Here are the surprising statistics I found as I was thumbing through my latest The Lutheran magazine (3/2012, p. 8):
44% told the Baylor University (Waco, TX) Religion Survey that they spend no time seeking out eternal wisdom.
19% said it was 'useless to search for meaning.'
28% told LifeWay that it's not a 'major priority' in my life to find my deeper purpose.
One of the most striking trends in religion statistics in recent decades is the rise of the Nones, people who checked "no religious identity" on the American Religious Identification Survey. The Nones went from 8% in 1990 to 15% in 2008.
So, while America grows increasingly vocal on the edges of the religious landscape, there appear to be lots and lots of people, young and old, who are opting out of the conversation completely. Somehow the core issues of faith like belonging, meaning, forgiveness, renewal, love and compassion, have not been compelling or important enough to draw people toward the discussion.
So what? I'm not very excited about a secular culture. Despite all the problems that religiosity and diversity bring (and I could go on and ON about that), our life in America has been immeasurably enriched, challenged, and improved by the influence of faith on daily life. Just a few examples spring to mind, institutions and events that were driven by religious values: the establishment of colleges, the building and staffing of hospitals and nursing homes, the abolition of slavery, and the provision of food shelves, homeless ministries and chaplaincy to prisons. These are key aspects of American life may or may not ever have happened without people of faith sacrificing and organizing around the life principles of love for the neighbor, and compassion for the sick, poor and suffering.
If those of us who remain connected in some personal way to religious communities need to take anything away from these current statistics, it may be that we need to do a better job speaking, living and working out of our core principles. We may have been doing lots of stuff in the past 25 years, but it doesn't seem to have captured the imagination of our children, our next door neighbor or the college student across the country. And why should we? So that these disconnected might have a real chance at hearing why we think faith is central to life in the first place.
That this is not all there is. That Love created the universe. That we're in this together. That we hurt each other, and yet we can repent, forgive, even start over. That we all belong to God. I don't want anyone to miss out on this 'eternal wisdom' because it saves lives from despair and emptiness. So what? That's what.