The Nones and ‘Nature Religion’

A hiker descends Mt Hood on an unusually calm and clear January day. (Monty Smith)
A hiker descends Mt Hood on an unusually calm and clear January day. (Monty Smith)

The white sun rises above Mt. Hood, peeking into your bedroom, beckoning you into the crisp weekend air. You can probably squeeze in a hike before the sun starts to feel uncomfortably toasty.

But—oh—it’s Sunday, a few of you think. Am I going to church this morning?

A bird chirps, and you glance longingly out the window.

Nope.

It should come as no surprise that scholars say good weather dramatically reduces church attendance. Many a pastor has opened a summer sermon with a joke that only the best Christians made it to their seats that morning.

But the story isn’t as simple as nature versus religion, some experts say. Try simply “nature religion.”

Nature religion is engagement with the great outdoors that stirs the soul of the hiker and leaves the rock climber speechless. Nature religion, said Lewis & Clark College professor Susanna Morrill, is experiencing the natural world in a way that feels supernatural.

Morrill, an expert in American religion who has been at Lewis & Clark since 2004, said nature religion is a very individualistic spirituality.

No one describes nature religion better than bygone Portlander Ella Higginson, Morrill said, in her turn of the 20th-century poem “God’s Creed.” An excerpt:

Forgive me that I cannot kneel
And worship in this pew,
For I have knelt in western dawns,
When the stars were large and few,
And the only fonts God gave me were
The deep leaves filled with dew.
And so it is I worship best
With only the soft air
About me, and the sun’s warm gold
Upon my brow and hair;
For then my very heart and soul
Mount upward in swift prayer.

If Catholicism is the faith of the Northeast and Evangelical Christianity the creed of the South, then nature religion, Morrill said, may well be the collective spiritual identity of the Pacific Northwest.

In the Portland metro area, about 42 percent of residents self-identify as religiously unaffiliated, according to the Public Religion Research Institute.

The “nones,” as they’re commonly called, are an amorphous group. In the Portland area, only about 4 percent of residents are atheists, according to the institute’s survey. Roughly 8 percent are agnostic. The other unaffiliated 29 percent said they don’t identify with any particular group.

Our home is where the religious “nones” roam and the skies are cloudy all day.

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SOURCE: Oregon Live
Melissa Binder

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