Megan Fox.

Megan Fox. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“NPR was all about God today,” my wife told me a couple days ago when we both got home from work. “In the morning there was a story about the ‘Nones,’ and then another one on the way home. Your friend Chris Stedman was on.”

“Sounds like it was all about not God,” I quipped.

“Anyway,” she rolled her eyes, “you should listen to it.”

And so I did. This morning, after Steph left for work, during my morning reading time I read and listened to the story she heard on Morning Edition. It’s a two-part story — the second part aired this morning — in which NPR reporter David Greene talks with a group of young people in their 20s and 30s at a synagogue in Washington, D.C. and gets them discussing their faith, or lack thereof.

A part of me celebrates this conversation. As I suggest in my book, a number of factors — some observable and others more subtle — have given rise to a willingness, maybe even an eagerness, among young people to talk openly about issues of spirituality and faith. That NPR dedicated a series to the emergence of the “Nones” is in many ways encouraging.

So too is the other big story I read this morning, Esquire’s (mostly awfulinterview with Megan Fox in which she talks about growing up Pentecostal and still attending a church where sometimes, during praise and worship, she says, “I could feel that I was maybe getting ready to speak in tongues.” Sure, she also believes in leprechauns and Big Foot and the article is, in Esquire fashion, highlighted with pictures of her scantily clad in various poses, but still.

But back to the NPR story. On the one hand, I do celebrate this eagerness to discuss faith, even the lack thereof. But, on the other hand, as I sat up in my bed staring at the ceiling and listening to people my age discuss how they stopped believing, how they’re trying to fill their lives with other things to replace religion, and most heartbreakingly, how they still want to believe, I couldn’t help but feel like I failed, like all Christians fail, to provide a space for the these sincere doubters.

It’s more than a little disheartening that many of the interviewees told David Greene that they don’t feel welcome in religious communities because of their doubt, particularly in light of the fact that they have been welcomed to be doubters on public radio. They can air their concerns to a reporter they’ve only just met who will then literally air them to a national audience, but they don’t feel like they can go to the most natural place, a faith community, and share their doubts there. We’ve failed them.

Beyond that though, I almost couldn’t bear to listen as my peers explained the various reasons why they’ve moved away from faith. These include a range of reasons from misunderstandings of the Bible to the problem of tragedy to, for a number of respondents, their perception of Christianity’s universal stance against homosexuality. We’ve failed them.

We failed them in so many ways, but perhaps none more severe than in letting one form of Christianity — and let’s name it: conservative evangelicalism — become the most public face of our faith in the United States. The young people who put it all out there on NPR, my peers, feel estranged from a faith I don’t adhere to. Of course I recognize it, and I remember it, but I don’t claim it. It occurred to me that, without a few crucial influences in my life — from my parents to pop culture — there but for the grace of God go I. I could’ve been a “None” too.

This morning, as I listened to both segments of the NPR story, my first response was to write a solution, to provide an answer, to suggest that we progressive Christians do better PR. But I don’t know. Now, as I sit here actually writing, I feel the old feeling of defeat creeping up again. It seems unavoidable: the most extreme voices are always the loudest.

As a believer, I want to win those “Nones” back. I want to provide a space for them to be able to safely air their doubts and concerns, and I want to show them that Christianity has never been a unified bloc of monolithic belief. I want to invite them to my church, where I can’t be certain that the person sitting next to me believes the same, but I can be  sure that she wants to. But this messy kind of Christianity, I fear, can never be mainstream, not when it has to compete with another strain that offers easy answers and something that looks like certainty.

We Christians have something to offer the “Nones,” I really believe that. But how are we going to tell them? We can’t compete with the volume of conservative evangelicals; it may be that Megan Fox’s testimony, packaged with sexy photos, is something like our best shot.

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About The Author

Jonathan D. Fitzgerald

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  • Steve

    You totally just wanted an excuse to use a picture of Megan Fox.

  • AC

    Doubt is fine, doubt is expected, and the most faithful churches will reveal that doubts are the norm…..but the culture & the secularist is turning these doubts against truth & orthodoxy….. Culture changes and will continue to degenrate while unchangable truth continues to be a greater offense to the godless secularist

  • http://garyhorsman.com Gary Horsman

    Unfortunately, this is probably largely a symptom of American political culture. When Ronald Reagan campaigned in the south, he forever linked the Republican party to the conservative Christian right. It was a brilliant strategy, but wound up blurring the divide between faith and politics.

    Young people, increasingly becoming liberalized in their politics as they seek out values reflecting diversity and tolerance, inextricably confound faith with politics to their detriment. A Christian should be allowed to have opinions that span the entire political spectrum without compromising their core spiritual values.

    Unfortunately, anyone observing American political discourse from the outside can see that it is very difficult to untangle faith and politics.

    As Jesus said, give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s.

  • AC

    ‘But this messy kind of Christianity, I fear, can never be mainstream, not when it has to compete with another strain that offers easy answers and something that looks like certainty.’

    Fitz, what on earth are you talking about? Christianity is very straight-forward….. You represent a sin-embracing, Christless type of belief…. You can have it & you will win over the nones…. but you are not Christian, at best you’re a god-hating agnostic…. You deem us homophobes, we deem you God-haters…. It’s time to change the narrative, stop trying use Christ & change The Gospel…..

    http://vitalcommentaries.blogspot.com/2013/01/mission-destroy-liberal-christianity.html?m=1

    • http://garyhorsman.com Gary Horsman

      @AC Perhaps you need to spend less time pointing out the mote in Jonathan’s eye.

      • KLP

        bromides

    • Eric M

      Wow, I’m new to this blog- but I can’t believe the judgment you are casting on other believers! If you think Christianity is that simple, perhaps you have never lived it? Christianity isn’t about defending what we have from the “godless”- it is about emptying ourselves for them so that they will see Christ’s love played out.

      Mission: Destroy Liberal Christianity? Maybe you should abort that mission and try Mission: One body of Christ

      • AC

        I guess you guys aren’t familiar with this site, their sole purpose is to paint orthodox Christianity as outdated, irrational & contemptible…..look up how much Jesus spoke about hell, it’s time for a wake up call, Jesus died a humiliating, brutal death so that we may be freed from our bondage & share the this Good News, this is not a God to trifled with, repent & sin no more…. Yes, it’s offensive but it’s true…..if I didn’t care I would merely stroke egos….God Bless!

      • AC

        This my last post, with Christs love I have decreased, it’s not always or even often easy but it is Christ who sustains me….

        Please read my spiritual warfare:

        http://vitalcommentaries.blogspot.com/2012/12/spiritual-warfare-believers-fiery-trials.html?m=1

  • http://bekahbeemays.wordpress.com Rebekah Mays

    Yeah, I feel this too. I also fear reaching out to people sometimes because the last thing I would want is to be branded a proselytizer only interested in salvation / damnation. But then I wonder if I let that fear lead me to inaction and hopelessness. Perhaps prayer is our best weapon here–something I need to do more of.

  • Joel Hubbard

    Hey Jonathan,

    This is a subject of perhaps greatest interest for me and the goal of our church is to continue working hopefully toward a better kind of faith knowing we fail many times.

    It seems to me that my own upbringing taught me a faith that emphasized a set of doctrinal beliefs, political positions and morals.

    To my surprise I noticed that Jesus didn’t invite his disciples to doctrinal agreement and exactness but to himself. Jesus replaces the Jewish law with himself as the way, truth and life, meaning that faith is about an interaction with Jesus.

    Joel

  • Steve

    I retract my previous snark. I just read the Esquire article and it’s horrible on several different levels. I see why it’s relevant.

  • KLP

    “When Ronald Reagan campaigned in the south, he forever linked the Republican party to the conservative Christian right”

    i’m being pedantic, but the evangelical migration (and really pro-lifers in general) to the GOP would’ve happened Reagan or no Reagan. the idea that they should’ve stuck with what the Democratic Party became after 1968 is more than a little silly

  • http://menliketreeswalking.blogspot.com Matthew Loftus

    First off: I pretty much completely agree, although the strain of Christianity that I’d like to see attract the “nones” back is a slightly more conservative version than yours and a slightly more liberal version than the loudmouthed evangelicalism all over the place. It pains me, too– and I’m sure we’re not alone– to hear of people turning away and experiencing existential anguish as they want to believe but can’t reconcile that belief with what they know faith to be.

    However, I’ll play devil’s advocate for a minute: what happens to those folks if they wander into a church that’s not obnoxiously political or has a slightly less acrimonious take on homosexuality or doesn’t try to do theodicy in a hamfisted way… but then Jesus actually calls them to sell all they have and follow Him? If you couldn’t reconcile your doubts about Jesus in between three square meals at your college cafeteria, how would you fare in the hills of Afghanistan or the ghettoes of Baltimore?

    Regardless of whether you lean liberal or conservative, if you really take Jesus seriously He’s going to have you pick up a cross sooner or later. Intellectually, socially, spiritually, emotionally– following Jesus is hard. While I completely agree that we ought to do a better job of teaching, preaching, and living in such a way as to not turn away people with obnoxious political rhetoric or embarrassingly juvenile theology, I have to wonder if some of the “Nones” are looking at the cost and saying, “eh, too much for me.”

    • Joel Hubbard

      A hearty “Amen”, Matthew. This fits with the theology that grace is actually much more difficult than law and faith, more challenging than intellectual belief.

      Jesus continues to up the ante in the beatitudes rather than making it easier but, some faith circles emphasize knowing and, agreement with a set of doctrines as belief.

      The results for many has been that this brand of Christianity is difficult, not from a following Jesus standpoint, but from full agreement or intellectual belief and yet, easy for others.

      This is what I see as having a type of Christianity that isn’t far off from the legalism of the Pharisees. Jesus both relieves many who found the yoke and burden too difficult and makes it impossibly difficult by, as you stated so well, inviting us to die.

    • http://jeffreypaulcoleman.com Jeffrey

      Hey Matthew –

      I know I’m ten days late responding, but then instant gratification has never been my thing … and I bet isn’t your thing either. So we agree: It’s good to be patient.

      And so I wanted to comment – I probably identify more with the “Nones” than with the evangelicals of my childhood (and college years – Full Disclosure: I attended Grove City College for three years). BUT I do so because I look to serve the needy, and I haven’t found a viable way to do that in a Christian setting.

      When with the Church, I used to feed the homeless in Philly – but it was always with this self-righteous edge: We are helping Them get their lives together. And I found it distasteful.

      Now, I watch, listen, talk to, and occasionally help those less fortunate financially than I have been. But I do it without the Churchy chip on my shoulder.
      And it feels freeing.

      That said, I’m grateful to my Christian role models growing up – who in some ways helped make me a better emotionally adjusted human being than I would otherwise have been.
      But I’ve no intention to “return to the fold.”

      • http://menliketreeswalking.blogspot.com Matthew Loftus

        Jeffrey,

        Thanks for responding. I’m not sure which part of my post you were responding to–
        I certainly agree with you that it’s not good to help people with self-righteousness (although if you have spent more than 5 minutes with any non-Christian group of people helping the poor, you will note that this is not a condition restricted to evangelical Christians.)

        You seem to be pointing out (rightly) that one doesn’t need religion to be nice and giving to others, but religion might play a part. I think my original comment was more about the life of radical self-sacrifice that I think Jesus calls Christians to than just volunteering at the soup kitchen, though.

  • http://www.calebscottroberts.com Caleb Roberts

    I sympathize with your thoughts here, but I don’t think you went deep enough. It appears as though you’re blaming a monolith (conservative evangelicalism) for a problem the solution of which, as you see it, is the rejection of monoliths (messy Christianity). More thoughts here:

    http://calebscottroberts.com/calebscottroberts/2013/1/17/on-the-doubts-of-the-nones

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  • Patrick Sawyer

    Jonathan,

    In your posts you routinely communicate to your readers (in some fashion) that even though you are not a conservative evangelical yourself, you have direct and accurate understanding of conservative evangelicals.

    With respect, I often think you need to get out more and meet some real evangelicals.

    I attend a large, multi-site, conservative evangelical church. As such we are serious about doctrinal truth (because Jesus is serious about it). And BECAUSE we are serious about doctrinal truth, there is tremendous “space” for “sincere doubters”. There is authentic love, care, concern, and kindness toward all who are serously questioning.

    In addition, there is thorough reasoning and rigorous epistemological investigation on any and all issues that come up. And because this is the case, doubt is often replaced with deeper understanding and faith.

    While my church is not perfect along these lines (because the people aren’t perfect), there is a real and palatable spirit that we are all in this together.

    Matthew, who has commented above, n some ways, is onto something. I would add that 1 Corinthians 1:20-25 gives insight as to why many of those you are referring to don’t believe.

    “20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.22 Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength” (1 Corinthians 1:20-25).

  • OrcHard

    *This morning, as I listened to both segments of the NPR story, my first response was to write a solution, to provide an answer, to suggest that we progressive Christians do better PR.*

    Ugh. Do *you* like the idea of being subject to ‘PR’? That your beliefs are simply misinformed and that someone with better information will come to ‘correct’ them? No: You’d undoubtedly find that idea abhorrent. Nobody actually likes being ‘ministered-to’. So lay off and get over yourself: We atheists aren’t atheists because you failed. We never expected anything from you in the first place.

    *As a believer, I want to win those “Nones” back.*

    We are not prizes for you to ‘win’. We are people, not trophies.

    *I want to provide a space for them to be able to safely air their doubts and concerns*

    I don’t want to go into your defined ‘space’ where I may ‘safely’ air my doubts. Do I even want to know what you would define as an ‘unsafe’ airing?

    Moreover, would there be any acceptable end-point to your proposed ‘safe’ airing of doubts and concerns that would not involve either atheists morphing into liberal Christians or, at the very least, agreeing to sit quietly in the pews, put money in the plate, and in all other ways shut up and sing?

    *…where I can’t be certain that the person sitting next to me believes the same, but I can be sure that she wants to.*

    I don’t want to. I don’t want to believe the things you do. You need to accept that.

    *We Christians have something to offer the “Nones,” I really believe that.*

    Rest assured: The reason we’re atheists is NOT because we simply haven’t heard of you, okay? You have something you *want* to offer us. But we don’t want it.

    • Patrick Sawyer

      OrcHard,

      I’m interested to know who you think gives the best defense of atheism in the current intellectual landscape. Are there 2 or 3 you could mention that you find the most compelling? Thnx.

      • OrcHard

        *…who you think gives the best defense of atheism in the current intellectual landscape.*

        Honestly?

        1.) Fred Phelps
        2.) Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
        3.) Adam Lanza

        And for bonus:

        4.) Rick Santorum
        5.) Todd Akin
        6.) Moktar Belmoktar

        • Patrick Sawyer

          OrcHard,

          I was hoping for better things.

          • OrcHard

            Honestly, I can’t name any. I’m not an atheist because someone talked me into it. I read “Letter to a Christian Nation” and liked it, but mostly because I got that feeling one did with a really excellent book, “Yes, that’s what I have always felt but never had the right words for.”

            I read the whole Dark Materials trilogy and liked that. The fact that Pullman is a fiction writer rather than a philosopher or neuroscientist made him more approachable. The only Dawkins book I’ve read was “The Ancestors Tale” which is about evolutionary biology rather than religion. I did also read (and like) Susan Jacoby’s “Freethinkers” about the history of American secularism.

            A final aside: I’m operating on the assumption your question is honest and you really want to know these things. Not, as was my first suspicion, that you just want me to be a human straw man, setting up philosophical ninepins so you can expertly knock them down. We shall see.

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  • Patrick Sawyer

    OrcHard,

    This is from a comment ago (the reply stream has changed).

    Yes, it was a sincere question. The original comment from you that I responded to seemed to carry a degree of cynicism and angst. I was curious if certain writers had influenced you to that persuasion.

    I would just say that if you felt there was something I needed to hear or know that you believed was paramount to my current existence and my eternal existence, I would strongly desire that you tell me. It would be an act of human decency, even kindness, on your part.

    While Jonathan Fitzgerald and I are in significantly different places on more than a couple of things, I believe strongly that his desire to share his thoughts (including the specifics in this post) with you and all of us is partly motivated by a concern, even a love (if I can say that) of his fellow human beings.

    If there are others who have witnessed to you in the past about Christ, I’m sure that some of them (hopefully most of them) were doing so for similar reasons. Best

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