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OPINION | MIKE MASTERSON: Our complex, changing faith

by Mike Masterson | May 14, 2022 at 3:01 a.m.


Feeling as religious or spirit-filled as you may have been 10 or 20 years ago?

As children, my brother, sister and I became accustomed to regularly attending Sunday School and church services with our parents and grandparents, as did many of our friends and their families. Organized religion was an expected part of our daily lives.

That also meant prayers of gratitude over dinner and among the family were common.

Over the decades, out of youthful curiosity (and seeking), I visited a handful of denominations ranging from Presbyterian to Methodist, Episcopal, Baptist, home churches and even some Catholic services.

I had been christened in the Presbyterian Church as an infant and later baptized in a non-denominational church. But I remained curious.

Lately, however, I confess to forgoing the organized aspect of religion in favor of more intensely personal communions with the creator who put me here.

To my way of thinking, the God of creation exists as much in the forests and along the lifegiving streams in this perfectly balanced world as he does within four walls.

As it happens, my faith overall has grown stronger each year (seems that happens to many with the onset of life's winter), while my desire to attend society-accepted worship on Sunday mornings has steadily waned.

I have to hope God understands and accepts my form of intimate homage.

That said, I received the latest copy of Deseret Magazine the other day. The cover story headline read: "The State of Faith: The Surprising Resilience of American Spirituality."

Written by Kelsey Dallas, the in-depth article prepared in conjunction with the Marist Poll explained the view of spirituality across the nation in 2022, reporting that only 22 percent of respondents said they believe America's moral compass today is pointed in the right direction; 72 percent said we are headed the wrong way.

The findings show "the story of faith in America is far more complicated--and nuanced--than a simple narrative of decline. Among many groups, faith is thriving, resilient and even on the rise," Dallas writes.

The folks with Marist also found:

Seventy-one percent of Americans consider themselves as spiritual regardless of how often they attend religious services (that sounded familiar).

Only 30 percent of those polled say they attend church at least once weekly. (Wonder what this number was in 1950?)

Sixty-eight percent reported they prayed daily, weekly or monthly, with 53 percent of those offering daily prayers.

Asked to describe their personal belief in God, 54 percent cited the God described in the Bible, while 16 percent said they believe in God, but not as the Bible describes. And 15 percent didn't believe in a God as such, but in a higher power or spiritual force; 13 percent said they didn't believe in any form of higher power or spiritual force.

At the same time, in an apparent nod to group worship, 87 percent of those surveyed believe it important to be included in a close-knit community such as a church family.

The poll also asked who those queried looked to for guidance on living a moral life. Seventy-nine percent answered "family." That was followed by 66 percent who responded with "the rule of law," and 65 percent said friends.

Those were followed by "religious teachings" at 63 percent, and 57 percent relying on religious leaders where they worship.

It shocked me that 16 percent said they relied on political leaders for their moral guidance and 12 percent on "social media influencers." Seriously, folks? Politicians and social media? Truly?

Try not to snicker too loud when I report that 10 percent answered that they prefer accepting moral advice from either Oprah or athletes.

Would our country be better off if more of us prayed for others? That seemed a no-brainer, so I was slightly taken aback to see only 68 percent answered yes.

I've come to believe it does strengthen our ties to the divine and reinforce our need for community when we gather to worship in unison as in "two or more gathered in his name."

I also believe we've reached a state in this country where the best way to achieve and build upon that aspect of faith-based community is by recreating an approach that incorporates aspects of personal spirituality with our more formal and traditional ways.

The Public Religion Research Institute's 2020 Census of American Religion revealed the overall decline of white Christians in America had stabilized at around 44 percent of the population, compared with 42 percent in 2019.

A Gallup poll released last year reported 47 percent of Americans said they belonged to a church in 2020. That was down from about 70 percent in 1999. Nationwide Catholic membership increased between 2000 and 2017, but the number of churches declined by nearly 11 percent. By 2019, the number of Catholics had decreased by 2 million.

Deflated Mike

A word of caution to all on Facebook who are as naïve as I was at ordering merchandise for prices that seem too good to be true.

They are.

You'd think after living 75 years and seeing as many scams and criminal behaviors as I have in my career field, I wouldn't fall for the baloney. But I admit to being just that ignorant on a couple of occasions.

In one instance, I was wowed by an advertisement pushing an inflatable hot tub complete with heater and controls for $100. I trusted Facebook had done its due diligence and vetted advertisers.

I have four words for that mistake: Ha, ha, ha, ha.

So, I waited and waited and waited until after three months my hopes of inflating a super-duper inflatable hot tub were fully deflated. It was painfully obvious I'd been taken--along with who knows how many others. By then, the ad was gone and I didn't know how to complain or reach out. Besides, what good would it have done? Those thieves were long gone.

You'd have thought that would have been enough to teach me a good lesson. But no.

Last year, there was a handsome ad showing various brands of 60-inch TV sets for low, low prices too good to be true. So there I went again, leaping off the Cliff o' Ignorance expecting these people to be on the up and up.

And yet again after a couple of months with no TV delivered, I asked Jeanetta to kick me in the posterior so I'd get at least something tangible for the money I'd thrown away yet again.

So, valued readers, in this time when inflation is soaring, my advice is to ignore these enticing, often phony Facebook ads (complete with slick color photos) and any other promotions where the product is grossly underpriced.

Taco terriers, anyone?

I'm not sure it's possible for a couple like Jeanetta and I to become more attached to our 8-year-old, 12-pound rescue pooch, Benji.

This golden little creature, a mix of Chihuahua and fox terrier (known as taco terriers) is the best of many dogs we've each owned over the decades. Since Benji's been fixed, we can't expect a pup from him, so I'm wondering if anyone in our state happens to breed them.

If so, please shoot me an email.

Now go out into the world and treat everyone you meet exactly like you want them to treat you.

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.


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