Tuesday, April 17, 2012


I don't go to church. But I make steeple hands often, as I am doing right now, as I'm figuring out what it is that I want to say about the NONES.

I never heard the term "NONES. They are people who, asked about their religion, reply "none." They aren't atheists or agnostics, just folks who gave up going to church, but chose to meet with others in order to share thoughts about spiritual things and help others -- the poor, the sick or needy.

Researching, I learned NONES are the fastest-growing religious group in the U.S. Their numbers have more than doubled since 1990; major surveys put them at 16% of the population. Many people, who have given up on organized religion, have not given up on faith. Surveys say only 4% of Americans identify as atheist or agnostic.

Diana Butler Bass, who's published books and articles about religion, has written a new book, "Christianity After Religion." In it, she notes that the past decade has been particularly challenging for organized religion in the U.S., from the Catholic sex-abuse scandal to the entanglement of faith in heated political campaigns, resulting in a "sort of 'participation crash.'"

A 2009 Pew Forum survey on Religion & Public Life, that asked people whether they believed in God, how often they prayed, and whether they were affiliated with a particular religion, found that 40% of the unaffiliated people were "still hoping to find the right religious home."

The Huffington Post, USA Today, and other surveys, suggest that young people are inclined to be NONES; the poor economy has created NONES; NONES are 18 % men, 12% percent female.

I think I am, unofficially, a NONE. When I was a child we were the only Jewish family in Winnetka, a wealthy white, Christian, Chicago suburb. In my novel, "Somebody, Woman of the Century," with my heroine Cordelia, here's how I used some of my personal experiences:

"The next morning was Sunday. Mama was sleeping. Cordelia got out her grandma's prayer book that she'd put under her pillow. Gramma said, "This was my book when I was your age. If you keep it under your pillow, the words will perhaps find their way into your mind and your heart."

Generally when church was mentioned, someone changed the subject. Learning how to pray seemed to be one of those "You'll understand when you're older" things. like why Mama and Jeorg weren't married. And why Mama had moved the two of them to Kenosha to work for "Uncle Charlie."

Prayer book in hand, Cordelia tiptoed downstairs to the street.

The grey stone-slabbed church on the corner had a sign that said Lutheran. As Cordelia peered in a man said, "Why aren't you in Sunday school little girl? Who are your parents?"

Cordelia replied, "Rosalind Benedek and Jeorg Zerega are my parents."

The man had a grey slab face. He said, "I don't recognize the names. If you want to attend Sunday school, your parents will have to register."

The next church in the next block was red brick with a white door. Cordelia was prepared when a man opened it and asked with a cheery smile, "May we help you?"

"I'd like to learn how to pray. I was thinking about joining your church," Cordelia said.

"You were, were you? And how old are you?"

"Almost eight. My parents aren't members. I'm not a Lutheran."

"This is the new Christian Science church. Have you ever heard of Mary Baker Eddy?"

"No, but I heard of Mary Mother of God."

He looked at the book she was holding. "Oh ho! And is that your bible?"

"No, its for praying in Czechoslovakian--my grandma gave it to me."

The man tapped the cross on the book's cover. "Why don't you try the Catholic church, two blocks that way." He closed the white door before she could say goodbye.

The Catholic Church had a tower with a steeple that looked like a finger touching the clouds. The windows were on fire with colors.

A Nun stopped Cordelia as she peered into the huge room with pews. Eyeing the prayer book, the Nun asked, "Where are Father and Mother today? Does your Mother go to confession and pray?"

"Sometimes Mamma prays for a Hoover vacuum ," Cordelia said like a nice little girl but she was getting to feel not nice. She wanted to learn to pray and she was tired of questions.

The Nun handed Cordelia a booklet. "Poor child, take this home, and let your Mother read it to you."

"Oh, I can read," Cordelia said, trying to keep politeness in her voice.

"You can crayon each of the pictures, child." The Nun brought out a small box. "This is a present for you." She opened the flap. There were six melted looking crayons inside. She pressed it into Cordelia's hand.

"You're a good girl. The Holy Mother Mary and the Blessed Saints have guided you here." The Nun pinched Cordelia's cheek affectionately. "We will pray for your soul at our shrine."

Cordelia smiled as well as she could with the Nun pinching. "Thank you."

Back in her room in Uncle Charlie's house, on a shelf she arranged the globe Grandpa gave her, Jeorg's postcards, the Nelly Bly doll Mama had made for her.

She placed Grandma's prayer book in the center of those precious things, put the Nun's booklet underneath and the crayon box on top. It made a perfect shrine.

She kneeled and clasped her hands and sent up a prayer like a smoke ring, picturing the words dissolving in the clouds --"Please God, keep your fingers crossed and watch over Mama and Cordelia in our new home in Kenosha."

So that's more or less my story. Though I am not officially a NONE, I send prayers up into the clouds.

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