By AMANDA GREENE
A new survey out last week from the Public Religion Research Institute and Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs has some sobering figures about millennials leaving Christianity behind.
“A Generation in Transition: Religion, Values and Politics Among College-Age Millennials” said while only 11 percent of the millennials surveyed were religiously unaffiliated as children, now 25 percent identify as religiously unaffiliated. Catholics and mainline Protestant denominations lost the most footing among millennial membership.
At the same time, some Americans in middle age are returning to the faiths of their youth.
So this week’s Viewpoints deals with a human’s core desire when involved in a belief system or no faith at all:
What’s more important to your faith- believing, behaving or belonging?
I assume, in this context, that believing means religious belief or faith. If that’s the case, believing is not that important to me. In my case, I would prefer to define believing as having confidence that the spiritual and social beliefs I had were moral, logical and best for the common good. Without this type of belief system, my life would seem empty, meaningless and without purpose.
My first impulse to this answer is to reply “Behavior is by far the most important,” and I guess that comes close to what I think. What good is a religion or faith if it allows its adherents to behave poorly? What good is a belief system that allows its followers to justify criminal means to reach a selfish, misguided, or even a noble end? In modern society, we observe a series of perennial “holy jihads” fought by religious fundamentalists of all stripes who are convinced that his god is on his side. If a god condones this type behavior, what good is he?
Belonging is important to most people in that it helps to affirm one’s worth, gives identity, and provides many social advantages. Conversely, belonging can also have a corrupting influence on an individual, if that person finds himself belonging to a group that adopts a doctrine that is immoral, unenlightened, or counter to achieving the common good. In my observation, many groups, religions, political parties, or cults have seduced good individuals and indoctrinated them to become robotic monsters—puppets of groupthink or mob psychology.
In short, Buddhist practice values all three: belief, behavior, and belonging. Belief, behavior, and belonging: belief in Buddha and the example of his awakening; clarity of thought and behavior in and through the Dharma; and “being one—a “Buddhist”, that is—through refuge in the Sangha. Read Steve Lee’s expounded post on how Buddhist texts inform the values of believing, behaving and belonging later today on WilmingtonFAVS.
In the stream of Christianity where I grew up, right belief was all important. You had to believe in certain things, e.g. the resurrection, the need for personal salvation, or a triune God, to be a “real Christian.” I learned later that right belief is hardly even biblical. What is required is right relationships: we are to love God with our whole being, and we are to love what God created, specifically, our fellow human beings. Behaving and belonging are natural results of the these relationships. If we love others, we will act in certain ways, and instead of creating divisions, we will see how we are joined together.
In the context of faith or no faith at all, it seems belief would determine behavior and belonging.
A friend of mine once told me about a tragedy that happened a decade earlier to her son, then in his early twenties. When he was at a large public event, a young man stepped out of the crowd and held him up at gunpoint.
Her son was so shocked, he cried: “Are you going to shoot me?”
The mobster hesitated a fraction of a second; then shot.
Although he gravely wounded my friend’s son, he missed killing him, by a fraction of a… doubt?
The police later reported the mobster was required to kill four people that day, in cold blood, to gain admission in a street gang.
The mobster’s hesitation proved to me that he was not motivated by belief in a certain set of values but by a desire to belong.
A desire so strong that it drove him to attempt murder.
At the other end of the spectrum, I attended a retreat in August 2009 with Thich Nat Hahn, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who founded the Unified Buddhist Church. He gave a lecture on the Three Jewels of Buddhism: The Buddha (the teacher), The Dharma (the teaching), The Sangha (the community of believers). He emphasized the importance of belonging to a community of believers. That tenet echoed everything I’d heard before in my Yoga training.
Swami Satchidananda put it this way: “Associate yourself with like-minded people.”
In the two Christian churches I’ve belonged to in Wilmington, studies showed “fellowship” was the number one reason people became members.
Discrimination of belief is paramount since it dictates behavior. Without belief, behavior and belonging balanced as a solid tripod, we might be condemned to play musical chairs.
Amanda Greene: 910-520-3958 or on Twitter @WilmFAVS