All The Lonely People, Where Do They All Come From? – OpEd


William Donohue points out in an article in Eurasia Review (May 9, 2023) that all recent surveys show that young people today are the loneliest people in the nation. A poll by the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School found that nearly 47 percent of 18-to-29 year olds reported “feeling down, depressed, or hopeless,” The poll further disclosed that 44 percent have been bothered by loneliness for at least several days in the last few weeks.”

This is consistent with the findings of a 2019 survey that found that Loneliness scores [based on the UCLA Loneliness Scale] rose among the younger generations, with the youngest generation, Gen Z, feeling the loneliest.” Millennials were runner-ups.

We know from many studies that the most lonely people are also the least religious, and vice versa. In a study taken last year by the Survey Center of American Life of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), it concluded that “Generation Z is the least religious generation yet.” 

Indeed, 34 percent of them are religiously unaffiliated. Moreover, 18 percent identify as either agnostic or atheist (split evenly between the two). “In contrast, only 9 percent of baby boomers and 4 percent of the silent generation [those in their eighties and nineties] identify as atheist or agnostic.” Not surprisingly, the AEI study also found that Generation Z was the most likely to say they were lonely, followed by Millennials.

A Gallup poll taken during May 1-24, 2023 found that the percentage of Americans who believe in hell and the devil has edged downward by three to five percentage points since 2016. Still most Americans believe in hell 59% and in the devil 58%. However, nearly three in 10 Americans do not believe in hell or the devil. Very few Jews believe in hell or the devil, and those who do are mostly Ultra-Orthodox Jews. 

Many of those who have left Christianity because they reject the idea of a devil will look for a more optimistic religion, and I believe that in the next two decades will see a major religious revival if the leaders of today’s religions will be open to the desire of young people for religions whose beliefs respect other faiths; and do not claim to be an exclusive we have the ‘only truth’ or ‘only approved by God’ religion.

Latinos are a good example of religious choice making. A recent nationwide survey, conducted September 17–26, 2022 in English and Spanish, queried 1,000 Latino registered voters, found that 48% identified as Catholic, 25% as Protestant, 1% as Muslim, 1% as Jewish and 18% said they didn’t identify with any religion. 

A sign of the coming religious revival is the National Catholic Educational Association’s  announcement that nationwide US enrollment in Catholic schools increased by 62,000 to about 1.68 million students, marking the first increase in two decades and the largest jump it has recorded in at least five decades. 

Also, 30% of young people say their faith grew stronger during the pandemic according to a Springtide Research Institute poll; 18% said their faith became  weaker, and 8% said they lost faith completely, 38% stayed the same and 5% said they were searching for or had already found another religion. 

And in the UK the Liberal Jewish movement is experiencing a surge in conversions to Judaism with community leaders saying the pandemic has made people reflect more on faith. Some of the new applicants are motivated by traditional reasons, such as a Jewish partner. But many have little previous Jewish connection. Liberal Judaism reports that 139 people registered to go through its conversion process last year. The number is double the 2019 total of 70, and a significant rise on the 93 registering in 2020. About half had some Jewish ancestry, half no previous connection at all.

This is especially important for America’s Islamic and Jewish leaders because non-Orthodox Judaism and moderate Islam are strong proponents of Religious Pluralism: “Indeed, the believers, Jews, Christians, and Sabians—whoever believes in God and the Last Day and does good will have their reward with their Lord. And there will be no fear for them, nor will they grieve.” (Quran 2:62)

A survey of over 35,000 Americans in 2008 found that most Americans agree with the statement: many religions – not just their own – can lead to eternal life. Among those affiliated with some religious tradition, seven-in-ten say many religions can lead to eternal life.

This view is shared by most adherents in nearly all religious traditions, including 82% of Jews, 79% of Catholics, 57% of evangelical Protestants, and 56% of Muslims. (From U.S. Religious Landscape Survey 2008, Pew Research Center.)

Thus, in the 21st century, in the United States, most Christians, Jews, and Muslims have rejected the ‘only one truth’ religious mindset and believe in the Qur’an’s pluralism teachings: “For every one of you did We appoint a law and a way. If Allah had wanted, He could have made you one people, but (He didn’t) that He might test you in what He gave you. Therefore compete with one another to hasten to do virtuous deeds; for all return to Allah (for judgment), so He will let you know [about] that in which you differed.” [5:48]

A total of 85 percent of Americans perform “some kind of spiritual practice to connect with a higher power,” such as prayer, meditation and spiritually based yoga. Nearly eight in 10 Americans consider themselves to be religious or spiritual, according to the survey carried out in early May 2023. The poll found that 61 percent of Americans say they pray. Among those who pray, 70 percent do so to connect with God, 45 percent to feel less anxious or depressed, and 41 percent to find solutions to their problems.

It is time for non-Orthodox Jews to expand their outreach programs to the increasing number of ex-Christians in North America. For example, the long, slow decline of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination continues as membership in the Southern Baptist Convention was down by nearly half a million in 2022, according to the denomination report. Once a denomination of 16.3 million, the SBC has declined by 1.5 million members since 2018, and by more than 3 million members since 2006. 

It is essential to understand that ‘religious pluralism is the will of God’ differs from religious, moral, or cultural relativism. Relativism teaches that all values and standards are subjective, and therefore there is no higher spiritual authority available for setting ethical standards or making moral judgments.

Thus, issues of justice, truth, or human rights are, like beauty, just in the eye of the beholder. Most people, especially those who believe that One God created all of us, refuse to believe that ethics and human rights are simply a matter of taste. Religious pluralism as the will of God is the opposite of cultural or philosophical relativism.

The fundamental idea of supporting religious pluralism is that religious people need to embrace humility in many religious areas. All religions have always taught a traditional anti self – centered personal egoism type of humility.

Religious pluralism also opposes a religious, philosophical, and self-righteous intellectual egoism that promotes a tendency to turn our legitimate love for our prophet and Divine revelation into universal truths that we fully understand and know how to apply. Religious pluralism teaches that finite humans, even the most intelligent and pious of them, can not fully understand everything the way the infinite One does.

This is true, for every human being, even for God’s messengers themselves. When prophet Moses, “who God spoke with face to face, as a person speaks with a friend” (Exodus 33:11) asks to see God face to face, he is told, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see My face and live.” (33:20)

Similarly, in the Qur’an prophet Jesus admits to God, “You know everything that is within myself, whereas I do not know what is within Yourself”. (5:116)

And when Prophet Jesus was asked, in private, by his disciples, “What will be the sign for your coming (back) and the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3) Jesus warns his disciples about upheavals and false Messiahs that will come. Then Jesus concluded by saying, “But about that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, not even the son: only the Father.” (24:36)

A similar statement was made by Prophet Muhammad when he was asked, “Tell me about the Hour”. He said: “The one questioned about it knows no better than the questioner.” (Muslim Book 1 Hadith 1&4)

God taught the general principle of epistemological humility through his Prophet who taught his followers, “I am no novelty among the messengers. I do not know what will be done to me, or to you.” (Qur’an 46:9) In truth, the only universal truth should be the humility to admit: “Only God knows.”

As the Jewish Prophet Joel (2:28-29 and (Acts 2:16) make clear: “After all of this I will pour out my Spirit on all kinds of people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your elderly will have prophetic dreams; and your young men will see visions. Even on male and female servants I will pour out my Spirit in those days”

The Qur’an refers to Prophet Abraham as a community or a nation: “Abraham was a nation-community [Ummah]; dutiful to God, a monotheist [hanif], not one of the polytheists.” (16:120) If Prophet Abraham is an Ummah; then fighting between the descendants of Prophets Ishmael and Isaac is a civil war and should always be avoided. And prior to the 20th century Arabs and Jews never did make war with each other. 

If all Arabs and Jews can live up to the ideal that ‘the descendants of Abraham’s sons should never make war against each other’ is the will of God; we will help fulfill the 2700 year old vision of Prophet Isaiah: “In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt, and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. In that day Israel  will join a three-party alliance with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing upon the heart. The LORD of Hosts will bless them saying, “Blessed be Egypt My people, Assyria My handiwork, and Israel My inheritance.”…(Isaiah 19:23-5)

Finally: “Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west, but [true] righteousness is [in] one who believes in Allah, the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets; and gives wealth despite love for it to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveler, those who ask [for help], and for freeing slaves; [and who] establishes prayer and gives zakah; [those who] fulfill their promise when they promise; and [those who] are patient in poverty and hardship and during battle. Those are the ones who have been true, and it is those who are the righteous.” (Quran 2:177)

Most of us cannot ignore the global threats that are constantly reported in the news. But rather than seeking comfort in conspiracy theories or polarized thinking, we can strive to make the world around us a better place by increasing our participation in positive political and religious activities. 

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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