On Friday, Morning Edition wraps up its weeklong look
at the growing number of people who say they do not identify with a
religion. The final conversation in the Losing Our Religion series picks
up on a theme made clear throughout the week: Young adults are drifting
away from organized religion in unprecedented numbers. In Friday's
story, NPR's David Greene talks to two religious leaders about the trend
and wonders what they tell young people who are disillusioned with the
According to the Pew Research Center, one-third of Americans under 30 have no religious affiliation. As Harvard professor Robert Putnam told Greene
in the piece that kicked off the series, this trend among young people
is tied to religion's association with socially conservative politics.
think the single most important reason for the rise of the unknowns is
that combination of the younger people moving to the left on social
issues and the most visible religious leaders moving to the right on
that same issue."
Take Melissa Adelman, 30, a participant in a roundtable
about religion that Greene had with six young adults. Adelman was
raised Catholic but does not call herself one today because she cannot
embrace the church's core beliefs on social issues.
"To me a
church that would be welcoming would be one where there wasn't a
male-only hierarchy that made all the rules, and there weren't these
rules about who's excluded and who's included and what behavior is
acceptable and what's not acceptable," she tells Greene.
Friday's story, the Rev. Mike Baughman, a United Methodist minister who
runs a Christian coffee shop in Dallas, tells Greene that the church is
indeed sending the wrong message.
"If the church was known more
for our efforts to welcome the stranger than keep them out, I think the
church would have greater credibility with rising generations," says
Baughman. "For example, on immigration policies, we've taken the wrong
stance on that, and they know. The thing is they're smart enough. A lot
of them have grown up in the church and then rejected it. They've read
the scriptures that talk about the importance of welcoming the stranger,
they've read the scriptures about the importance of caring for the
poor, and when they see that no longer on the lips of those who are in
religious authority, they see that the God we present is bankrupt, and
that we're theologically thin in our ability to even speak our own
For Father Mike Surufka, a Catholic priest in the
Franciscan order in Chicago, there are indeed issues that are
fundamental to the church, but what seems to really matter is more
granular: that the parishioner's spiritual needs are being met. For
example, he says, he has counseled women in his congregation who have
"I knew their pain, and I was not going to bring
that to the pulpit," he says. His approach, he says, is to listen to
them. "That has more transformative power than just about anything."
the trend among young adults to reject organized religion, both Surufka
and Baughman tell Greene that they are hopeful about the future of
religions in America.
"I'm full of hope indeed," says Surufka.
"There was a theologian from the mid-1900s who kind of described hope as
an attitude toward the future that we cannot see, but we trust that
somehow it's held by God and that there are possibilities beyond what we
can even imagine."
Indeed, some of these so-called nones —
dubbed this because they answer "none" when asked for their religious
affiliation — have embarked on a quest to see if there's a place for
some sort of organized religion in their lives. Writer and lifelong none
Corinna Nicolaou, for example, admits she knows little about organized
religions and wants to know more, so she has begun chronicling her visits to local places of worship. And in a recent Boston Magazine piece,
Katherine Ozment describes her effort to find an organized secular and
nonsecular community that makes sense now that she had kids.
Although the series winds down Friday, Morning Edition
is likely to revisit the topic. Chuck Holmes, the show's supervising
editor, says that as his team was planning the series, there were a lot
of conversations about other aspects of religion that didn't end up
"So naturally that leads to more coverage," he says.
The Losing Our Religion series is here.