There is nothing new to be said about the tragedy in Connecticut. There is much to be gleaned from the religious world’s response to it, which reveals why Nones are increasingly unwilling to engage religious communities.
Let’s begin with what many already know. Shortly after the shooting, Mike Huckabee aired the position of some on the religious right that this tragedy happened because we “have removed God from schools.” The outrage was immediately rebuked by religious people left and right to differing degrees. As a result, he has tried to clarify, only muddying his already convoluted logic.
Other responses are aimed less at explaining and more at comforting. Pastors in the area wonder how so misguided a young man could have gone unnoticed by the community. Other pastors struggle with comforting the families of those who lost their children. They are honest in their confusion, if at times reaching for platitudes. As did one Lutheran minister ensuring the parents of one murdered child that he was “saved.”
Still another group has wrestled to explain where God was in the midst of all of this. Diana Butler Bass did an excellent job of outlining this in her recent blog post. She divides the answer into three: those who say God was present, those who say God was absent, and Diana’s opinion that God was hidden.
Interestingly, it is a religious voice—that of Jim Naughton—who succinctly summed up what a lot of Nones (and apparently, more than a few religious people) are feeling. Writing on his Facebook page he said “If I read one more piece of fatuous theologizing that purports to demonstrate why the writer has a more discerning intellect than those of us who think we might actually need to take certain actions to diminish gun violence in our society, I think I am going to scream.”
In a surprisingly succinct statement, Naughton cuts to the core of what is troubling many people who no longer see a need for church. When confronted with a problem—whether as egregious as Connecticut or as head-scratching as accepting an equal role for women in all of life, including the pulpit—the desire to explain what “God would do,” or to frame the problem in religious language, ultimately gets in the way of resolving the problem.
As a None, I find myself asking, is religion helping me through this situation, or simply getting in the way? Consider the reactions above.
Huckabee’s remarks are so far beyond the boundary of reasonable thought they don’t deserve comment. But Christians are spilling lots of ink and hurling lots of words doing just that. And at the end of the day, what has change?
One can be more sympathetic to those ministers who are on the ground comforting those suffering. At the very least, they are attempting to bring comfort—as much as that is possible—to those who are hurting. These people tend to be long on compassion and short on answers. In short, it is in these moments that they are most human. Which for Nones raises another question—yes, churches can offer this support, but can they offer it in a way that no other organization or individual can do? Ultimately, that question can only be answered by those affected by tragedy. For some, religion helps, for many others it only causes grief.
The final set of questions is possible the most aggravating to Nones—Where was God? Our question may well be in response, what does any of it matter? It’s the ultimate inside-baseball question. And ultimately, the answer to it is aimed not at those affected by the tragedy, but by those whose own faith depends upon some solution to this question.
For those wrestling with the Where is God question, the underlying question they are struggling with is, Is God real? Whether you take a conservative, liberal, or other tack matters little. The underlying question is there.
And this is what gets in the way for so many Nones. Why even bother to wrestle with the question at all? Does it really do anything to make the world a better place?
Increasingly, the answer for Nones is that it doesn’t matter. This is why the number of people who identify with nothing in particular continues to climb. They aren’t without belief, they just don’t see the animating questions of belief—who is God, why does God allow bad things to happen to good people—to be worth pondering.
For struggling with these questions ultimately does little good for the world at large.