I met Naomi Schaefer, not yet Riley, while she was editor of “In Character” and just about to have her first book “God on the Quad” published. I invited her to be a speaker at a Catholic business conference that I was involved with in southern California. The following week she married Jason Riley. The writing career continues to produce good stuff. And there are three kids now and a house in the burbs. Good stuff all around.
Her latest book’s title “Got Religion – How Churches, Mosques and Synagogues Can Bring Young People Back” made me think of the intermittently resurrected advertising campaign of a few years ago, “Got Milk.” The reference in that campaign was to make the point that everybody needs it and if you’re missing milk, you’re missing something important. Really important.
Well, that’s the same way Naomi feels about religion and this latest book informs us of how much things have slipped in our culture. And it informs the reader of what we and others can do and are doing about it.
In the road map introduction we are brought face to face with some startling statistics from reputable think tank surveys concerning the state and demographics of the existing churches in the U.S.. A Pew report that 1/3 of American adults under the age of 30 claim no religious affiliation is why I used “startling” in that sentence above. That and other numbers are unsettling on their face, but Naomi has enough good news to buoy our hopes for a future if we’re ready to roll up our sleeves and look at what “church” has become in too many instances. And “church as fun” is not one of her solutions.
The uncomfortable reality is that the secularization of our country has been nearly achieved due to the hamstringing of allowing for values to exist. Instead, feelings trump everything. Tying all the denominations and religions together is that the young people are no longer trustful of their elders, and would rather spend time with their friends. She writes that atheism has not “carried the day… at least not yet. Rather, a combination of agnosticism, a disinterest in and distrust of religious institutions,… and a general sense of confusion about exactly what we mean when we talk about religion and morality describes the current condition.”
Her harder look is at what young people who have been raised in a churched family are trending toward. She cites “drop out rates” that remind one of dismal public school district statistics. But she offers solutions that Catholics, Muslims, Evangelicals and “black churches” have put in place to turn things around. Some solutions seem to work and she offers case studies to read about and think about in connection with a reader’s own experiences in addressing a membership challenge at their own place of worship.
Some of her examples are eye opening. I like to think I’m informed on a wide range of issues but learned a lot in reading this book. And some of it comports to my own experiences. Born in an age where businesses would advertise “no Sunday selling” and get applauded, I am now in an age where Sunday has become a catch all for shopping, kids’ soccer, watching the game on tv, grilling out. Church? Nah!
All of this works against society maintaining the codes, rules, guidelines; call them what you will. But what else do we expect when so many drivers have one hand on the wheel and a GPS in the other.