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Asking the clergy: What does your faith offer those who are religiously unaffiliated?

Americans are guaranteed freedom of religion, but nowadays many people are opting for freedom from religion. As one gauge, the percentage of people who self-identify as atheists or agnostics, or say their religion is "nothing in particular," has increased to almost a quarter of the U.S. adult population, according to a recent Pew Research Center study. That is up from 16 percent eight years ago. This week's clergy discuss how they would preach to the so-called "nones" -- shorthand for people with no religious affiliation.


Rabbi Ben Herman, Jericho Jewish Center, Jericho:

The beauty of Judaism is that there is something for everyone in it. Judaism's belief, as illustrated in the end of Chapter 5 of Ethics of the Fathers, an early rabbinical work, is that everything is in the Torah. There are Jewish teachings on how to conduct yourself in business, how to create sacred relationships with those around you and even on how to fulfill your partner's sexual needs. While many are not religious, most are searching for meaning in life as well as belonging to a community. These are universal desires, which are at the center of what Judaism is about.

At the same time, Judaism recognizes that there are 70 faces to the Torah; there are multiple interpretations as to what texts mean and that we should strive to find the one most personally meaningful to our life. One of the highest Jewish values is k'vod habriyot, to treat every human with dignity and respect. This is true regardless of one's gender, age, religion or sexual orientation. My goal is to foster positive experiences with those around me, bringing empathy and a listening ear into every encounter. At the Jericho Jewish Center, we offer Hiking and Halacha, which is an opportunity to enjoy nature while sharing in a short teaching on spirituality. We also have Shabbat at Theodore Roosevelt Beach as an opportunity to engage in community in a beautiful, family-centered environment while the sun is setting. In addition, we have a "Friday Night Live" musical Shabbat service led by both children and adults. Our goal is to foster meaningful and engaging relationships, both inside and outside the synagogue walls.


The Rev. Joan Grimm Fraser, rector, Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Hicksville:

The Episcopal Church offers a spiritual home where all are welcome. For religiously unaffiliated Americans who grew up in a Christian tradition, the Episcopal Church is a "crossroads church" where people from many different parts of Christianity find themselves at home spiritually. We welcome people of all affiliations and orientations. Our faith is from both Celtic and Roman Christianity, which gives a rich heritage for us to draw from. We are called to love God and to love others as Christ has loved us. Our worship is liturgically centered, with all of the sacraments available. Our faith is grounded in Holy Scripture, tradition and what we call "right reason" (which includes modern science and psychology). Along with worship, good fellowship and rejoicing in the day that God has made are part of our life and faith. Our faith directly leads us to work for social justice and the dignity of all people, both locally and in the larger community. Our lay people, as well as clergy, have a representative say in setting policies and canon law in our diocese and in the larger church. Generally, we are gathered in small enough congregations that the clergy have time to be pastoral with people and with their extended family and friends as needed. For those who grew up without a religious affiliation, we are also a welcoming spiritual home. Theology, the study of God-related issues, for us is an arena where it is OK to ask questions, and where we explore the issues of life, death and the universe together.


Nimai Pandit, president, Hare Krishna Temple, Freeport:

We don't believe in organized religion. The main reason that people are turning away from organized religion is that they are finding that their religionists or priests are not living what they preach. The basic tenet of our belief is, sthane sthitah sruti gatam, a Sanskrit phrase which means, "Stay in your position and hear about God." Our Acharya [spiritual teache, Srila Prabhupada, translated ancient Sanskrit scriptures into English and wrote about 80 books. His main instruction to all was that one should first of all learn the "Science of God" by reading, studying and implementing in our lives the lessons in the scriptures. Otherwise one will get cheated. He recommended that one consult with the temple priests like me for clearing doubts, but to not depend on us. If you want to be trained, you can come for a few years or months and then you go back to your life, with that training. Be independently thoughtful. The concept is that each one of us has a direct, personal relationship with God. All others can only help or enhance that; we don't need to depend on anyone else to get to God. Most people don't have the impetus to know about God, or to develop the forgotten relationship with God because of so much materialism around. Hence it is the Vedic tradition to go out and tell people about God, to remind them to take up this process of knowing about God, but in their own lives. As per the scriptures, we sing the names of God so that people are reminded about God in an attractive manner.

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