The "nones" are getting a lot of attention. Not "nuns," but "nones."
"Nones" are those folks who do not identify with any religious affiliation, attach little importance to religion in their lives and attend religious services only when dragged along to a wedding or funeral.
"Nones" represent about 14 percent of the U.S. public according to the Pew Research Center, whose statistics I am citing in this article, and they are said to be growing fast. They are distinct from atheists and agnostics in that many of them do have a vague belief in God, classify themselves in some way as spiritual and 1 in 5 even state that they do pray on a daily basis, though it is unclear to whom or for what their prayers are directed.
"Nones" are not only religiously unaffiliated. They also report no interest in finding a religious affiliation in the future. (By the way, they are just as little interested in the New Age angle on life as well.)
Every generation -- every human being -- at some point has to answer a fundamental series of questions: Who am I? Why am I alive? What does my life mean and how am I supposed to live my life? But barely half of the "nones" report any reflection on these sorts of questions.
That said, the lack of religious identity in a growing number of people is of great concern to me. But I have found that many people, now in their 70s, 60s, 50s, 40s or 30s, who were lost to faith in their late tweens and 20s, have too often made a decision -- without much thought -- that lasts a lifetime. They create a life mired in consumerism.
I have to face up to the fact that some of the "nones" were created in our own churches and temples. They were the children of believers -- possibly marginal believers, but believers nonetheless -- who never caught it, or caught it and dropped it by the wayside as they entered their young adult years. The Pew Research notes that 74 percent of the "nones" were raised with some religious affiliation.
There is good news in all this, however! Americans by and large remain a highly religious people. Nearly 60 percent consider religion very important in their lives, a rate virtually unchanged in the last decade. I suspect that percentage is much higher in our southwestern part of Pennsylvania. Compare that to across the pond where only 17 percent in Britain and 13 percent in France consider religion important in their lives.
But that's small comfort, frankly, to those of us who see faith as critical to our shared humanity, critical to our culture and, most important, critical to our immortal souls.
You may have heard the term "New Evangelization" tossed about. Pope Benedict XVI used that phrase often. It means an outreach in faith to the culture as a whole. To help people -- help society -- to answer fundamental questions. Or at least give them a perspective they don't read in Time magazine or see on "American Idol."
As the Catholic Church of Pittsburgh, we are trying! This Wednesday, March 6, every Catholic parish in the diocese will be open from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. for a special invitation called "The Light Is On for You." Our churches will be open for Confession. We invite Catholics who haven't been to the sacrament for a week, or 30 years, to each acknowledge our collective and personal inclination to sinfulness, to seek healing from Christ and to make every attempt with God's help to change our lives for the better.
In Confession, we place our wounded selves in the presence of God and acknowledge our sins. Unless we show and live and respond to what faith means to us, namely letting ourselves be connected with God and especially His mercy, we can hardly expect to bring anybody else to faith. Unless we believers are willing to change our lives or rather let God change our lives, we face the scary chance of becoming "nones" ourselves.
The Most Rev. David A. Zubik is bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh.