Is religion becoming obsolete? Will the religiously unaffiliated — currently 23 percent of the American population — become the dominant form of religious self-identity?
I continue to be intrigued by the growing number of people who have given up on organized religion. They are not one homogenous group. Some have left because they were disappointed in the way they were treated because of their sexual orientations, or because of their genders. Others tell me they have left because “it no longer makes sense to speak about some supernatural God.” Still others have grown disillusioned by the hypocrisy of church leaders who protected abusive clergy, and often blamed or denigrated those who dared to reveal what was happening.
These are all good reasons for leaving religion behind. As a clergyperson, it is tough being put on the defensive when people share some of their reasons for leaving organized religion. In fact, I often agree with them on many of their points. Only a masochist would stay in a religion where he or she is treated as a deviant and denigrated in weekly sermons by a self-righteous preacher looking to score points by appealing to prejudices and ignorance. One would have to be blind not to see the hypocrisy in religious organizations that have protected abusive individuals while they scorned people who were in healthy same-sex relationships for decades. There is a reason why a growing number of evangelicals are questioning why their fellow preachers are so preoccupied with a handful of references to sexuality in the Bible, while they neglect the much larger number that speak to the need for compassion and economic justice. It is also easy to sympathize with someone who has read the Bible while taking science classes in school, and wondered why some preachers have wasted so much energy trying to argue against evolution, cloning and other scientific advances that ameliorate suffering and better the human condition. Religious faith should not mean “dumbing down” or denying science. It should also not be used to drive families apart with mean-spirited attitudes toward a child’s sexual orientation. To those who have experienced this senseless hatred, I can understand why you are ready to join the ranks of the “nones.” I would also encourage you to consider alternatives.
As Unitarian Universalists, we claim no monopoly on God’s love. We are also humble enough to acknowledge that there are many wise teachers who have arisen in many of the world’s great religious traditions. This is why our services include teachings from Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Neo-Paganism, Islam and many of the world’s other traditions. While all of our members obviously self-identify as Unitarian Universalists, they often have a secondary form of identification with some of the previous groups. There are even some who have given up on God because they find the term limiting or ambiguous, at best. However, they have not given up on religion.
To paraphrase one of my colleagues, we are not an alternative to religion. We are an alternative form of religion that welcomes many people who have been labeled heretics or scorned because their religious questioning left them feeling spiritually homeless.
We are a faith community for people who have given up on self-righteousness and spiritual abuse, but have not given up on the idea of a loving God, the pursuit of spiritual health, or the possibility of becoming part of a beloved community. We are a sanctuary for religious seekers and the spiritually persecuted. We are an accepting community for “nones” who find that a part of themselves still wants to become part of something sacred, hopeful and beneficent. If you are seeking an inclusive and compassionate community, a spiritual home where your soul will be fed, we bid you welcome. Our message is one of radical acceptance and hospitality. There is always room at our banquet table.