Daily Beast Asks: 'Can We Please Get God Out of Religion?'

May 24th, 2015 8:53 AM

In a competition for Dumbest Headline Ever, we might consider the Daily Beast asking, “Can We Please Get God Out of Religion?” The subheadline was “We all need a spiritual side. But not because of some make-believe afterlife. Because it makes us better in this life.”

Barrett Holmes Pitner wrote this as one of those godless “millennials” now showing up in Pew Research polls about America becoming less Christian.

According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, about 35 percent of millennials have no religious affiliation and thus are categorized as the “nones.” Approximately 56 million Americans are religiously unaffiliated, and the horde of “nones” grows steadily by the year.

As a millennial myself, I am part of the generation that has conspired to spread this heresy nationwide, from coast to coast, as a kind of modern day version of Manifest Destiny.

I still remember when I graduated from children’s church when I was a tween and could now attend the sanctuary with the adults. But instead of being fixated on learning more about Christianity, I just wanted to take a nap. I loved it when I had soccer matches on Sunday and could skip church. By the time I was a junior in high school, church no longer interested me at all, and when I left home for college, the idea of waking up early on a Sunday to attend church had become laughable. I am most certainly part of America’s cumulative religious decline. I have helped bring the “nones” to the fore.

Then Pitner pitched the “religion without God” concept. The pull quote in the article was “If we think of spirituality in these terms, then it becomes merely a tool for a healthier life. An apt comparison could be playing recreational sports or studying a musical instrument.”

The promoter turned out to be none other than Lisa Miller, a longtime Newsweek religion correspondent (long before the Daily Beast bought Newsweek, and then sold it again). She's pushing a new book:

Miller proposes that spirituality—which she describes as religion minus the belief in dogma, the veneration of prophets and deities, and the fixation on the afterlife—is an innate human trait that needs to be encouraged and developed. Through extensive research, Miller asserts that spirituality encourages children to believe in something greater and more powerful than themselves, and as a result they develop more resilience and less anxiety throughout life. People who engage in spirituality, she finds, are 40 percent less likely to use and abuse substances, 60 percent less likely to be depressed, and 80 percent less likely to have dangerous or unprotected sex, according to her findings.

In other words, if you remove dogma, concerns about the Almighty, and the afterlife, and only focus on the spiritual elements of faith you can still lead a productive and healthy life regardless of what you believe in religiously: if you even believe in anything at all. This should be a concept that the “nones” embrace, and plenty of organized religions, too.

Pitner then brought up Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the controversial critic of Islam, and blurred the rest of religion in with radical Islam, quoting her from a Bill Maher interview: Islam could progress if it could “stop investing in life after death instead of life before death.”

Unfortunately, the emphasis in society today is not on benefiting the growth of the child in this earthly life. It’s toward focusing on the afterlife. This can be incredibly destructive and absurd....

One of wisest things the millennial “nones” could do for their progeny could be to find a proper spiritual outlet for their children while still expressing a healthy cynicism toward organized religion. The “nones” should anticipate that their children will become religiously jaded but still hope that they are capable of believing in a force greater than themselves. Hopefully this will prevent the “nones” from creating a new generation of anxiety-ridden narcissists.

To Pitner, a believer might only write that religion without God is completely missing the central point, like breathing without lungs. This is not a new concept in any way. Back in 2013, Ronald Dworkin’s book Religion Without God was published. In First Things, Mark Movsesian wrote his strategy was in part political:

Because of the practical impossibility of accommodating religion, the state should not bother to try. We should abandon “the idea of a special right to religious freedom with its high hurdle of protection,” he writes, in favor of a more general right to “ethical independence.” The payoff? “If we deny a special right to free exercise of religious practice, and rely only on the general right to ethical independence, then religions may be forced to restrict their practices so as to obey rational, nondiscriminatory laws that do not display less than equal concern for them.” Religion, in other words, will take a back seat to progressive politics. A general right of ethical independence, he writes, would restrict public religious displays, unless the displays were genuinely drained of all religious meaning, and would mandate “the liberal position” on same-sex marriage, abortion, and gender equality in marriage.

Dworkin’s definition of religion thus seems tendentious, a way to dilute religion so as to minimize the potential for conflict with the progressive state. This is not surprising. Traditional religion opposes many of the left’s priorities; for the left to succeed, it must continue to marginalize traditional religion.