Someone once said, “Give me the making of the songs of a nation and I care not who writes its laws.” In his book Can Man Live Without God, Ravi Zacharias gives the context of this quote, stating that these words “not only divulge a major cultural access point to our contemporary mind-set, but also acknowledge the extraordinary control of song lyrics upon the moods and convictions of the young, who are embattled by the tug of so many allurements.”
This thought resonates with me. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen the truth of it played out in my life and the lives of those around me. I and so many of my generation are having our ideologies and worldviews shaped by the philosophies of the latest pop sensations. What do the songs of today tell us about our culture, our contemporary mindset, and the convictions of our youth and young adults?
There is one song in particular that I can’t get out of my head, which aptly describes the convictions of my generation and the generations following me. It’s on the radio constantly; the depth of the message hidden in a catchy, upbeat tune. The song is “Some Nights.” Sung by the band FUN, the lyrics are anything but fun. They capture the struggle to find purpose and meaning in this life.
Some nights, I stay up cashing in my bad luck
Some nights, I call it a draw
Some nights, I wish that my lips could build a castle
Some nights, I wish they’d just fall off
But I still wake up, I still see your ghost
Oh Lord, I’m still not sure what I stand for oh
What do I stand for? What do I stand for?
Most nights, I don’t know anymore…
Well, some nights, I wish that this all would end
Cause I could use some friends for a change
And some nights, I’m scared you’ll forget me again
Some nights, I always win, I always win…
No. When I see stars, when I see, when I see stars, that’s all they are…
Well, that is it guys, that is all – five minutes in and I’m bored again
Ten years of this, I’m not sure if anybody understands
This one is not for the folks at home; Sorry to leave, mom, I had to go
Who… wants to die alone all dried up in the desert sun?
These words ring with sadness, pain, and the longing for meaning. They speak of the desire for something bigger than self, yet reach the apathetic, or maybe bitter, resignation that this is as good as it gets.
Last week the internet was abuzz with the latest Pew Forum poll that showed one-in-five Americans now claim no religious affiliation. The document’s official title, “Nones” on the Rise, begins with the following statement.
“The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace. One-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling.”
It is staggering to think that 1-in-3 of my generation considers themselves as having no religion. But what staggers me even more is that of those 30%, 88% say they are not looking for a religion. When I hear these statistics contrasted with the longings expressed in songs like “Some Nights,” I’m left with the conviction that the song’s question, so common in my generation, paints a different picture. What do we stand for? According to the song and current statistics many of us are not really sure, and we’re not sure we really care or want to find out.
But is this true? Are we really unsure what we stand for? Can any of us really have no religion? Is it possible not to look for a religion that “would be right for you?” I’d like to suggest that the answer to these questions is no.
While it is possible to claim no affiliation to Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc. it is not possible to claim no religion or religious affiliation at all. This is something the Pew Forum’s poll itself admits. In the preface to the full report it’s emphasized that the term “Nones” has become the popular way social scientific journals and the media have referred to those who claim to be atheists, agnostics, or have no particular religious affiliation. Furthermore, it’s emphasized that,
“The absence of a religious affiliation does not necessarily indicate an absence of religious beliefs or practices. On the contrary, as the report makes clear, most of the “nones” say they believe in God, and most describe themselves as religious, spiritual or both.”
The label “None” is misleading both to those who don’t read the full report as well as those who would label themselves in the “None” category. We’re led to believe by this little word that it’s possible to have no religion. But is it?
The Oxford Dictionary defines religion as:
- the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods
- a particular system of faith and worship
- a pursuit or interest followed with great devotion
According to this definition we all have a religion, whether we acknowledge it or not. “Nones” may not believe in a personal God or worship at an established place, but that in no way negates religion. What do they believe in? Is it money, power, sex or pleasure? Or is it social justice, environmental care, science, and human expression? What do they follow with great devotion? What are they basing their meaning on? These are not just questions about life, love, and the pursuit of happiness. They are insights to our belief systems and what we worship; because we all worship something. We may not worship God, but we all worship.
Furthermore, is it correct to say that “Nones” are not seeking religion? The fact that we ask ourselves “What do we stand for?” says no. Where do you look for meaning? That is your religion. Where do you seek significance? That is what you worship. What do you stand for? If nothing else, you at least stand for yourself. If you worship nothing else, you adhere to the Religion of Me. The question that needs to be asked is if the religion we adhere to is a good one.
Interestingly enough, Jesus has much to say to the “Nones” of today. The human heart hasn’t changed much in the past 2000 years. Once speaking to his disciples he said,
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”
These words are counter-cultural but profound. What do you stand for? Here Jesus is saying that if you stand for yourself, you’ll lose everything. But if you stand for Christ, letting him define truth and life for you, you’ll gain everything.
At another time Jesus posed the question that’s just as relevant today as it was when he first spoke it. “What are you seeking?” In a few simple words composed into a simple question, Jesus confronted the profound reality of the human heart. We are all on a search, “Nones” included. What and where are we searching? We’re all thirsty; thirsty for meaning, hope, and something to stand for. We need to ask ourselves if we’re searching for water in the right place. Again, the words of Jesus speak profoundly into our search.
“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”
The polls tell me more and more of my generation are claiming the Religion of None with no inclination to seek anything different. Yet culture and life experience tell me we’re thirsty for meaning and purpose while slowly dying alone “all dried up in the desert sun.”
Jesus offers us meaning and something to stand for. The question then becomes, do we want what he has to offer?
 Some Nights lyrics: http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/fun/somenights.html; http://www.ournameisfun.com/
 ‘Nones’ on the Rise, http://www.pewforum.org/uploadedFiles/Topics/Religious_Affiliation/Unaffiliated/NonesOnTheRise-full.pdf, p. 9
 Ibid, p. 10
 Ibid, p. 7