This increase has been alarmingly precipitous. Fifty years ago, only a fraction of the country would have identified as unreligious, and even a decade ago, the number was only at 14 percent. What makes this situation even more distressing is that fully 64 percent of young adult nones were indeed raised religious but have taken the conscious and active decision to abandon their churches.
Houston, we definitely have a problem.
If I might borrow the language of Dietrich von Hildebrand, it is only the objectively valuable – as opposed to the merely subjectively satisfying – that fills the mind and soul with passion and purpose. When the sense of objective and transcendent value is attenuated –as it necessarily is within the context of a secularist worldview –passion and mission fade away. John Henry Newman said that what gives a river verve and movement is precisely the firmness of its banks. When those banks are broken down, in the interest of a supposed freedom, the once energetic body of water spreads out into a great lazy lake. What we have in our secularist culture, which denies the transcendent good, is a subjectivism that gives rise to the “whatever” attitude. Toleration and self-assertion reign supreme; but no one goes anywhere in haste. Rather, we all rest on our individual air mattresses in the midst of the placid but tedious lake.
Dorothy Day witnessed to the astonishing when she said, upon the birth of her first child, that she felt a gratitude so enormous that it would correspond to nothing or no one in this world. Mother Teresa was properly amazed when, on a lengthy train journey to Darjeeling, she heard a voice calling her to minister to the poorest of the poor. The apostles of Jesus fell into wonder when they saw, alive again, their master who had been crucified and buried. These are the most precious kinds of experiences that we can have, and if St. Augustine is right, they alone can satisfy the deepest longing of the heart. A secularist ideology – the worldview embraced by the “nones” – produces the clean, well-lighted space of what we can know and control. But it precludes true astonishment, and this leaves the soul impoverished.
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