is. Because someone will say, "I don't believe in God" and I say, "Tell me about the God you don't believe in" and when they describe the being they view as God, I often don't believe in that image either. And finally, there are tons of mature, ethical individuals that live their lives outside organized religion and I'm not saying the choice for organized religion is better than not … however, I do look at the good work done in the world, and 95 percent of it is tied to a religious network (the feeding of the poor, clothing the naked, working for peace) of some sort, even loosely organized and I wonder, why is that? Do people feel they must help others b/c God told them too? Or is it because they are surrounded by people who do that as a community of believers? I don't know, but I do wonder.

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