The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life recently released a report on the religious affiliations of Americans. Their comprehensive analysis drew on surveys of 17,000 adults. What they found has been making headlines everywhere:
One in five adults now have no religious affiliation, with 13.9% of the population saying they believe in “nothing in particular.”
That’s 33 million people who are, for all intents and purposes, “undecided” about their faith. This group has grown by 20% in the last five years alone.
It’s important to note that these people aren’t atheist or agnostics, who were tallied separately. Atheists have decided they don’t believe in God. Agnostics have decided that it’s not possible to know about God. Those who believe in “nothing in particular” have only decided to be undecided.
USA Today featured a quote from a member of the “nothing in particular” group. Rebecca Cardone, the student body president at California Lutheran University, said:
“I like the ambiguity of going without a label,” she says. “I prefer to stress the importance of acting with compassion rather than choosing a predetermined system of beliefs.”
Why should you care that more and more people are of Ms. Cardone’s mentality?
Three-fourths of this group were brought up in a religious tradition – mostly Protestant. They had parents just like me and you, who told them about Jesus, took them to church, and raised them in faith.
They didn’t switch religions; they just stopped caring. They came to believe that there is more joy in being undecided than fulfillment in being committed.
How does that happen? I think we can learn a lot about the premises that lead young people to a perpetual state of believing in “nothing in particular” by breaking down Ms. Cardone’s quote.
As Christian parents, we need to be aware of these premises and work to intentionally educate our kids on why they are false.
“I like the ambiguity of going without a label.”
Premise 1: What you like has bearing on what is true.
When making a decision about faith, you should immediately know you’re on the wrong track if you prioritize what you “like.” Quite frankly, it doesn’t matter what you like. I like unicorns, but that doesn’t make them real. What we have an affinity for has no bearing on what is true.
Premise 2: Ambiguity is a good thing.
You may well be more comfortable before making a decision than after. That’s generally true in life, but much more so in matters of faith. A faith decision requires you to commit to something without complete answers and then live your life accordingly. Maintaining ambiguous beliefs is an easy way to maximize comfort and minimize the natural outcome of responsibility that comes from making a faith decision. Decisiveness can be hard, but that doesn’t mean ambiguity is preferable.
Premise 3: Being labeled is a bad thing.
It’s human nature to want to be in control. Somehow we lose a little of that feeling of control when we are labeled as part of a group. We feel we’ve handed the reins of our identity to the person using the label. But the Apostle Paul makes it clear that our identity is gloriously labeled with Christ’s name; he used the terms “in Christ,” “in Him,” or “in the Lord” 160 times in the Bible to describe who we are. The negative connotations of labeling are purely secular.
“I prefer to stress the importance of acting with compassion rather than choosing a predetermined system of beliefs.”
Premise 4: Choosing to live by individual virtues is different than choosing to live by a predetermined system of beliefs.
Acting with compassion is a predetermined system of beliefs. Just because you pick and choose beliefs (like compassion), rather than taking them in the complete context in which they were meant to function, doesn’t mean you’re not working from a pre-determined belief system yourself. You’re just not calling that belief system “religion.” We all act according to a belief system.
Election Day is tomorrow and it’s estimated that 1-2 million people remain undecided. About 30 percent of them will just not vote. After tomorrow, the power of the undecided vote sitting in their hands will vanish.
Right now, each of us holds a faith vote in our hands. Jesus says we must cast that vote for Him – make a decision – before our own Election Day: the day we die. Unfortunately that day is not clearly marked on our calendars like the Tuesday after the first Monday in November is for undecided voters. If we die holding our undecided vote in our hands, Jesus says he’ll know just how to count it:
“He who is not with me is against me.” Matthew 12:30
What is your take on the growing group of people who believe in “nothing in particular?” What do you think leads people to choose ambiguity?