Angela West: What every single American needs to understand about this country

Last week I received an article claiming that although the “U.S. has a reputation for being exceptionally religious—and it is true that, historically speaking, churchgoing has played an outsized role in American identity — still, millions of Americans have little to no connection to local congregations.”

Although I could write about a plethora of other issues, this one most directly speaks to the changing culture of American society.

Currently, 38 percent of adults have not attended a church service, except for a holiday or special occasion, at any time within the past six months.

“Unchurched” adults include “de-churched” adults — that is, those who used to attend regularly but have not attended at all in the past six months, and “never churched” meaning they have never in their lives regularly attended a church. The article goes on to say, while San Francisco is number one overall when it comes to churchless residents, it ranks sixth on the never-churched list (14 percent), outpaced by:

. West Palm Beach-Ft. Pierce, FL (17 percent)
. Santa Barbara-Santa Maria-San Luis Obispo, CA (16 percent)
. New York, NY (15 percent)

. Harlingen-Weslaco-Brownsville-McAllen, TX (15 percent)
. Chico-Redding, CA (15 percent)

The first entry, “West Palm Beach-Ft. Pierce, FL” is exactly where I live.

After doing some research I found out that a 2008 Gallup poll comparing belief in God among U.S. regions found that only 59 percent of residents in the Western United States believe in a god, compared to 80 percent in the East, 83 percent in the Midwest, and 86 percent in the South. The poll also showed that Oregon ranked as the state with the highest percentage of residents identifying with “No religion, Atheist, or Agnostic”, at 24.6 percent.

In addition, according to a Pew report, the proportion of Jews who say they have no religion and are Jewish only on the basis of ancestry, ethnicity or culture is growing rapidly, and two-thirds of them are not raising their children Jewish at all. Among Jewish denominations, the Reform movement remains the largest: 35 percent of respondents identified as Reform, according to the Pew study. The second-largest group is Jews of no denomination (30 percent), followed by Conservative (18 percent) and Orthodox (10 percent).

So, what does all of this mean? In a spiritual realm, you may agree or disagree with me if you like, but people seem meaner, lost and smaller.

Unfortunately for those who believe God is some “made up fairytale in the sky,” most human beings find the world a bit too big and too complicated to rely on their own understanding and will seek other, perhaps more destructive means, of coping with hurt, pain, betrayal, loss or bewilderment. Among our youth, we’ve all seen the reports of those who run away from perfectly comfortable middle-class homes to go to the barren desert, leave these wonderful “creature comforts” and fight against their own country… and their own seeming great advantages. Although these occurrences are relatively rare, the movement towards the legalization of drugs and the disproportionate level of disaffection with seemingly common rules of society is not.

The reliance on prescription drugs to make us happy and able to cope is another telltale sign. Adults who used to “say a little prayer” are now reaching for the Xanax.

Among other things, the reliance on the belief of a “higher being” provides us with the framework for morality, for decency and how to treat others. These beliefs provide the rules for an orderly, respectful and civil society.

When these walls break down, we witness Baltimore, where the mayor had no concept of personal property, no regard for safety, no wisdom to know the limits of a population so far from the center of society that they could not control the urges to destroy their OWN backyard, shelter and safety.

Human beings are NOT inherently moral creatures. They are intelligent, but not inherently moral. We are not inherently brave, not inherently unselfish. Being a Christian, I understand the evils of the world. We all give in to sin, we all fall, and we all fail.

Children are good examples. They have not yet defined their beliefs and act on nature rather than what is right. Children are taught to act a certain manner. It is not a natural state that a child comes into the world knowing what is right and wrong; just as an animal does not have a bit of compassion for a member of its own species, it thinks of the other as a competitor and not as a friend.

Man/Woman by nature does not choose to be moral. We would much prefer to run around and sleep with every woman/man/boy/girl or whatever before settling with a partner. We would rather murder our rival than choose to love him — its easier. We prefer lying rather than telling the truth, because it’s easier and will satisfy many more people and make us popular.

BUT religion tells us to do otherwise. It tells us to be patient and faithful, withholding our bodies from giving in. It tells us not only to love our enemies, but care for them, go the extra mile to change their lives. It tells us to defeat the evil within and become better than good — not perfect perhaps, but at least try.

Without the framework, how would our laws come into being? We are here on this planet for what amounts to a blink of an eye — how could we consider the fashioning of laws, based on the Ten Commandments which would not exist without religiosity?

But, Angela, you ask, haven’t more people died in the name of religion than not? I don’t know, but what I do know is that in the absence of religion, there would be some type of ideology that would have created the same wars, the same deaths and probably many more. The deaths under Communism and socialism are legion, regardless of the current amorous flirtation going on with these utopian ideals.

We can become disillusioned by the religious leader, the grasping/greedy proselytizer who exploits the sadness and poverty (either in spirit or wealth) of his congregation and implores them to provide him with a 65 million dollar jet and Rolls Royces and other luxury playthings. The stylish “preacher-dudes” who possess personal lifestyles dirtier than any prostitute, or criminal flashes on every billboard, enticing you with promises of sexual discussions from the pulpit.

On a smaller note, we get saddened when the head of the marriage initiative has an affair with the head of the Christian school. We feel betrayed and say to ourselves “religion is full of hypocrites.” Nope, it is just full of people, just like you and me, satisfying their immediate and profane wants, needs and desires.

But these are just the messengers and they are purposefully flawed to illustrate that man will fall short, very short of the glory and perfection. But we love the messenger anyway. He/she is one of us.

The politicians (especially those running for President) will likely have to acknowledge, however, in this next election that the evangelical vote might not be enough to get them over the hump.

People sometimes confuse the messenger with the message, so they are not receptive to heavy doctrine. But never give up, even the “Easter, Christmas, weddings or funerals” people – (change the holiday terminology for each religion), inherently understand that values, morality and the survival of society will depend on the constancy of the “guiding hand” that moves us towards what is right and away from what is truly destructive both personally and nationwide.

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