Friday, November 20, 2015

Losing Our Religion, by Christel J. Manning

The fastest-growing religious group in the U.S. is--no religion!  The "Nones" as they have come to be called are growing like crazy.  As a None herself, Christel Manning wondered about a little-discussed part of the lives of Nones, parenting.  In Losing Our Religion: How Unaffiliated Parents are Raising Their Children, Manning asks, How are the Nones passing along their (non)religious views to their children, and what does this mean for the next generation?

Manning points out that the Nones are a diverse and scattered group.  The fact it, they're not a group at all, of course.  This makes coming to conclusions about the Nones difficult, and, unfortunately, leaves Manning's book without a very coherent flow.  She puts forth a good effort, though.  Manning conducted interviews with a wide variety of Nones and drew from a number of sociological studies.  The problem is that Nones defy categorization.  Some are religious believers who don't participate in organized worship.  Others are decidedly non-religious, explicitly atheist or agnostic, and pursue alternative philosophies or world views.  Many simply don't care about religion or non-religion.  Questions of God or theology don't factor into their day-to-day lives.

One strength of Losing Our Religion is the personal interviews.  Manning interviewed a variety of None families, included religious, non-religious, and indifferent families.  Hearing them talk about inculcating values, balancing family traditions with independent thinking, and educational and ethical considerations added richness to what could have been a dry, impersonal treatise.  I was surprised by how little time was spent talking about truth and salvation.  Much of the conversation about religion centered around rituals, milestones like bar mitzvahs, family holiday traditions, and cultural trappings tied to religion.  As an evangelical Christian, rituals and traditions are far less important to me than a relationship with Jesus.  Although Manning did interview some Nones who were former evangelicals, the interviews seemed to skew toward Catholic and Jewish families, for whom religion is more closely tied to culture.

Losing Our Religion made me sad.  As a Christian, I am saddened by the church's failures.  Whether hurt by headline-grabbing scandals, or simply having been let down by weak theology and teaching, when someone leaves church behind, I see a bit of the body of Christ being cut away.  The growing number of Nones makes me sad, too, for the future of our country.  Manning emphasizes that Nones as a rule tend to hold high ethical and moral codes (some more explicitly than others), but I am pessimistic as to what the lack of a moral, traditional, institutional authority will lead to in future generations of Nones.  Nones will find Losing Our Religion interesting, but it should really be a clarion call for pastors and church leaders.   There is a mission field in every city in every state: the Nones and their children.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for the complimentary electronic review copy!

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