An Open Letter to the Clergy re the “Nones”

Polls about religion have revealed a new category in religious affiliation in America. A recent poll said that 20 per cent of those polled now select the box “none”, up from 2% in the ‘50’s and 7% in the ‘70’s. (See http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-03-25/opinions/38008236_1_nones-protestants-agnostics)

Now, having “been there and done that”, I know how much of the religious establishment, especially the clergy, will respond. They have at their disposal a time-told, self-serving contrivance. It goes like this: They will shake their head… perhaps grimace…look very pious, and then lament, “See, the Bible said it would be like this in the last days, that mankind would forsake God and turn to their wicked ways. Satan’s enticements would prove too alluring and they would opt for mammon over God’s will.” Their constituents will respond in kind, taking great comfort in knowing that they are the ones who are true to the faith, that are holding on firmly to “the faith once delivered unto the saints.”

But, they should take the advice of Shakespeare and “lay not that flattering unction to your soul.” Why not consider the possibility that the “nones” are making a valid choice in voting with their feet that what mainline Christendom offers does not pass the smell test anymore. Here is my open letter to the clergy on this matter:

Dear clergy and religious establishment:

Perhaps it is merely that what you offer now is merely pap, some watered down version of spirituality which is designed mainly to make you and the rest of your club feel better about itself, to perpetuate your own individual and collective ego needs. Sure, you purvey a spiritual tradition which has a rich heritage and contains valuable truth, but you present it in an immature and selfish manner so that anyone looking on, having one eye and half-sense, can tell that it is all about you. For example, in some circles you passionately take pride in “preaching Christ and him crucified”, but to any astute onlooker you use those words and the rest of the gospel merely to work your crowd into frenzy, to reinforce their preconceptions about God, and allow them to walk away still stuck in their own moribund religiosity. You facilitate the fulfillment of the scripture about people “having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof.”

Some of your worship services appear to be a mere carnival and others like a funeral service. Some are so dull and boring I would just as soon go home and watch paint dry. This is because there is no life there though there is often a lot of frenzy and hysteria…or for those of another persuasion, refrigerator-cold tedium. But it is merely a show, described by The Bard in Julius Caesar, who noted that, “There are no tricks in plain and simple faith; But hollow men, like horses hot at hand, Make gallant show and promise of their mettle.”

So, you hear about the “nones” and once again you get all worked up about how awful the world is and once again you can whip your crowd into a frenzy. It is so exciting for them to know that “the world” is going to hell in a hand basket but YOU are holding forth for the truth, that the world is lost in darkness and will not hear the truth YOU offer. But, my dear friend, consider the possibility that YOU are the one lost in the darkness of a sterile pseudo-gospel and instead of offering life to your flock you are offering more darkness. For, remember the wisdom of W.H. Auden, “The divine and the demonic speak the very same language.”

Now, I have been cruel but I “would be cruel only to be kind.” The gospel you offer in such an immature and self-serving manner speaks of a Savior that covers you regardless! God’s grace covers us all, regardless of the paltry nature of our faith. And, whose faith is not paltry? But it is the Object of our faith that matters. But the sterile message you preach, that turns people into “nones”, has no life in it and repels anyone seeking spiritual sustenance. The people in your flock hunger for “soul food” to alleviate the pain of the stresses and strains of modern-day life, not the sterile pap, the “gospel-eze”, that you trot out each week. Spiritual hunger will not be sated with your canned Christian version of “well-worn words and ready phrases that build comfortable walls against the wilderness.” (Conrad Aiken) I fear many of you were described by a friend decades ago when he wrote, “You heroes of spiritual contraception who have long since despaired of rebirth.”

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5 thoughts on “An Open Letter to the Clergy re the “Nones”

  1. 1EarthUnited

    Religion and spirituality by it’s very purpose should be a personal affair between the individual and whatever faith they choose to believe. Cutting out the middlemen is long overdue. At this stage, humanity should evolve beyond the mind control from clergy, politicians, advertisers, society etc.
    Perhaps people should first seek to understand who they really are.
    Thanks for sharing your letter Lew. Be well. ♥

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  2. Sandeep Bhalla

    Why to clergy only? Send a copy to all the ‘Religious Shops’ around the world. It is all the same hypocrisy everywhere. Please also add that they may reduce their charges atleast in these time of recession/inflation as special concession to God!!!

    Like

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