73 Days: The Higher Road Less Travelled

The number of Americans who say they have no religious affiliation has hit an all-time high — about one in five American adults — according to a new study released Tuesday (Oct. 9) by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Labeled “nones” because they claim either no religious preference or no religion at all, their ranks have hit 46 million people. Much of the growth is among young people — one in three U.S. adults under 30 are now considered nones.

The report also found that the number of self-described atheists and agnostics has hit a peak — 13 million people, or 6 percent of the U.S. population. That’s a rise of 2 percentage points over five years.

Still, claiming no religious identity does not mean an absence of religious beliefs, the report found.

The majority of “nones” — 68 percent, including some who say they are atheists — say they believe in God or some form of higher being. Half say they feel “a deep connection with nature,” and 20 percent say they pray every day.

-Kimberly Winston
“Losing our religion: One in five Americans are now ‘nones'”
Religion News Service story

Those who intermarry face barriers to religious affiliation. Interfaith families who want to educate their children in two religions often cannot affiliate with religious institutions. Many religious institutions discourage or even forbid families from belonging to more than one religious community, or enrolling their children in more than one religious education program. These families may turn for support and religious education to independent interfaith communities such as the ones in New York, Chicago, and Washington DC. Or they end up religiously homeschooling their children in both religions. Either way, they may become part of the “religious but not religiously affiliated” demographic documented in the study.

-Susan Katz Miller
“Interfaith Marriage and the Rise of the Religious ‘Nones'”
On Being Both blog

This is the other road I could take and in fact, it’s probably, to some degree, the road I’ve been walking lately. Although I do have a “religious affiliation,” it is self-declared and unsupported by any larger group or community, at least in the face-to-face world. I’m a Christian, but one who doesn’t go to church or interact with other Christians in any manner except online. Even then, most of the Christians I interact with are otherwise identified as “Messianics” and a significant number of my online peers are Jewish.

Yeah, I’m one strange Christian.

Until I read the Susan Katz Miller article, I had no idea to what extent my situation was rooted in being intermarried. Here’s more of what she wrote:

I am grateful to Pew for drilling down into data on the “nones” and discovering some of the rich complexity of religiously-unaffiliated spiritual life. In an interesting parallel, many of the early studies on interfaith families conflated “doing nothing” with “doing both.” Just because a family does not affiliate with a church or a temple does not mean they are doing nothing. On the other hand, families may claim to be doing both, or attempt to do both, but cannot always follow through successfully without the support of clergy, family, or like-minded interfaith families. It will be important in future studies to examine the full range of practices, beliefs and experiences of unaffiliated interfaith families.

I encourage you to read Susan’s entire blog post to get the full context of what she’s saying about being intermarried and being “religiously unaffiliated.” In some sense, it’s rather empowering to think that there are many more people like me who, rather than “splitting the difference” so to speak, and having husband and wife exist in different religious worlds, choose instead to live “outside of official religious institutions.”

But that puts me into a state of flux again. Should I start attending a church, or some activity held at a church, and thus associate with other Christians? If I don’t and instead, continue on my current path, does that qualify me as a “none” and a “nobody?”

In the beginning, G‑d created everything out of nothing. He could have decided to make everything out of something, but He knew that nothing is better material than something. Because something is already whatever something is, but nothing can become anything.

That’s why, at least as far as this universe is concerned, the only way to become a real somebody is by being a nobody first.

Many of us today are nobodies. That’s okay. The moon must disappear before it becomes full again. The seed must rot away before it becomes a great oak.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“How Nobody Became Somebody”
Chabad.org

Rabbi Freeman tells an entire story between the second and third paragraphs of the quote just above, so you’ll have to click the link to find the full details. But the core of the message is just what I posted: there is a required relationship between being “nobody” and “somebody;” there is a necessary process involved in being emptied so you can become filled.

I started this “days” series at 78 Days, giving myself that amount of time (my time expires on New Year’s Day, 2013) to either figure out where I belong in the online and face-to-face community of God, or give it up, the blog, and maybe even my faith (outwardly, anyway) and just let the world of vitriolic attack dogs and nudniks (pests) toddle along on the web without me. That has nothing to do with being intermarried, but a lot to do with my patience running out for so-called “Christians” who completely miss the point of the one commandment of Jesus that we should all obey. Tragically, it’s the one commandment of the Jewish Messiah that is most often ignored. More’s the pity.

But while the visigoths may be pounding at the (metaphorical) gate of my so-called “peace of mind,” ready to invade and visit wide-spread destruction on everything in their path, though I could escape simply by withdrawing from the web, I can’t withdraw from the world. I know I’m supposed to do something, but I continue to vacillate between my options. I know that God has placed me here for a reason, and that unpleasant experiences (and unpleasant people) are also here for a reason. I’m not supposed to give up on even the nudniks, (although I finally had to on one) so I guess that means I can’t give up on myself.

I’m still not sure of what the process is where I’m supposed to be emptied now and filled later, but in trying to live out that process in writing and in person, I prefer to think of myself as taking “the higher road less traveled” (and I’m indebted to Lrw in her comment on one of my blog posts for suggesting the title of today’s “extra” missive). Whether I ultimately choose to contact a church, to attend church-sponsored activities up to and including Sunday services, and whether I maintain a long-term relationship with a church or not, (and I’m discovering that I’m not the only Christian who is afraid of church) I do trust that I am walking with God on that “higher road less traveled,” and that one of the reasons I have so few “traveling companions” is that my situation as an intermarried spouse really is unique.

“You block your dream when you allow your fear to grow bigger than your faith.”

-Mary Manin Morrissey

There’s got to be a reason for this mess and for “messy” people. I just need to keep walking on my higher road, and may I uncover the sparks I’m supposed to find, and then release them to Heaven, returning them, and you, and me, to the God who made us all.

“Not all those who wander are lost.”

-J.R.R. Tolkien, British writer

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