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LAST UPDATE: Tuesday February 10, 2015 01:10PM EST
- June 05, 2000
- Vol. 53
- No. 22
Keeping the Faith
Losing Your Religion? Rev. Scotty McLennan Says Reconnecting Offers Big Rewards
Do Americans still care about religion?
Yes. More than 90 percent say they believe in God, and 50 percent take part in some sort of religious observance at least once a year. Certainly I find more students saying that they are spiritual. When I came to Tufts 16 years ago, people questioned whether we even needed a chaplain. Since then, Jewish and Protestant services have doubled, and Catholic services have been packing the chapel.
Why do people seek spirituality?
Scientific and technological revolutions and material success have not provided all we've hoped for in making the world a safe, healthy and trustworthy place. We seem to be moving toward ecological disaster, there's been an increase in poverty, and we don't have enough time for family and community. That's left people without a sense of balance and wholeness.
Why don't they simply return to the religion of their childhoods?
There's a real suspicion of institutions and of the clergy because they keep preaching against promiscuity and materialism, then get caught soliciting prostitutes or building financial empires. And mainstream religion can be too concerned with dogma and make demands that seem unreasonable. People typically go through what I call an independent stage in late adolescence and early adulthood when they reject doctrine, demythologize Scripture and look at God as a force or energy instead of as a person.
Often, as people develop careers, they begin to ask whether their life has meaning. Between 35 and 40 they often come to a more nuanced understanding of God. They can understand God intellectually and at the same time pray and draw inspiration. Very few people reach the final mystical stage in which they see God in all things and all things in God.
Why do you encourage people to follow an established faith and not mix different religious practices?
In the long run, I don't think spiritual depth is possible by grafting together different traditions that are not fully experienced or understood. It's like thinking you can learn a foreign language without learning the vocabulary or grammar or speaking with other native speakers. It takes work and discipline. Like anything that's worthwhile, there will be moments of discouragement. But I don't want people to think religion is all dour and sour. Don't forget to have fun along the way.
Speaking of which, you do look like Doonesbury's Rev. Sloan. Any other similarities?
He is a liberal, politically active character who has gotten into the same issues—the sanctuary movement, the antiapartheid movement, getting one's Web page up as a chaplain—though usually before I have. I would hope that he's a little more simplistic than I am. But Garry never consults me about this.
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