The Nones Can Be Our Hope

I read an interesting Op-Ed piece in the Los Angeles Times entitled “Letting doubters in the door

by Philip Clayton, the dean of Claremont School of Theology, a Christian theological school.  It responds to a trend many of us have been hearing about – that the largest growing “religion” is composed of those who say they are not religious (sometimes called the nones for responding “none” when asked their religion). 

In the article, Mr. Clayton states that in his experience “the nones are not rejecting God.  They are rejecting doctrinal requirements that they no longer believe, along with the rigid structures of many organized religions.”  He advocates, for Christianity, the “Emerging Church”, a place open to even those who are agnostics and atheists as long as they want to sincerely engage with the teachings of Jesus. 

The piece has a Christian bent to it but has application and I think offers hope to Reform Judaism (and in fact it references a Jewish group in Los Angeles as an example akin to the Emerging Church outside Christianity). 

There are those who are very concerned about the future of Reform Judaism, as demographics, the rise of the nones and the alleged effects of intermarriage arguably reduce the population of Reform Jews.  Without minimizing the realities of the trends, I think these worries and doubts are overstated, assuming we as Reform Jews take appropriate action. 

Besides thinking that intermarriage does not inevitably have to lead to a loss of Jews over time, I think Reform Judaism is already a great place for the seekers among us, searching for some sense of meaning or purpose.  Reform Judaism is a place with which any seeker, including agnostics and atheists, can engage in a deep, meaningful, non-doctrinaire way with Jewish thought and teaching that has been going on for thousands of years.  What we need to do is make sure those people find us and our open doors.  This is not to say that this will be easy, or that we won’t need to be open to, and try, many different things, some of which will not work. 

Tthe Union for Reform Judaism, under its new leader, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, has recognized this in his initiatives, which as he stated in his speech at the URJ’s Biennial this past December, whiach are catalyzing congregational change, engagin the next generation and expanding the circles of our responsibility, which includes getting outside of our walls and our self-imposed limits.  I am convinced that, through conscious effort, openness and the type of experimentation reflected by these initiatives, Reform Judaism can and will be a vital part of Judaism for the long run.  And of course, I see our congregation as being at forefront of this effort.

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