Saturday, May 26, 2012

Faith, Religion, and Organized Religion

Faith, Religion, and Organized Religion are all inter-related terms. That, however, does not mean they are completely interchangeable. Last weekend the Bangor Daily news ran a very misleading article that not only implied that these three are all identical but also repeated a number of myths and misconceptions.

"Got faith? Maine the least-religious state in the nation" starts from a false premise. It is assumed that lack of a specific religious affiliation means a lack of religion. This is not true. Plenty of people continue to believe in God and a variety of other religious concepts without the need to identify with a specific denomination/sect or regularly attend religious services. A more accurate title and tone would follow that Maine is the least religiously affiliated. Personally, I wish it were true that my state were the least "religious." Unfortunately, there is no real evidence to support such a claim.

The article quickly moves on to quote a reverend who, surprise, misrepresents our nations history.

“'What’s alarming about those numbers is that more than 300 years after the country was founded by people seeking religious freedom, the large numbers of nonaffiliated folks out here is just the norm,' the Rev. Steve Lewis, academic dean of Bangor Theological Seminary, said earlier this month."

There are two problems with this statement. What makes it alarming that people do not choose a specific affiliation? Wouldn't that prove that religious freedom is alive and well. Seems to me that being able to choose whether you want to associate with specific groups or find ways to satisfy any religious inclinations as you see fit is the epitome of freedom. Second, the early settlers did not come expressly for religious freedom. That is a myth. The "pilgrims" fled England for the Netherlands seeking religious freedom. They found the freedom they sought but quickly came to realize they had other non-spiritual interests and needs they felt could be better advanced elsewhere. Settlers came to America in search of better economic circumstances. There's no spirituality in economics. Then again, the "Prosperity Gospel," seems to preach otherwise.

I also found it interesting that the article noted the large numbers of people leaving the largest Christian denominations but never seemed to ask if they had good reasons for doing so. The tone seems to imply that not only is losing your specific religious affiliation negative but that it is equivalent to losing faith which is also negative. This just seems wrong on every count. Mainers are still overwhelmingly believers. Considering how authoritarian religion tends to be and how frequently religion interferes in politics (virtually always for the worse) I'd say that lower rates of organized religion is a good thing.

The last section's subtitle is nearly as foolish as the headline the article starts with. "America’s religious landscape ‘radically changed.’" No, it isn't. The majority of Americans still believe in God and any number of other religious concepts and doctrines. The shift away from organized religion is occurring but it has not happened over night. All the trends mentioned in the article have been gradually developing for at least a handful of decades. There is nothing "radical" about gradual changes. It is certainly not radical in light of the fact that we are one of the last industrialized countries to undergo this shift.

Basically, the article consists of little more than sensationalized headlines and subheadings, misinterpreted statistics, and rehashed myths and misconceptions. It is the typical blather I have come to expect from the mainstream media.

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