Sunday Sermon: Spirituality Replaces the Unknown, like always

The Way of All Flesh

Today, as it is Sunday, the newspaper offers content to match the world of religious observance.  In “Losing their religion: Young people rejecting organized worship at an unprecedented rate” (pay-wall) we discover several things about “young people” and the oldsters who are concerned for them.

Primarily, we discover an “emblematic” type of young person–here is the mind of youth:

Elyse Kienitz says during her teenage years, her parents forced her to attend a Lutheran church where her father served as music director.

“It was a family obligation for me and my four siblings,” said Kienitz, now an Indiana University senior. “Church just didn’t work for me. I couldn’t apply what I was hearing to my daily life.”

She said her parents sweetened the pot by promising to take her out for pancakes after church, but climbing out of bed at 6:45 a.m. each Sunday to attend the 8 a.m. service was sheer torture. So when she turned 20 and moved from her hometown of Vincennes to Bloomington, church ceased being part of her life.

“I know for a lot of people the church is a source of refuge, and I kind of envy that,” Kienitz said. “But I’m an agnostic. I need absolute proof before I believe. Creationism is not valid in my opinion. I believe in Darwinian evolution.”

Kienitz is emblematic of a mass exodus of young people from American churches.


David Kinnaman, director of the research and president of the Barna Group, said young dropouts describe the church with such words as repressive, judgmental, overprotective, shallow, irrelevant, and boring.


“My spirituality is pagan and nature-based,” she said. “Organized religion doesn’t work for me because my spirituality is extremely personal and sacred to me. I wouldn’t be who I am without it. I meditate and pray at home and in nature, and that allows me to find peace of mind in the midst of chaos.”

Partridge has plenty of company. The LifeWay survey found that 72 percent of respondents said they are “really more spiritual than religious.”


At Evangelical Community Church, roughly a third of the congregation are college students, a high percentage for a church today.

Whitaker, its senior pastor, feels that’s due in part to a Sunday night service exclusively for college kids in which the students themselves plan the itinerary and choose the music played by a live band. The service often draws 150 to 200 students.

“The band is energetic and loud,” he said. “It’s the kind of music that wouldn’t go over as well in a Sunday morning service, but it’s them.”

And the adults (or those who create statistics about things):

Among dropouts, 58 percent said they were unhappy with the parishioners or the pastor, and 52 percent said they had religious, ethical or political reasons for quitting. A number who left had a dim view of church members — 51 percent calling them judgmental, 44 percent calling them hypocritical, and 41 percent labeling them as insincere.


Findings by the Barna Research Group in Ventura, Calif., show that nearly 60 percent of people ages 15-29, Protestants and Catholics alike, who grew up attending church have stopped doing so.


“Today’s young people are also less connected to institutions in general, including the church, because of an anti-establishment mind set,” he said. “Their connection to the church is made even more tenuous by their ability to stay socially connected with others through technology and social media. It’s almost as though Jesus is being lost in the data stream with all the sources of information that this generation is being exposed to.”

I felt compelled to respond in comments:

I’m pretty well convinced by now that changes in human social living brought on by industrialization and, dare I say it, “evidence” based Reasoning (Enlightenment thinking) has brought us to the place in all particulars.

Entertainment is all we have now as we have stopped caring about anything else but the self being entertained before we shuffle off. This malaise affects us in every aspect of life. We have no work that sustains our minds/bodies/souls; our education is bereft of the anchor of care and meaning–we don’t ask why are we here in school, we ask who am I and what can I do or be; we emerge as adults with no pleasures that are not brought to us by a media conglomeration or “vice” distributor. Empty on all fronts.

Folks talk openly about belief in God, Angels, Demons, Heaven/Hell–but these are abstractions with no reality in this society. Where there is high mortality and disease there is a ready congregation.

Reasons for “why am I here” are still non-existent and “because” is the only answer. Even if you believe that God made you and you have a purpose there is no “why” answer ever that will satisfy you–because.

We run smack up against it with evolution–no reasonable theist would doubt the mechanics of the process as it is perhaps the most tested theory in history. All discoveries bolster, confirm, add to its general correctness–it is no way like theoretical physics and their fantasies bolstered by “correct” math. It’s easy enough, as a theist, to simply say that this is the way of God as well. The odd commitment to Biblical time is truly amazing. 6,000 years ago we believe the Sumerians “invented” writing. That is well before anyone real or imagined named Noah existed. Unless you acquiesce to Utnapishtim being the model for Noah (and you really should, it makes humanity so much more interesting in its interrelatedness). I would posit that this is in reality the “timeline” of the Bible. In the beginning was the Word…6,000 years ago in Mesopotamia on clay tablets…hmmm…laws on tablets, where else have I heard that?

Why bother with that? The Bible has never been “inerrant”–those who wrote and combined it never felt this way–these are books of a people–stories and ways to live–“laws” of diet and marriage and observance, and so on. One people, One God. Christianity, or Paul’s Jesus, “spread” the error of Jesus as an otherworldly being. Jesus did no such thing.

Compare your fundamentalisms and they sing the same song–the perfected word–no alteration–death (or damnation) to infidels and unbelievers.

We stand in the midst of harrowing times. We need people, not gods; we need caring, not exclusionary rules. We need an egalitarianism that Jesus preached–not church hierarchy.


I would perhaps sing a similar song as post-lake-immersion-baptismal I pretty much gave up on all things “holy” that were connected to belief in getting into the club on high.  Any study of the splinters of Christian faith and interpretation leaves you with a real muddle of beliefs regarding election and the ways in which one should act to be saved (or not act to be saved).  There is a real difficulty with anything like this if it simply continues to offer variations.

This is what I find evident in the idea expressed above, “I’m spiritual, not religious.”  In other words, there is not consistent way to believe and when you try to give me an A-Z faith it flies in the face of all understanding and so, I must reject and be “spiritual” on my own.

It’s also why things like FACT have a peculiar hold on us–something to believe!

Spirituality to me is simply “unknowing.”  It is of course hard to settle into that state.  It’s why I read and blather here.  I am “becoming” and unraveling or exploring my “unknowingness.”  I do n0t feel nonplussed when confronting the meaninglessness of death, or even of species death (it’s a fact of life).  What am I to do about it anyway?  Digitize my mind and become pure energy?  Maybe, apparently.  But in the meantime I’ll share what has been said by historian A

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. N. Wilson about David Hume–the worlds most thorough skeptic: “Being himself a sunny, cheerfully-disposed individual, he appears to have felt no particular sorrow that we live in an empty, Godless universe, devoid of purpose.”

Two book suggestions: God’s Funeral by the above-quoted Wilson and Darwin’s Worms by Adam Phillips (I also love his Terrors & Experts).  Wilson is (or was?) a frequent guest on a favorite podcast of mine, the BBC In Our Times.  This program called The Age of Doubt is very stimulating, er, spiritually.  And Phillips has been on as well–here is the show on “Progress” where Phillips discusses Darwin’s affect on our minds and argues a bit against the church as a way of organizing thinking.  Another good show for “our times” is “Psychoanalysis and Democracy.”

Come aboard.


Photo Credit: Comrogues



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  1. M. Monroe January 22, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    Perhaps death is meaningless, but I think this is how Western society and western organized religion devalue life; i.e. in death spiritual life begins. It’s a very clever, for lack of a better word, power idea. After all, isn’t organized religion, or what we call religion, man’s original form of government?

    I guess what I’m trying to say is, the meaninglessness of death doesn’t have to make life any less creative, happy, artistic. East vs. West, right? Eastern philosophy addresses the here and now, acceptance of environment, species, humankind. West uses all these things as a stepping stone, or rather rationalizes non-stop destruction and violence by writing off life as a path to judgement in death.

    1. Sarah Stup January 22, 2012 at 3:18 pm

      Death itself is full of the most profound meaning! It is the confrontation with the state of being once dead that has left us twisted in knots; leads us to be as “meaningless” as any other creature on the “God’s green earth.” Perhaps “special” is better used here? A lack of exception for such creatures as we?

      You are of course correct to say that this confrontation with the reality of ending is often very fertile ground for the life of art.

  2. M. Monroe January 22, 2012 at 3:39 pm

    Well, I just meant “meaningless” only in the sense of no life after death, death being, well, final. Of course it makes sense that we as humans would desire life after death, so I guess it’s just interesting that this base desire has manifested such a warped life here on Earth.


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