Michael Gerson: Rise of religious indifference in U.S. raises a bunch of questions

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  • Mister J Salt Lake City, UT
    March 30, 2013 10:29 a.m.

    re: Open Minded Mormon

    So, Nietzsche was right? "After coming into contact with a religious man I always feel I must wash my hands."

    Also, "Some of you say religion makes people happy. So does laughing gas." -- Clarence Darrow

  • LDS Liberal Farmington, UT
    March 28, 2013 1:13 p.m.

    Twin Lights
    Craig Clark


    Great comments.
    I Agreed.

    And, to all my science denying religious friends out there --
    You need to understand the difference between Science and Religion.

    Science tells us the Hows,
    and Religion tells us the Whys --

    It's really all that simple.
    Now, please stop hitting yourselves over the head.

    Salt Lake City, UT
    I grew up Mormon and I am Liberal.
    Not the same, but I get the just of your not feeling welcome at Church.

    Be thankful that Christ Himself does the Judging based on our own experiences.

    By what measure we judge others, is how we will be judged ourselves.

    I look forward to seeing my gay brothers and sisters in the Celestial Kingdom.
    and based on what the Savior said himself,
    Those who don't look forward to it, probably won't be there anyway. ;-)

    Cheer up,
    some of us are with you ALL the way, brother.

  • RFLASH Salt Lake City, UT
    March 28, 2013 10:57 a.m.

    I grew up Mormon and I am gay. People in the Church drove me out even before I accepted it myself and I can never explain how deep the pain goes. People assume so much about others. After that, it was never the same. I have a deep belief in God, but each time I opened my mouth and tried to say anything, I would see that stare and I would know that they had shut me out. After all, a person like me couldn't possibly know God! I miss it so much, but I will not be a liar and I will not go where I am not wanted. religious people are selfish. They have to be right. people don't leave room to bend. If religion gives little hope to you, then your not going to stay! People are also more educated. Don't treat them like they are stupid. I think Christians need to look at themselves because they are also a very hateful people in recent years. I think that is the biggest factor. Step outside and look back as an outsider and it will shock you! Without the love what is there?

  • Twin Lights Louisville, KY
    March 28, 2013 10:40 a.m.


    I follow science pretty closely (my father taught it, so it was sort of required in the house when I was growing up). None of these discoveries do I find problematic in the least.

    Ultra Bob

    “The purpose of religion is to control the minds of men and women.”

    Please. I have been a member of two different religious groups and in neither case did I ever feel that anyone was trying to exercise mind control. Reference the LDS, there is the firm limitation outlined in D&C 121.

    Of course their “goal is the converting and keeping as many followers as possible.” It is the charge left to us by Christ.

    Agreed that business should not be imposing religious beliefs. But business folks should have some ability to have free exercise as well.

    As to schools. I sent one child to an evangelical Christian school (at the child’s request). There was some “indoctrination” but the kids clearly were able to choose their own path.

  • Craig Clark Boulder, CO
    March 28, 2013 10:20 a.m.


    ".....My hunch is religions have a lot of details wrong...."

    Your post is very thought provoking.

    In medieval times, science bowed to religion as the supreme authority. But today, religion is being rapidly outpaced by the breathtaking advances in secular knowledge. Religion can't keep up playing by the standards of science. That's why efforts to have creationism or intelligent design offered as part of educational curriculum is met with ridicule and derision.

    Religion is dealing with the spiritual realm which can't be examined in a test tube. Efforts to reconcile the religious with the secular will always have limited success. But to paraphrase the Bilbe, reverence for what we don't know can be the beginning of wisdom in our times. That's where religion will be on solid ground.

  • 10CC Bountiful, UT
    March 28, 2013 10:02 a.m.

    Pertinent to why people are drifting away from organized religion is a recent discovery, reported in Discovery News yesterday, that the first Neanderthal-Human hybrid has been found. (Google News)

    We've known for a few years that Europeans and Asians have between 1-4% of their DNA that is shared with Neanderthals, and this discovered specimen appears to confirm that Neanderthals and Humans indeed mated. Most of us part "cave man", if you will. (The specimen has mitochondrial DNA from a Neanderthal and the jawbone of a human.)

    As this knowledge (presumably) becomes confirmed through more research, what questions does this present to theology? Some religions believe that God was literally a human being. Does this mean God was also part Neanderthal? Jesus would presumably also be part Neanderthal.

    Many probably won't care, but for some this could be a troubling issue.

    I suspect many human religions have created God in our own image, and then asserted we were created like God. The question becomes thornier as we discover that we truly are related to other primates, maybe more closely related than we would like to be.

    My hunch is religions have a lot of details wrong.

  • Hank Pym SLC, UT
    March 28, 2013 7:15 a.m.

    re: Blue 6:31 a.m. March 27

    "What is good about religion is not unique to religion, but what is unique to religion is not good."

    Wow. Brilliant.

    To Open Minded Mormon 4:14 p.m. March 27

    Isn't interesting when you learn you don't follow the "norm"?

    The reaction of "friends" and neighbors is priceless. Ironically, I am finally at piece w/ my life decisions and being ostracized because I no longer want to play their reindeer games is comical

  • LDS Liberal Farmington, UT
    March 27, 2013 9:03 p.m.

    More broadly: Is America on the path of secularization that — while delayed — inevitably leads to Sweden? ~ article


    Why not?
    Sweden is the happiest, and most well-being nation on earth.

    And Utah?
    The highest rate of Anti-Depressant drug use.


    I think we can learn something here...

  • Ultra Bob Cottonwood Heights, UT
    March 27, 2013 7:10 p.m.

    Twin Lights.

    “If “education and knowledge are the foes of religion” why do Christian religions spend so much time, money and effort educating their followers?”

    The purpose of religion is to control the minds of men and women. Their goal is the converting and keeping as many followers as possible. One of the best way to do that is teach their religion in school to young people. When a church owns the school it can educate or indoctrinate as much as it pleases.

    The first Amendment seems to indicate that a person should not be unduly coerced in his personal beliefs. Churches are using freedom of religion to influence others through their business and schools. To some of us the requirement of religious beliefs in business and schools for children stretch the limit too far.

  • Twin Lights Louisville, KY
    March 27, 2013 4:16 p.m.


    Though I do acknowledge the Adversary, I don’t see the path as that narrow when you are on it. I think most LDS find the controversies coming to them so there is not much avoiding them.

    If older LDS are shocked then they should have been studying harder. Since my conversion, my knowledge and conviction have increased but my basic beliefs have not changed much. I have been far more challenged by the bad acts of those around me than the supposed shortcomings of leaders in days gone by.

    At its base, religion generally and LDS Christianity in particular is simple.

    I can only say that, in my experience, if we don’t frequently talk about and examine our relationship with God and the Golden Rule, they too easily slip into the back of our minds and the take the least of our actions. Perhaps I am deficient, but I find I need to look inward frequently and church provides much external impetus for me to do so and to consider what I might not have otherwise.

    Hence, I wonder if the vast majority of “Nones” will ever really do much about their spirituality.

  • Open Minded Mormon Everett, 00
    March 27, 2013 4:14 p.m.

    Try going on a LDS Mission,
    Serve 8 Years in the US Military,
    paying a full tithe,
    attend Church faithfully for 40+ years,
    Go to and be Temple workers weekly,
    Home Teach monthly,
    Quorum Instructor,
    and Assist with the Scouts.


    Come out of the closet and tell people of these Deseret News boards or in Gospel Doctrine that you are NOT a Republican,
    might even lean moderately left-of-center,
    and you are instantly labeled a heretic, apostate, Anti-Christ, and a full blown Son-of-Perdition.

    I'm a straight, white, Mormon living in Utah -- and I detest it most of the time.

    I can only imagine how someone who might be a "minority" must feel.

  • 10CC Bountiful, UT
    March 27, 2013 3:38 p.m.

    Twin Lights:

    My experience in the LDS culture is there is a strong emphasis on education and achievement, which is certainly admirable. But there's also an emphasis on keeping to a very narrow path, lest the Adversary derail your testimony and pathway to salvation, at least in terms of the LDS theology. This includes steering clear of any kind of controversial material about LDS history, doctrine, etc.

    What is happening now is internal church "turbulence" as knowledge becomes more widespread. For example, many older Mormons are shocked at the "new" information about Joseph Smith and polygamy.

    A learned LDS scholar said that people just need to learn to adjust their paradigms as new information comes to light, instead of letting their testimonies come under attack from previously unknown and disturbing information.

    Why do beliefs need to change? It should be more simple.

    Religions almost invariably become too complicated as stories, commandments, and folklore get layered in, and then become subject to scrutiny that is damaging.

    A good friend who is a fellow "None" put is succinctly: "I believe in God. I believe in the Golden Rule. We don't need to talk about it every week."

  • Open Minded Mormon Everett, 00
    March 27, 2013 2:16 p.m.

    I'm reminded on the "lost kids" in HighSchool.

    The one who didn't quite fit in, a
    lways left out.
    not popular, picked on, or "different".
    The "Mis-Fit Toys" from Rudolph,

    By the end of HighSchool,
    Good kids eventually ended up on the Island of Un-wanted Toys,
    the Leper Colony,
    the Parking Lot - you know, the smokers.


    Because, they made them feel accepted when no one else did.
    Just as they were.
    Warts and all.

    Jesus loved the Lepers, the Harlots, the Samaritans, the poor, the misfits.
    His "Chosen" people - didn't.
    They rejected him and what he taught.

    Some claim to be his Followers today,
    He told them what to do,
    They claim to be his Church.
    But they are rejecting him, again.

    Shouldn't Christians make ALL mis-fits feel wanted, needed, and loved like He did?

    THAT my dear friends, is why organized Religions are failing.
    They don't practice what they preach.

    Try lifting the down trodden,
    Accepting the imperfect, the struggling, the less fortunate, the Different.

    Show me, don't tell me.
    Be ye doers of the word, not hearers only.
    By their works, ye shall know them.

  • Wastintime Los Angeles, CA
    March 27, 2013 1:32 p.m.

    What's wrong with Sweden? How many people who demonize Sweden have actually been there or know any Swedes? Seems pretty lame to me.

  • Twin Lights Louisville, KY
    March 27, 2013 1:13 p.m.


    Agreed reference education. Do you honestly believe that those offering this had no idea it would cause some to think and wonder? In the LDS culture, there is a positive correlation between education and activity.


    I happen to defend global warming quite often on these boards. NEVER have I been asked about my politics in any interview. Abortion and homosexuality are considered moral issues, hence the attention. Although I tend to vote Republican, I could not agree more that God is not a member of my (or any) party.

    Craig Clark,

    Yes. Which is why my specific examples were from the Protestant reformation and the Restoration movement. These would not have taken place without the explosion of information from literacy and printing.

    Many of the disciplined critics that I am aware of (and I do not claim to be aware of them all) were pushing an agenda well beyond open analysis of history.

  • 10CC Bountiful, UT
    March 27, 2013 12:42 p.m.

    Twin Lights:

    It's clear that organized religion has done enormous amounts to further the cause of education. The Catholic Church in the United States alone has established almost 250 colleges and universities, a figure I find extraordinarily impressive. The new Pope is a Jesuit, an order within the Catholic Church widely known for their emphasis on education. Many other churches have the same type of emphasis, and it is impressive, and essential.

    However, education sponsored by religious schools and knowledge of church history and doctrine are two different things, and the eruption of knowledge once more tightly held by church authorities, or at the minimum more difficult to find, is now at everyone's finger tips, and it is putting a great deal of pressure on many organized religions.

  • m.g. scott LAYTON, UT
    March 27, 2013 12:01 p.m.

    The answer to all of this. Seperating the "Wheat from the Tares".

  • There You Go Again Saint George, UT
    March 27, 2013 11:51 a.m.

    "...It is easy to imagine some of the unaffiliated looking at the movement led by Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson and concluding: "If this is religion, I want no part in it."...".


    Judge much?



    As Opened Minded Mormon reported to us...

    "...Mahatma Gandhi said it best:
    "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."...".


  • pmccombs Orem, UT
    March 27, 2013 11:37 a.m.

    It's interesting to read about "Catholic Agnostics" and "Protestant Agnostics" as a thing of the past. It seems that the movement evolved to the present non-affiliated demographic, since agnostics don't pass a strong tradition down to their kids.

    The LDS church, which is locally prominent, is even now seeing the same development, although it is perhaps a generation or two behind the larger denominations. We now have a large underground of disaffected Mormons who maintain their affiliation with the church culturally but have parted ways in terms of belief. I predict that within another generation, the LDS church will also experience a significant rate of attrition.

    The remedy isn't to appeal to individuals, but to bring "Church" more fully into the local sphere. All worthwhile religion is overwhelmingly local. The more it is administered from the top down--with standardization and other hallmarks of mass-production kitsch--the less it appeals to a people disillusioned with religion as commodity. What compelling religion doesn't need are distant leaders, business-like infrastructure, and marketing media of kinds. The medium really is the message, and organized religion has become more hype than substance.

  • airnaut Everett, 00
    March 27, 2013 11:28 a.m.

    Craig Clark
    Boulder, CO
    Twin Lights,

    In the LDS Church, we quote Joseph Smith's famous dictum, "the glory of God is intelligence." We give eloquent lip service to it but some independent minded LDS writers have faced church disciplinary action for publishing works that critique Church teachings and history.

    11:16 a.m. March 27, 2013



    Try mentioning Global Warming at Church.
    The GOP Mormons will publically skin you alive.

    Some of the "Brethren" have crossed the political lines dealing with issues such as "evolution", 'abortion", "War", "Women's Rights", and even recently being born "Gay".

    It seems the Brethern, being mortal, sometimes struggle with the same fuzzy gray lines in life that political Parties have created into entrenched and vast chasms for political reasons.

    FYI - God is not a Republican, or member of any political party for that matter.

  • Craig Clark Boulder, CO
    March 27, 2013 11:16 a.m.

    Twin Lights,

    Ever heard of the Index Librorum Prohibitorum" It was the Roman Catholic Church's official list of books that were prohibited reading for Catholics. It included books by scientists, philosophers, and intellectuals including Voltaire and Charles Darwin. It was issued in the 1500s and wasn't abolished until 1966.

    In the LDS Church, we quote Joseph Smith's famous dictum, "the glory of God is intelligence." We give eloquent lip service to it but some independent minded LDS writers have faced church disciplinary action for publishing works that critique Church teachings and history.

  • Pagan Salt Lake City, UT
    March 27, 2013 11:03 a.m.

    From our own Deseret news:

    'Boy, 15, reprimanded for backing traditional family in school paper' - By Joshua Bolding, Deseret News - 01/27/12

    'He (Wegner) also quoted scriptures like Leviticus 20:13: "If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to DEATH...' – article

    Is it any wonder this is happening?

    'Confidence in organized religion hit's an all-time low in Gallup poll' – By Jason White – Msnbc – 07/12/12

    'Americans' confidence in religious institutions has hit an all-time low, with only 44 percent expressing a "great deal" of confidence in organized religion, according to a new Gallup survey.
    This follows a downward trend since the 1970s, when 68 percent of Americans had a high degree of confidence.
    Gallup cites two big blows to confidence in organized religion: 1980s scandals involving televangelists like Jim Bakker and the Catholic sex abuse scandal in the 2000s.' - Article

  • Twin Lights Louisville, KY
    March 27, 2013 10:38 a.m.

    Blue, 10CC, and Ultra Bob

    If “education and knowledge are the foes of religion” why do Christian religions spend so much time, money and effort educating their followers?

    The rise of Protestantism and the Restoration movement are both results of more information (via the printing press at first).

    The issues with organized religion have much more to do with when it becomes married to government. Otherwise, there are many good things that though they might (in theory) be applied without religion rarely do in its absence (and are therefore unique to it).


    The “constantly trying to force their particular set of rules on EVERYBODY else” bit goes both ways and is hardly unique to religion. If a religion is to have a morality other than “do whatever you want”, there will be inevitable conflicts with the larger society.

    And religion has no corner on the ”outright nuts”.


    I like Newton’s timeline best.

    Craig Clark

    Oh please. My entire entry into the church was to think and rethink everything. To “ponder” and to have my own spiritual experiences and specifically not to rely on those of others.

  • Hutterite American Fork, UT
    March 27, 2013 10:30 a.m.

    It's not indifference. It's the bully pulpit, the political interference, and the hypocrisy of religion that are making so called 'nones' out of us. Maybe we're just growing up a bit. The only question is why we it didn't happen sooner.

  • Open Minded Mormon Everett, 00
    March 27, 2013 10:07 a.m.

    It's called "Puritianism",
    and it is a form of "extremeism".

    The same intolerant, uber-conservatives who have trashed the Republican Party by running out anyone who is not lock-step in-line with their precise, narrow-minded view of the world,

    use the same intolerant tactics at Church.

    If not for my own deep personal Testimony of Mormonism, the "Saints" would cause me to be a "none" as well.

    Re-read the article.
    It's not so much the doctrine taught in Religion,
    but the followers who turn people off to attending a church.

    Mahatma Gandhi said it best:
    "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."

  • Truthseeker SLO, CA
    March 27, 2013 9:50 a.m.

    I'm glad Gerson highlighted the interplay between religion becoming a political tool. From the very beginning of this trend I knew it would do much harm to religion and politics as well.

  • Craig Clark Boulder, CO
    March 27, 2013 9:28 a.m.


    "....the rise of the "Nones" is easily understandable as the natural consequence of living in the Information Age...."

    How true. Religion has lost the power it once had to insulate its members from views that counter its dogmas. After all, religion is not about getting people to think. It's about getting them to believe.

  • Ultra Bob Cottonwood Heights, UT
    March 27, 2013 9:15 a.m.

    Education and knowledge are the foes of religion. As knowledge of the world expands and releases the minds of people from the fear of the unknown, the imaginary hope of the religions become unnecessary and irrelevant. It has worked that way since the beginning.

  • 10CC Bountiful, UT
    March 27, 2013 9:07 a.m.

    I agree the Information Age is putting a great deal of pressure on organized religion. Many people can go to church and be edified spiritually, and that is a good thing, in and of itself.

    But others are prone to examine the details, claims, stories, and assertions of truth, and under the powerful magnifying glass of information, historic claims of churches to be authentic pipelines to the Almighty have taken a beating.

    We see it here in Utah with the predominant religion and the most recent proclamation, minor changes providing more explanation about the priesthood ban. Essentially, the explanation about why the ban arose is "we don't know". (This is a far cry from past authoritative statements, even as recently as 1949, when it was declared not a policy, but a direct commandment from God.)

    The LDS faith is far from being the only religion under the microscope of widely available information. The Catholic and others have been rocked by innumerable scandals, and the historic treatment of Galileo does not portray religion kindly.

    The "Nones" who believe in God have simply fallen back to simpler beliefs that are less fragile.

  • cjb Bountiful, UT
    March 27, 2013 9:05 a.m.

    The fact that so many church ministers have falsely predicted the end of the world so many times hasn't helped. Why not just enjoy life and be a good person?

  • RanchHand Huntsville, UT
    March 27, 2013 7:22 a.m.

    You touched on some of the reasons for the 'nones' it seems.

    One of the biggest reasons for the increase is the obvious hypocrisy of the leaders of organized religions who claim to be 'Christian' and then act so un-Christian in their daily lives. Then, they live in fantastic mansions, fly on private jets, own several fancy sports cars, etc. Is that how Christ told his disciples to live?

    Then, you have them constantly trying to force their particular set of rules on EVERYBODY else (abortion, gay rights, women's rights, etc.). Sorry, but that isn't the "golden rule", it's tyranny.

    And then you have the outright nuts (I don't think I need to go into details or name names).

    Religion is a personal, spiritual issue and all these religions are out to make it a public matter. Believe as you will, but realize that others don't always believe as you do and shouldn't be required to do so.

  • george of the jungle goshen, UT
    March 27, 2013 6:45 a.m.

    Necessity is the mother of invention. When your in the fox hole you will start talking to God. No one changes any thing about themselves until it's absolutely necessary.

  • Blue Salt Lake City, UT
    March 27, 2013 6:31 a.m.

    First, who writes your headlines? "Raises a bunch of questions."


    Second, the rise of the "Nones" is easily understandable as the natural consequence of living in the Information Age. The more you know about organized religion, the harder it s to justify participating in one.

    Information is a powerful disinfectant for the mind. Proclamations made by religious leaders are now examined with the aid of Google, and frequently don't fare well.

    What is good about religion is not unique to religion, but what is unique to religion is not good.