• Wendel Matthews

Is Religion Relevant?

Do you pray daily? You may have wanted to say yes but deep down you heard an emphatic “No”. If you feel like you just got caught, don’t worry, you’re not alone. As a matter of fact, daily prayer seems to be happening less with each generation. A religious person is often defined as someone who does one or more of the following: believe in God, pray daily and attend church or religious services. Recent trends show that religious people may be a dying breed. A pew research study published in November 2015 revealed that the percentage of people who claim no religious affiliation has increased from 16% to 23% since 2007. We frequently refer to these folks as the “nones”. At face value, these numbers may not seem like much however, a closer look shows a more dramatic dynamic. The number of people leaving religion has increased by an average of 1 percent per year since 2007. Based on a U.S. population of approximately 300 million, the study implies an average of 3 million people left the church each year since 2007.

This startling reality begs the question: Is religion losing its relevance?

Many devout religious people believe the removal of God from our schools and our homes suggest our denouncement of religion has led to the increase in violence, suicides and mass killings we regularly witness through the media. However, for many, choosing not to believe in God is often a conscious attempt to intentionally disassociate from a group’s religious practices or denounce popular notions of the source of all energy. Along our journey towards Truth, many find they no longer believe in the version(s) of God depicted in any of the dominant religious texts. Through their search, they find that many characterizations of God and religious practices do not resonate with their intuition. Alienated by their own awareness the budding “nones” begin to explore alternative ways of thinking and participate in new practices. This organic process of self-discovery through disconnection from religion has become a common experience throughout the American populace and most prominent within the millennial generation.

On one hand, this movement has cultivated a shift towards compassion within one sector of the population, as evidenced by public outrage towards police brutality and the LGBT marriage movement. On the other hand, it has also led to an increase in open expressions of hatred from another sector of the population. This phenomenon is apparent through the resurgence of the KKK and the divisive activity surrounding Trump rallies. As a civilization, we seem to be torn between two versions of America; an older version less unified and less committed to improving the quality of life for all citizens and a new compassionate America accepting of all differences.

When it comes to the question of religion losing its relevance, the reality is religion has played an integral role in the elevation of collective consciousness. For example, the passion behind same-sex marriage would not be as intense if it were not for its condemnation at the hands of antiquated religious ideals. Intensity promotes transformation. Whether it is through the rejection of a religion or the acceptance of its highest tenets, encounters with religion inspire us to ask ourselves the crucial questions that ultimately lead to self-knowledge. That’s primarily why 77% of the population is still very religious. Once we consider the numbers and the ramifications of a political process that operates under an illusory separation between church and state, one can argue that religion has lost no relevance whatsoever.

As irony we would have it, we are currently witnessing religious political leaders use violent bullying tactics to corral votes and crush their opponents in pursuit of the most powerful leadership position in the world. The verbal abuse is more bold and brazen than ever before. The colorful lies are blatantly delivered with pride and free of any potential for apology because we don’t need one. We expect politicians to lie. Nonetheless, many supporters blindly follow controversial candidates because they maintain the same religious beliefs and values.

The reality is religion is arguably just as powerful as money and politics when it comes to influencing human behavior. Why? Because just like money and politics, religion influences our beliefs and our beliefs determine our practices. The “nones” courageously operate with the understanding that you can choose your beliefs. While this is liberating and leads to organic self-discovery, it does not make the individual exempt from the influence of religion in today’s society.

We cannot escape the relevance of religion. Given the unquestionably influential nature of organized religion, instead of radicalizing against it, we must find common ground upon which “nones”, Christians, Jews, Muslims and all other Faiths can unify. In order to achieve this feat, we must succeed in identifying the symbolic meaning of our religious differences. Often these differences teach us about the power of Peace, Compassion, and Faith. A Jew and a Muslim who choose to marry one another amidst centuries of religious tensions showcase true Faith. Faith is not experienced by choosing to believe thoughts provided to you by others rather, it is found by making a commitment to the truth heard within. For it is through our deep connection to self that we are able to establish healthy lasting connections with others.

The numbers suggest religion is here to stay. 77% of Americans believe religion is where divinity, love, connection, acceptance and unity are found. The other 23% reject religion to find the same things. If there is anything we can learn from all religions, it’s that all paths lead to one. Let’s commit to the new, compassionate America. Peace let it be.

#WendelMatthews #April

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