The Broken Leading Edge

01.16.2013, 9:26 PM

At the Washington Post “On Faith” blog, Amy Ziettlow, Charles E. Stokes and I have an opinion piece today on our new report, Does the Shape of Families Shape Faith?

We found that today’s grown children of divorce form a “broken leading edge” of the trend of more Americans considering themselves “spiritual but not religious.” Overall, grown children of divorce are more likely to have left the church, but some do become more religious as a result of their parents’ divorce. Yet their pathways to religiosity are more often through seeking meaning in the midst of suffering. If these young people can be understood and welcomed, their wisdom will be key in renewing the churches’ ministry to the many young people in America who now hail from non-traditional families.


7 Responses to “The Broken Leading Edge”

  1. I have to admit, the underlying premise of these pieces – which is that it’s regrettable if people become less attached to churches – is one that I simply disagree with.

    In my lifetime, although I’ve had many good churchgoing friends and worked constructively with church groups, I’ve also experienced churches as a negative force, spreading hatred, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, and right-wing views generally. (There are progressive churches, but they are far less prominent and seem unrepresentative.) I couldn’t even count the number of friends I have who feel traumatized by the churches they were raised in.

    If more divorce means that churches get less influence over our culture, then that’s one of the best arguments in favor of more divorce I’ve ever read.

  2. La Lubu says:

    Barry, Diane M. Left a good response on another thread for why spiritual communities can be beneficial for people, and many of her points resonated with me as far as the “spiritual home” that I found (as an unchurched religious “none” who had previously assumed there was no such thing as a spiritual community I could even begin to find a home in, mostly for the reasons you listed).

    But I think the fact that I’m not a Christian, was not raised in any religious community, and find much of the terminology and concepts of Christianity (especially evangelical) utterly baffling, I’m going to mostly step out of this conversation, which reads to me as an in-house conversation amongst devout Christians that doesn’t have room for other lines of thought.

  3. ki sarita says:

    Agree with you about the value of religious community. That’s why I participate in worship services as a secular Jew.
    Amy, A for effort in trying to choose universal markers of religiosity, but I think it is better to give that up, focus on a specific religion and state so, instead of trying to include everyone and failing. In my community, for example, keeping kosher is considered a more central marker of religiosity than attending services.

  4. ki sarita says:

    Did you know also that in traditional Judaism, Divorce is a religious procedure itself, like marriage? Divorce necessarily involves clergy.
    (Of course the patriarchal nature of it can sometimes drive women away.)
    Why I’m bringing up this point is to show that simply asking Jews or others the same questions about religion does NOT universalize the results, and actually serve to miss some of the important nuances.

  5. R.K. says:

    Barry: If more divorce means that churches get less influence over our culture, then that’s one of the best arguments in favor of more divorce I’ve ever read.

    A few things:

    1. I’m not religious, though my parents were.

    2. I’m not “spiritual” either, though some family members are. (I don’t know which is worse, being nagged by a believer in biblical literalism or being nagged by a believer in Meher Baba or others).

    3. I’m not convinced, indeed, far from it, that a society is more likely to survive without religion than with it.

    4. I don’t find it contradictory to say that a religion could be without provable factual basis yet be more beneficial to the survival of a culture overall.

  6. La Lubu, I agree that for many people membership in a Church community is beneficial. But I still think the impact of Churches overall is negative. But I could imagine feeling differently if the church communities we had were different.

    R.K., I really don’t see either the presence or the absence of religion as an existential matter for society. Whether or not “society is more likely to survive” is not a great concern for me, because it seems extraordinarily unlikely that society will fail to survive in one form or another.

    However, when it comes to whether or not society will thrive, I think that the two biggest threats to our society are the unemployment crisis and global climate change. In both of those cases, religion in the US seems to have very little direct effect, but to have a significant and negative indirect effect by encouraging right-wing political positions.

  7. R.K. says:

    Barry: R.K., I really don’t see either the presence or the absence of religion as an existential matter for society.

    Obviously the question of whether or not a society can survive when it’s infrastructure that provided its belief and motivation collapses is one for historians and sociologists to examine, and is not just answered by what you or I feel or see.

    Whether or not “society is more likely to survive” is not a great concern for me, because it seems extraordinarily unlikely that society will fail to survive in one form or another.

    Yes, I should have said “a society” rather than just “society”, as a society can always be replaced by one worse than the one that preceded it.

    I should have added to my first post:

    5. I don’t “believe in (that is, have faith in) humanity”, either. Yes, I know this sounds cynical, just leading back to my #4.