In my last official act as fill-in religion columnist for the Charlotte Observer, I would like to make the following announcement:
The Ten Commandments need a footnote.
I’d put it under No. 9 – “Thou shall not lie” – and here’s what it would say:
Nor shall ye put great weight on statistics, which in many cases may be numerically sound but don’t quite capture the truth.
With apologies to the authors of the Old Testament (who always get the last word), here’s why it’s needed:
During my 15 months writing about faith, I’ve pored through plenty of numbers that show church attendance at an all-time low while suspicions of organized religion continue to grow.
Both findings may be grounded in statistical concrete. But I’ve come to believe that they miss the larger point. Which is this:
The search for spirituality is everywhere.
Sometimes it takes place in a church or synagogue. Sometimes it finds another outlet. Regardless, around here it remains an essential part of everyday life.
When I looked, I found it in the raucous techno-worships at Elevation Church but also on a Tryon Street bench, where “Prodigal James,” a homeless man, reads his Bible.
It was there when Warren Howell talked about losing his son and when David Kuo told me how his relationship with God and his family were changed by a brain tumor that kept coming back.
The spiritual hunt drove Donald Dover to a West Virginia campground revival where he watched a friend and fellow minister handle the rattlesnake that fatally struck him. While we talked about his friend’s death, Dover had a question for me: “Why is it so dramatic for a person to believe what he believes?”
Sometimes it isn’t so dramatic. But for this novice religion reporter, it never stopped being vital and honest.
Most of us are driven to connect with our souls, our better selves. I saw that pursuit take myriad forms and paths. All of them, I believe, were sincere.
That doesn’t mean they arrived at the same place.
During the election year, the line between church and state appeared trampled into dust.
North Carolina debated and passed a marriage amendment, and people purportedly worshipping the same God lined up on opposing sides.
The presidential campaign rekindled debates on whether Mormons – and the sitting president – are indeed Christians.
The country elected Barack Obama. So far the curtain on the temple has remained intact.
In the end, the good news for you readers is that the Faith & Values beat returns to my longtime friend Tim Funk, who took the year off to cover presidential politics. The bad news for me is that our conversation about how spirituality affects so much in our secular world has come to an end.
I thank you for your time, your graciousness, even your criticism.
Maybe we’ll talk again as my next writing job with the Observer takes shape.
To that I’ll add a final word.