A very provocative post, Protest of the Nones: Religious Disavowal as Social Critique, from Duane over at The Alchemists Imagination who draws correlations between the Nones, the Occupy Movement, and the anti-slavery movement of America’s recent past:
In a centuries old occurrence of Stockholm Syndrome the church continues to hold the hand of its captors, embracing tyranny, inequality, injustice, and playing the part of a harlot, going to bed with capitalism.
Is it then any wonder that a group that is on its way to becoming the fastest growing, and the second largest, religious affiliations is a group that adamantly claims no religious affiliation. This demographic known as the religious “Nones” now account for one in five American adults. One article also points out that “Now, more than one-third of those ages 18 to 22 are religiously unaffiliated. These ‘younger millennials’ are replacing older generations who remained far more involved with religion throughout their lives.” These under-thirty individuals have no interest in identifying themselves religiously and no desire to “label themselves in any way when it comes to their faith or lack thereof.” They do not see themselves as being a part of any religion. While “Nones” are not necessarily antagonistic towards religion(many do in fact think that churches as well as religious and faith based communities can and do make positive contributions to society), the common consensus voiced by 70% of the “Nones”, however, is one that remains suspicious and distrustful of religious institutions, stating that they “believe…religious institutions are too focused on money, power, rules, and politics.”
Then, in a refreshing maneuver, Duane suggests that the hope of the church lies not in a return to preaching that old-timey religion, or in a reliance on new-fangled technologies, but, rather, in turning its own prophetic critique upon itself:
Perhaps then, revisiting the critique of Fredrick Douglas, Occupiers, Activists, Millennials, Protestors, and “Nones” will all cease to be anti-church movements when the church becomes part of anti-capitalist, anti-hierarchical, anti-authoritarian, and anti-corporate movements, joining the fight against the social and economic inequality and injustice rather than supporting the systems and structures that perpetuate and uphold oppression and exploitation. I would venture so far as to say that those who oppose the church and other religious institutions will cease to do so when the church begins to oppose itself, dialectically negating its own structures and traditions and in essence becoming anti-church itself.
This last bit reminds me of some of Paul Tillich’s writing on what he called the Protestant Principle – both about the role of the prophetic critique of the church and the role of those outside the church:
If the Church does not subject itself to the judgment which is pronounced by the Church, it becomes idolatrous toward itself. [...] In its prophetic role it is the Church which reveals demonic structures in society and undercuts their power by revealing them — even within the Church itself.. And in doing so the Church listens to prophetic voices outside itself, in judgment both on culture and on the Church in so far as it is a part of culture. Most such voices come from persons who not active members of the manifest Church. But perhaps one could call them participants of a latent church.”
Sometimes this latent Church comes into the open. Then the manifest Church should recognize in these voices the spirit of what its own spirit should be and accept them even if they are most hostile to the Church.
What Duane here calls “anti-church”, Tillich might refer to as being part of a “latent church.” Virtually everyone has referred to the “Nones” as a sociologically distinctive religious group, but I haven’t heard many refer to them as latent church or a kind of external-yet-internal prophetic critique. The difference, I think, is subtle yet significant, and to me at least, rings true.