December 27, 2011

Apathy is Problem for Religion Too

The Winnipeg Free Press ran a story titled "Does religion still have a prayer?" in which the author, Cathy Lynn Grossman, suggests that decreasing numbers of people have any interest in spirituality. In spite of one big error in the article, which I'll get to in a moment, Grossman provides an interesting look at what may be the biggest obstacle faced by religion: apathy.

Let's get the error out of the way first. It will not surprise you; it is precisely the sort of thing we've seen again and again when reporters write about atheism without understanding it. After opening with a couple of anecdotes about people who are apathetic about religion, Grossman writes:
Helton, 28, and Dohm, 54, aren't atheists, either. They simply shrug off God, religion, heaven or the ever-trendy search-for-meaning and/or purpose.
If these individuals do not believe in gods, they are atheists. I get that Grossman wants to describe this as completely apathetic, so much so that they don't spend any time or effort reflecting on the possibility of gods. But that tells me that they'd be unlikely to answer the question "Do you believe in any sort of god or gods?" with something other than the affirmative. This would make them atheists even though I'm sure they wouldn't identify themselves as atheists. Atheism is not about certainty. It does not require the conviction that no gods exist; it is the absence of belief in gods.

Aside from that unfortunate error, the article does a decent job of summarizing some recent survey data from Baylor and LifeWay. The results suggest that there are quite a few people out there who do not devote much time or energy to thinking about matters of religion or spirituality. I cannot help wondering if this is good news for us because it suggests that people are finding these things less necessary or bad news because it suggests people are thinking less. I hope for the former but fear the latter.

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