The Common Good

Meet the Nones: Pouring Out Love

Editor's Note: Megan Monaghan Rivas tells her story of why she's part of the 20 percent of Americans who identify with "no religion in particular." Find more stories (or share your own) HERE. Read about the study HERE.

Photo: WIN-Initiative / Getty Images
Photo: WIN-Initiative / Getty Images

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There are never really two kinds of people in the world. But for purposes of this post, I’ll posit that there are two kinds of “nones” in the world – “nones” who would be part of a church if they could just find the right one, and “nones” who have no desire to be part of a church even if it matched them perfectly. I place myself in the latter category.

Like many “nones,” I started out as a “some.” I was reared in the Roman Catholic Church and educated in Catholic schools. As luck and the development curve would have it, just after confirmation (at age 14) I started finding out things about the church that I could not stand up and be counted for. The church’s policies concerning women and homosexuals seemed to me to stand in deliberate polar opposition to the Gospel message. And the church is not known for willingness to change from the inside. I didn’t have another 2,000 years to wait. My first “adult” move in the church was to leave it.

I’m an elder sister in a large family. My mother asked me to continue attending Mass until my younger siblings were ready to make the same faith decisions for themselves. Older sibs can have a strong gravitational pull on the ones coming up after them, and I didn’t want my choice to pull on theirs. I readily agreed to keep up the act until the youngest ones were older.

 Leaving the church didn’t end my interest in God. As an adult I attended a nonprogrammed Quaker Meeting for a year or more, and after a cross-country move, I attended a couple of different United Church of Christ congregations. I found wonderful things in each of those settings. The Quakers recognized and didn’t interfere with the fundamental religious relationship, between the individual soul (however you understand it) and God (however you understand that). The UCC churches offered fantastically learned, open-minded clergy leaders who showed no inclination to meddle with congregants’ lives under the rubric of pastoral care.

But I didn’t stay. So clearly, social justice work, open and affirming congregational stances, and minimal clergical meddling wasn’t enough to draw me in or keep me in.

When you get right down to the bone, I question the first principles of church. I am not convinced of the existence of God. All the rest of the church questions, including the necessity of church itself, devolve from that one. So until and unless my agnosticism is answered, I think I’m outside the doors in a permanent fashion.

I would LOVE to believe in God. I think it would be comforting, support me during my life’s struggles, etc.  But nothing and no one has yet convinced me. So, insofar as I have a relationship with God, it’s a relationship rooted in doubt. Alas for me, brought up with the scientific method as well as Christian scripture. I learned from Descartes that the deployment of sheer, rigorous reason will not lead us to God – just to ourselves. It takes a different path to get to God, and I do not get that path. I am not willing to set my brain aside in order to make room for faith. After all, who gave me this brain?

So now we know I’m a “none” because I lack personal faith, because I found my church of origin lacking in its Gospel commitment, and because I resist the pastoral relationship that is so integral to most churches. This is the point when most folks haul out the “community” argument: that faith grows best (some say it can only grow) in a community of like-believing folks who are committed to bringing about the Kingdom as they understand it.

I am up to my eyeballs in community in my life. Family and extended family, a cross-country and intercontinental network of friends, colleagues through my work, neighborhood, people I pursue my hobbies with, and so on. If I were rearing children, there would be yet more community – school communities, soccer team communities, car pool communities, and on and on. Each and every community I’m part of offers me a place where the spiritual rubber can hit the practical road.

Which leads to the question each “none” has to answer for him or herself — how should we then live?

My personal answer lies in the one piece of Christian doctrine that survives my agnosticism and my various congregational experiences and departures: love one another.

Love one another everywhere at all times. Manifest that love in the soccer team, the volunteer fire department, the babysitting co-op, and the office. Lay it on at the bus stop, the library, and the DMV. Pour it out at the doctor’s office, your block party, and the class you take or teach. Invest it in working for justice wherever you see the need. And heck yes, broadcast it across the Internet. Love requires no church, no belief in God and no endorsement of the historicity or divinity of Christ. “Love one another” is a brilliant, durable ideal one can build a life around.

Whether there is a God or not, pouring as much love into the world as I can will leave the place better than I found it. And if there is a God who resembles what ancient humans set down in the Bible, so much the better – I will have spent my life doing what the Gospels call for directly.

I’ve taken part in a few of the active Internet conversations about the “nones” phenomenon recently. My suggestion to those who wonder “What should we do about the ‘nones’?” is, do nothing. Respect us and leave us be. Those who want you will come to you.

Megan Monaghan Rivas is a theatre artist and teacher based in Iowa City, Iowa.

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