Award-winning journalist Ray Suarez said we have to figure out "how to continue to be part of faith communities in a country where we can no longer demand, where can no longer be sure of, a certain cultural deference toward religion that prevailed through most of American history, and we're wondering if it will still be a feature of our common culture by mid-century."
"Even the most optimistic among us about the future of faith communities," Suarez said, "has to concede that, writ large, as an American institution, religion with a capital R no longer speaks with the authority, the convening power, it once did."
There are regional variations across America, he said, and in 20 states "no religion" is the largest religion. These states are concentrated in the West and in New England.
Since the period of the 1960s to 1980s and beyond, Suarez said "it's fair to say that inheritance, heritage, family custom, started to mean less. People felt that they were spiritual free agents in those decades in a way that they might not have earlier in the century ... You might have felt compelled to stay with the religious group of your family, of your ethnic group, of your linguistic background, of custom."
Suarez challenged the audience to come up with a "convincing demonstration model, if you will, of what community, and commitment, a life of joy might look like ... and find the things people yearn for as they look for connection and community."
"Loneliness," Suarez said, "is one of the most compelling threats to health. Why isn't THAT the problem we're talking about?"
Ray Suarez is former host of NPR's Talk of the Nation and a senior correspondent for PBS NewsHour and Al Jazeera America. He's a member of the Washington National Cathedral (Episcopal) leadership team.
Author of several books including "The Old Neighborhood: What We Lost in the Great Suburban Migration: 1966-1999," "The Holy Vote: The Politics of Faith in America," and the PBS companion volume "Latino Americans: The 500-Year Legacy That Shaped a Nation."
Suarez spoke May 30, 2019, at the Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul Annual Assembly.
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