Religion in the world of the New York Times

December 12, 2011

There’s little substance to this recent New York Times op-ed about God and religion by writer Eric Weiner. I don’t mean to be overly harsh. Weiner feels what he feels; and I’m sure plenty of people agree with him. Of course churches have failed him repeatedly. Whenever human beings do anything, we tend to disappoint.

Citing a recent poll that says that 12 percent of Americans have no religious affiliation, Weiner says that he belongs to that category—the “nones.” The nones, he says, are hardly agnostic or atheist. Fully 93 percent believe in God, about the same as the population overall. But they are, he says, dissatisfied with organized religion.

Well, no… That’s not exactly what he says. I think that’s what he wants to say, but his thinking isn’t clear.

The nones, he says, are dissatisfied with some vague idea he calls the “national conversation” about religion. This public discourse—whatever that means—has been co-opted by “the True Believers, on the one hand, and Angry Atheists on the other. What about the rest of us?”

I don’t know, Mr. Weiner. If you and your cohort want to join the “national conversation” about religion, I suppose you could publish books and op-eds about it!

But who are you speaking for when you say the “rest of us”? The nones are only 12 percent of the population. Atheists, “angry” and otherwise, are much smaller, about three percent. Are fully 85 percent of Americans a part of these dreaded “True Believers”? After all, I read the New York Times. I’m well-educated. I’m reasonably “urban and urbane,” just like you.

The difference is that unlike you, I understand, along with the vast majority of Americans, that what counts most about a religion is not talking about it, but practicing it. And nothing you say here indicates that you have the first clue what that’s like. (I love the way you enlist Chesterton for support, as if Chesterton—who was well-aware of the shabby reputations of both the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches of his day—would agree with you!)

You say there’s very little “good religion” out there these days, by Chesterton’s measure, because we religious people can’t “joke about it.” Really? Meet me next June at the North Georgia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church in Athens! Read our tweets and Facebook posts. Hang out with some Methodist clergy. We don’t take ourselves very seriously. And laypeople even more so!

The point is that even in your “secular, urban, and urbane world,” you must know people—neighbors, friends, coworkers, family—who are sincerely religious but who don’t fit your stereotypes or fit into your predefined categories.

If you don’t, you need to get out more!

3 Responses to “Religion in the world of the New York Times”

  1. Curtis Says:

    Brent,

    Sounds like you broke the code. It appears to me you see this Christian thing as relational. Your making “faith” a verb. May your tribe increase.

    I left a longer response under your recent psnt.net post.


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