A funny thing popped up on the news wires the other day that may have escaped your attention. According to an analytic study undertaken by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, “Protestant” Christianity is no longer the nation’s number one religious affiliation. From a 53% standing in 2007 it has fallen to 48%, the rest of religious spectrum being taken up by Roman Catholics, Jews, Mormons, “Other Faiths” (eg. Muslims), and – at a whopping 19.6% “None of the above.” Indeed the fastest growing religious (or if you prefer non-religious) affiliation these days are the “Nones.”
What’s going on here isn’t a sudden boost in atheism, though they’re part of this new category Rather what’s most striking about the “Nones” are those who have “spiritual” interests of one sort or another but remain resistant to “organized religion” in its official manifestations. Considering the scandals, both monetary and sexual, widely unfolding in sundry religious faiths, coupled with a general antipathy to overweening religious authority figures – especially when to comes to “women’s issues” and more recently sexual orientation and gender identity – it’s no surprise that the “Nones” have it.
“People’s religious beliefs, and the religious groups they associate with, play an important role in shaping their worldviews, their outlook in life and certainly in politics and elections,” notes Pew Forum senior researcher Greg Smith But do they really? Clearly the “Mainstream Media” is far more comfortable covering obsequious demonstrations of supposed piety by “Mega-church” pastors and the posturing’s of politicians, whose status as “Christians” is viewed as utterly essential for obtaining public office than it is paing any attention to the “Nones.” Could it be that this insistence yoking organized religion to professional politics is presumptuously misguided – not just now but in the past as well? I say this because of two documents that have recently come to light -– both written by Albert Einstein.
In 1936 the renowned theoretical physicist received a letter from a sixth-grade student named Phyllis Wright inquiring as to whether scientists prayed. Rather than answer her question directly, Eisenstein replied “Scientific research is based on the idea that everything that takes place is determined by laws of nature, and therefore this holds for the actions of people. For this reason, a search scientist will hardly be inclined to believe that events could be influenced by a prayer, i.e., by a wish addressed to a supernatural being.” He did however add that “it must be admitted that our actual knowledge of these laws is only imperfect and fragmentary” and that “everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of Universe. . . In this way the pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort.” A bit much for a sixth-grader to handle perhaps, but certainly forthright and honest. However in 1954, a year before his death, Einstein wrote quite a different letter to philosopher Erik Gutkind after reading his book Choose Life: The Biblical Call to Revolt.
“The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weakness,” Einstein declares, “the Bible a collection of honorable, but still purely primitive, legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this.” Going even further, into territory that would get him into serious political trouble were he with us today Einstein adds “… For me the Jewish religion like all other religions is an incarnation of the most childish superstition. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong … have no different quality for me than all other people. As far as my experience goes, they are also no better than other human groups, although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot see anything “chosen” about them.” Concluding on a less controversial note “Now that I have quite openly stated our differences in intellectual convictions it is still clear to me that we are quite close to each other in essential things, i.e. in our evaluation of human behavior … I think that we would understand each other quite well if we talked about concrete things.”
In short, whether it was 1936 or 1954 the inventor of the Theory of Relativity was firmly within the “Nones.” Consequently for today’s Americans one doesn’t have to understand the meaning of E=Mc2 to say one’s religious affiliation is identical to Albert Einstein’s.
Norma Jean will sing us out