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November 16, 2017

That old-time religion

Finding out there was no Easter bunny was more of a relief than a setback. The last prying anxiety a five-year-old needs is the threat of a giant rabbit breaking into their house at night to give out candy and eventual cavities. I never remember being entirely sold on it, but the threat was enough to stay up and keep a look out. Relief set in as I saw my mom shuffling through our pantry and filling baskets with candy eggs.

After that, Easter lost most the mask and became about different things – like quiche and overeating chocolate and someone in the family that drank too much wine. It became about togetherness. The bunny was mentioned for fun and for the kids who still let themselves stay suckered in. However, no one seemed to be mentioning the guy who brought on the quiche and overeating chocolate and someone in the family who drank too much wine.

Jesus should be an Easter buzz word, but it’s just not. It’s become more about the resurrection of the Cadbury bunny egg – not the resurrection of God. I thought this was just my family, but it seems like I’m not alone.

From 1990 to 2008, the percentage of Americans who claim “no religion” has doubled. Now at 15 percent, people who are swearing off God trump 1990’s 8 percent, according to the American Religious Identification Survey.

This “no religion” religion comes in third place of what most believe. Catholics take first with 25.1 percent and Baptists take second with 15.8 percent. Atheism is more popular than Judaism, Protestantism, and Spiritualism (Wicca, other pagan traditions, etc).

This could mean many things. This could mean that people are going to start losing their moral ground. Without “consequences” that stretch into the afterlife, without guilt and without shame for doing what we want coming from above – does that mean without moral fiber? Will our compass break and spin us into different directions?

This could also mean that our standards of self have been lowered. Do we not need to be all we can if we’re not being judged by the only being whose opinion matters more than our own? Will there be chaos of self-expectation?

This could mean that we’ll stop acting as responsible members of society. Without consequence – without heaven and hell or wrath or reward – will we sink the ship? We could all become victims of ourselves and full of apathy. Without God to take care of Americans, who will?

This could also mean something quite opposite. It could mean the Bible Belt and Rust Belt dissolve. It could open up a new blueprint for the basis of moral judgment. It could rewrite motivational standards. It could make people start to believe in people – instead of God. We could stop being victims of fate and start to act in order to create fate.

The bitter truth is that it’s happening. Churches are closing down nationwide. Here in New England, the once Catholic monopoly has been added to the melting pot.

The good news is, although the religious belief has begun to fade within people, religious customs stay embedded into culture. Even those who mock religious beliefs still find themselves with a plate of Christmas ham in front of them when that day rolls around.

God has become a sort of hobby. It can be played out or put down whenever it’s convenient. “Losing my religion” isn’t just an R.E.M. song anymore for a lot of people. It’s a reality.

With this 15 percent of America’s population calling themselves atheist, there doesn’t seem to be a loss of moral identity. Moral philosophy can be taught through religion, but it can be learned otherwise. Being a responsible, functioning part of society has not deemed it necessary to require religious belief.

Just because someone had a civil wedding, didn’t get baptized or didn’t get their baby baptized doesn’t mean that they can’t contribute to society – or even contribute to religion. It’s just not traditional. Spirituality and belief come in many forms. If being true to yourself is being untrue to a religious custom, it’s very easy to claim “no religion.”

It seems society is missing something. The important part of life needs to be seen in the spot life – and this important part of life needs to be agreed upon my religious followers and atheists and semi-atheists alike.

Christmas and Easter, for example, may be about big dinners and presents for some people, making them not as religious as those celebrating it in the name of God.  However, whatever motives a family or friend group has to get together on those days, the end result is the same.

There is still togetherness.

Isn’t that what it’s really about? If it isn’t – shouldn’t it be? God may or may not be out there. That can be debated. Having friends and family get together to share each other’s company is just as important. That can be also be debated, depending on how much you enjoy your family. But, they are tangible. They’re only here for so long. Why not use that time to make the best of the memory making? Why not celebrate the love you feel for those who you care about?

Religion may be dying, but love and moral fiber doesn’t have to. We just need to get our priorities straight.

Leigh Greaney is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at lgreaney@student.umass.edu.

Comments
9 Responses to “That old-time religion”
  1. Tim says:

    Great article; morals can certainly exist without religion, I can see it in people all the time.

    And kudos for writing about religion, which most people stay away from

  2. Ken says:

    I am frightened to think of a time when America might have, say, 50% non-believers out there. The last thing this country needs are more excuses to indulge; the U.S is like the Roman empire, in that it will fall from being both geographically and spiritually overinflated.
    About the Easter-bunny/ Santa claus thing- It’s funny to look back and remember a youthful time when those figures were prominent and one feared their judgment. But why this push to make every body grow up so dam fast and forsake those fantastic dreams which come so naturally to a boy or girl? As a society, we have forsook the imaginative process; we revel now in our own egos and consciousness, as if those two things are the most perfect guides for our lives. The reality is, they’re not.

  3. Brandon says:

    “I am frightened to think of a time when America might have, say, 50% non-believers out there. The last thing this country needs are more excuses to indulge; the U.S is like the Roman empire, in that it will fall from being both geographically and spiritually overinflated.”

    You’re right, because the proliferation of atheists/agnostics in countries, such as Switzerland, has caused widespread rape, self-indulgence, and moral decay. I even heard they have something called a particle accelerator, claiming it can probe the “mysteries” and “paradoxes” of God’s perfect Universe. Sorcery and black magic.

    Personally, I welcome the time when most Americans do not identify with a religion. Principles of moral philosophy are grounded in human nature and do not require Americans to identify as God-fearing to differentiate “good” conduct from “bad.”

    ” As a society, we have forsook the imaginative process; we revel now in our own egos and consciousness, as if those two things are the most perfect guides for our lives. The reality is, they’re not”

    Nothing is a perfect guide to living, even with religion. So what are you proposing is the tradeoff here? Are we losing more by abandoning conventional faith and becoming more universal in accepting a diversity of beliefs?

    How will the dispersement of faith predispose human beings with more excuse to indulge? If anything, it provides me an “excuse” to live my life to its maximal potential, recognizing that this is probably the only opportunity I have to live, learn, wonder, and enjoy the world around me.

  4. Ed says:

    “Baptists take second with 15.8 percent. Atheism is more popular than Judaism, Protestantism,…”

    Ummmm…. Baptists *ARE* Protestants. As are the Congregationalists they split off from, as are the Methodists who also split off, as are the Anglicans, as are a whole bunch more folk.

    Facts do matter….

  5. ken says:

    Switzerland is a unique example, Brandon- Europe has seen so much destruction that it has no illusions about the consequences of human arrogance; on the other hand, America has been “priveleged” enough not to know there are limits in this world. Americans still need to realize that the individual is NOT special- and this is just the attitude which is impossible to realize in a society that has no spiritual or cultural respect.

  6. Brandon says:

    Ken there are several surprising and troubling assumptions you create about atheists/non-religious in general in your comment:

    “Americans still need to realize that the individual is NOT special”

    Generally, many atheists I know of think they are far less special than many Christians, who have told me how special I am. Atheism does not necessarily carry with it a universal arrogance any more than select individuals who identify with religion. Speaking of what is “special” is an entirely relative argument and what do you propose as your method of quantifying this?

    “and this is just the attitude which is impossible to realize in a society that has no spiritual or cultural respect.”

    I believe that in this particular poll, no religion was the only option, which doesn’t necessarily mean everyone lumped into that category is bereft of spiritual or cultural respect. It is very possible to be non religious and spiritual and it is also possible for those of no religious affiliation to be mindful of those who do observe religious practice. I have met a number of individuals who identify as atheist that have no respect for religion or spirituality, but I have met an even greater number that have shown deference to those that observe religious tradition. What is left out of consideration here are those who are religious who do not tolerate other beliefs and show little respect for diverse spiritual identity. It works both ways, Ken.

    Some of the conflicts in Europe’s history have had a religious motivation. It seems peculiar that you isolate a non-religious identity as the next culprit and harbinger of destruction and mayhem in the global world without any sound argument to support your assumption.

  7. Brandon says:

    On second thought, I probably read this statement too quickly:

    “Americans still need to realize that the individual is NOT special- and this is just the attitude which is impossible to realize in a society that has no spiritual or cultural respect.”

    I see you’re likely not referring to those who exclusively identify as non-religious. I think we would both agree that there is quite a bit of spiritual and cultural disrespect going on in the world from all walks of life. But I disagree with the notion that arrogance, self-indulgence, and identifying as “non-religious” go hand and hand. There is no magical incantation that whisks away individual moral responsibility and I think there is a bit of humility in coming to the realization that our actions are not at the individual level, but of a global one. Present and future generations are responsible for shaping the educational, moral, and accepting direction of a future society to come. It is profound that human beings are the pioneers of a future and is not orchestrated by a puppeteer in the sky causing natural disasters, famine, or a AIDs to punish reprehensible acts derived from “original sin”. Of course, I cannot truthfully make these claims, that nothing is responsible for the flow of existence and reality that we are familiar with. However, it sure is comforting to many of us to understand that all of the answers are not all there and we must work together to develop and refine methods of understanding one another, our biology, and the universe around us to better search for meaning and truths.

    That’s just part of my take on it.

  8. ken says:

    There are differences between philosophical atheism and convenient atheism; it is the latter kind, however, which I target as being an arrogant and ignorant attitude. It is too easy for humans to qualify their desires (or mistakes) with a simple word like atheism and to claim, perhaps in a time of moral and spiritual quandary, that they are non-believers of god.
    To my mind, the peculiar variances of the religious institution are inconsequential, as most are founded upon set of similar premises about the rights and wrongs of human behavior.
    Again, I am concerned about the snowball effect of convenient atheism or whatever you want to call it; like any other set of beliefs, once it becomes popular, it will become influential

  9. ken says:

    as a lasting note, I think Leigh Greeney has an easter bunny in her pants

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