Last week the Associated Press reported that according to the most recent American Religious Identification Survey the percentage of Christians in our nation has declined and more people say they have no religion at all. The survey found that traditional organized religion is playing less of a role in many folks' lives. In fact, it stated that 12 percent of Americans believe in a higher power but not in the God at the core of monotheistic faiths such as Christianity, Islam and Judaism.
These kinds of studies always intrigue me and not simply because I identify as Christian. I've been borderline obsessed with religions since I was 14. That's the year I met someone who was atheist for the first time. Growing up in the Deep South in a black family God had a huge presence in my life and I figured it was that way for everyone. And even though my parents didn't go to church often, we prayed before bed and before every meal and "Jesus" was the name you called on in times of trouble.
Oddly enough, my realizing that there were people in the world who thought there was no God didn't shake my faith in God's existence at all. Instead I suddenly wanted to know about every faith in the world. So I went to the public library, checked out books on Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Scientology and the Mormon faith, ran home and read them all. (Yes, I was a nerd.) I was also active in a group for black and Jewish teenagers and spent plenty of weekends at local synagogue.
Despite my interest in organized religion there have been many times in my life when it has stood in the way of my spirituality, when it has actually pushed me away from God. In January I joined a new church that I absolutely adore, but I've attended churches whose doctrines caused me to doubt God's love for me and convinced me I was less special to God because of my two X chromosomes.
A poet friend who also identifies as Christian but very rarely talks about her faith said she keeps quiet because she believes, "religion is as intimate as sex." I'm finally starting to understand what she means.
Sure I'm open to listening to what church leaders, friends, and family have to say about religion. I don't even mind being called out when I'm acting a fool. But at the end of the day how I love my God is nobody's business.
And though I am as committed as ever to church, I have finally learned how to ditch routine religion for a real relationship with my Creator.
What's your story? What do you believe?