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Davis Journal

Why most columnists stay away from religion

Aug 02, 2022 01:32PM ● By Bryan Gray

Of all topics, religion is one of the most feared by columnists. It will provoke both outrage or praise, sympathy or derision.  This shouldn’t come as a surprise; for those who believe in an Afterlife, religious practice will get them there, whereas love of Kenny Chesney or the Green Bay Packers is irrelevant. 

Ironically, strong beliefs in religion have different strains. Ronald Reagan, not necessarily religious, espoused the idea that Americans should “put God back in the classroom.”  However, Jimmy Carter, the most practicing religious U.S. President in our lifetime, thought that schools and government “should stay out of the prayer business.” 

Yes, religious belief is personal and varied, but one thing most Utahns can agree with is that religion is less of a factor in American life today than it was even 30 years ago.  The polls and surveys show a dramatic drop in church attendance and membership. The fastest-growing “religion” in the U.S. is “none.”  If churches are showing membership growth, most is coming from Third-World countries, not the 50 states.  Young adults 35 and under are especially showing a lack of interest.  One recent survey of college students found that only 18% said membership in a church was important in their life.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that spirituality is dead. Just this morning (as I write this column) an obituary in a Utah newspaper explained that a woman from Malad, Idaho, “had not been in a church for many years, but had a fervent belief in her Savior, Jesus Christ.”

For some, the woman’s attitude was superficial and hollow.  They see religion as the only true path to salvation.  Others, however, would see a church as one of the many ways, but not a divine road. To them, it makes no difference whether you find salvation on a Vatican highway or Interstate 15.

Opinions vary, but one thing for sure is that an increasing number of Americans (and, yes, Utahns as well) are finding their identity apart from a particular religion or church attendance.  One of the most interesting arguments on the subject came in a New York Times report on a “branding conference” in which an entrepreneur said, “The delta between religion and the Marvel universe is smaller than most people realize.

“Maybe your grandfather identifies as Protestant or Catholic, but as more people become attached to the media, it’s only natural that younger generations may instead identify as Marvel or DC Comic fans.”

I find this strange. I would suggest that a major reason young people have drifted from mainstream religion is they see churches lining up with political causes. This goes both ways. White Catholics voted for Trump despite his criticism of the Pope, yet polls show younger voters of all faiths seem skeptical of conservative church leaders who oppose gay rights or support strong anti-abortion measures.  

Again, that’s my evaluation of why church membership is stagnant. But I never imagined that, as the entrepreneur thinks, Thor, Iron Man, or (gasp!) Pikachu could become more admired than Jesus or other Biblical characters.

And this is why most columnists stay away from religion. λ