They Call Us the "Nones," But We're So Much More

Friday, August 1, 2014 - 5:05am
Photo by John Cary

They Call Us the "Nones," But We're So Much More

One fifth of the U.S. public — and a third of adults under 30 — are religiously unaffiliated, the highest percentages ever according to the Pew Research Center.

They call us the “nones.”

I gotta tell ya, I don’t love the idea of my spiritual life being defined by an absence rather than a presence. Sure, I’m not Catholic, not Buddhist, not Muslim. But I am a lot of things…

I was a girl who — at 11 years old — wrote a letter to then President George W. Bush that said, "I understand that war is not pretty, but is there a way to make it bearable? I am trying to tell you that I, along with millions of other people, would very much appreciate it if there were as few causalities as possible. That means both American and Iraq [sic] people. I know that there must be some, but please, let’s try to keep the number down."

I was a teenager who painted Lauryn Hill lyrics and e.e. cummings poems and quotations on the inside of my closet doors, including this one by a little known nun named Mary Lou Kownacki that still accompanies every single email I send out into the universe:

“Engrave this upon your heart: there isn't anyone you couldn't love once you heard their story.”

I was a college student who became all but obsessed with political theory, because of an inspired professor (isn’t it always, that?) who made Plato’s “examined life” and Rousseau’s ideas about the social contract and King’s about the “beloved community” come alive in a packed lecture hall filled with wide-eyed young women with sweaty iced coffees and spiral notebooks. (I am so grateful I went to college before it became customary to bring laptops to class.)

I was a young woman who spent much of my 20s thinking that maybe I was meant to go to divinity school, in large part because I couldn’t figure out where people were having conversations about the “examined life” after they walked across graduation stages to grasp their overpriced diplomas. Then I sat in on a few classes at Union Theological Seminary and realized that I didn’t actually care about the history of the Bible, as much as I wished that I did. I just wanted to talk about how to live a meaningful life with smart, kind people.

I was a newbie writer who stumbled into a big, fancy book deal while the rest of my starving artist friends were, well, still starving and the isolation was terrifying. To counter it, I created the Secret Society for Creative Philanthropy — giving ten of my friends $100 and asking them to give it away in some thoughtful, creative way and then come together one month later to tell the tale. The “beloved community” — it turns out — sometimes gathers in bars and shouts over the crowd about making $100 worth of lasagna, giving taxi drivers insanely large tips, and realizing that this kind of generosity is less about the money and more about the actually seeing other people part.

The author with her daughter Maya.

I am a new mother. Giving birth to a baby almost eight months ago was the most spiritual experience I’ve ever had. My reality crashed into the miraculous, not in one fell swoop, but in nine-plus months of curiosity, bewilderment, and a strange but undeniable craving for gummy worms. Then the world cracked open and Maya came through. Her wrinkled nose smile followed shortly, as did her default disposition of absolute delight.

I am a woman who lives in Oakland in a co-housing community built on the foundational idea of “radical hospitality.” It’s wildly intergenerational. Louise, well into her 70s, can be spotted crossing the courtyard with beans sticking out of her pockets (she’s the keeper of all garden smarts) and Jack, almost a year old, is just learning to stumble along toward the blackberries that Louise so lovingly tends. Our neighborhood is part corner stores and wig shops and part hipster coffee shops and yoga studios; in the mix of it all, I find so much to delight in and worry about (no, I’m not using the word gentrification because I think it’s become a closing rather than an opening). We re-negotiate the “social contract” here every day through tiny, intentional acts — feeding one another’s pets, loving one another’s children, smiling at the old dudes who sit outside of the donut shop each morning.

The texture of my spiritual life may not fit into labels that pollsters or politicians understand, but I’m not not religious. I’m deeply drawn to conversations about what makes an ethical, meaningful life, about race and gender and class and everything else that defines us and makes us wounded and strong. I am desperate to understand how to live in a way that reflects my values, how to be good to the people I love, how to stay awake.

Sometimes I’m judgmental (a hallmark of religiosity, no?) and I often wake up in the middle of the night flooded with anxiety. (I can’t help but notice this happens when I’m taking myself too damn seriously.) But I try to acknowledge both ugly emotions when they arrive and then wish them on their way. As a million wiser people than me have already asserted, it’s gratitude that seems to be the best antidote to the whole range of my less attractive states. I meditate erratically. I pray frequently. I wonder constantly.

That’s who you will find here each week on Friday — someone who doesn’t affiliate with one religion but affiliates with the burden and joy of trying to understand how to be a good human. I hope it will be more of a conversation than a monologue. I can’t wait to meet you.

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Courtney E. Martin

is a columnist for On Being. Her column appears every Friday.

Her newest book, The New Better Off: Reinventing the American Dream, explores how people are redefining the American dream (think more fulfillment, community, and fun, less debt, status, and stuff). Courtney is the co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network and a strategist for the TED Prize. She is also co-founder and partner at Valenti Martin Media and FRESH Speakers Bureau, and editor emeritus at

Courtney has authored/edited five books, including Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists, and Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: How the Quest for Perfection is Harming Young Women. Her work appears frequently in The New York Times and The Washington Post. Courtney has appeared on the TODAY Show, Good Morning America, MSNBC, and The O’Reilly Factor, and speaks widely at conferences and colleges. She is the recipient of the Elie Wiesel Prize in Ethics and a residency from the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Centre. She lives with her partner in life and work, John Cary, in Oakland, and their daughters Maya and Stella. Read more about her work at

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Dear Courtney,

I look forward to this conversation with you.

58 year old grandma, recent college graduate, and future volunteer who wants to touch a small part of the world!

As a 57 year old man raised "in the church" as we say in the south. My dogma was ran over by life experience. But God however you meet him/her is still that inner dialog that I've always had. I have much hope for this generation.

Courtney, I'd be interested to learn whether you've ever been part of a Unitarian Universalist congregation. If so, what was your experience like? If not, what are the barriers? Thanks!

Hi Peter, many people have asked me this and I so I actually went to the UU church in Oakland with Maya (her first experience of church). It was lovely, but somehow left me unhooked. Too earnest maybe? The sermon was underwhelming. I can't quite put my finger on it, but it didn't feel like my place. Which is not to say I won't try again there or somewhere else...

I LOVE the UU values around social justice, of course.

Not all UU's are the same. If you're ever in the Twin Cities consider visiting WBLUUC, you may encounter an experience that will be remembered. I moved away, and miss it. I so resonate with this column. Thank you! I'm 53, raised Lutheran, burned out on the "doing" of organized religion. I broke open to a wider perspective of Being, my heart still seeks to be compassionate and giving, I pray, I meditate and I yearn to learn and grow from the people and places I encounter. I practice gratitude.

While I don't know anything about UU Oakland, I used to attend UU Berkeley. Thirty years and several states later, I am still a UU-er thanks to that warm, intelligent congregation. It's the only place I've found where people truly care about the examined life, and consistently practice examining and discussing life. -mym

Wow. I am floored by the way you articulate your story, Courtney. And I'm excited to be reading your posts every week! What you're writig about here are the same topics that I find most engaging and life-giving. And, mind you, I'm the churchy person who is sick of hearing churchy complaints on these topics. I hope to change the tone of the conversation in my context, and so I'll be grateful if you'll let me share your perspectives with the people I'm talking with!

I'd be so grateful if you'd share my perspective with your community, Tom. Thank you so much.

Very pleased to meet you Courtney.

Courtney, I find your voice refreshing. As a R.C. priest who left active ministry, I find your perspective gives me hope. Thank you! I look forward to the continued conversation!

How to be a good human being says so much. Striving for that myself. Welcome! Look forward to reading your column. You are working with great people.

All said and done many a greatest acts of kindness have been done in the name of religion.. Like Mother Teresa... There's no denying that... Faith gives a lot of us strength to be our best... In fact for some being religious is freeing in a lot of ways... It's what being spiritual means...But the scary part is that it brings about the worst in some..In the present day we may never have a world without borders politically and faith based speaking ... All the wars I've known are a result of the notion of calling ourselves something or being or not being "in or out" of "a" border..The easiest way to be a global citizen /human is having no borders in my mind unaffiliated or in infinity speak call it all-affiliated ..for me for now .. I cannot bring myself to the confines of any one way...

I love your way of examining and embracing life. The church is the community where I first (and still) experience "the beloved community" on a consistent basis...even with all our misses!

I am a boomer but I so identify with what you express here. So glad to hear your voice!

This is exactly where I am in life, except I haven't yet found the place where people have "conversations about the 'examined life' after they walked across graduation stages to grasp their overpriced diplomas." I don't think divinity school would be a fit for me either, for the exact reason you stated.

I'm grateful for and look forward to this continuing conversation!

What a wonderful addition you are to an already fabulous group! Yes please, more Thursdays!

I had to post your quote, “Engrave this upon your heart: there isn't anyone you couldn't love once you heard their story.” on my Facebook page, saying that it's now my very favorite quote, replacing "silence is the voice of complicity". Thank you for sharing that.

I'm absolutely delighted that Courtney will be appearing here each week! We've been colleagues and friends for 8 years. She constantly amazes me not only with her knowledge, skill and insight but with her way of "putting wheels on her ideas"—always in the service of others. I'm 75, and I deeply value the way Courtney has helped me understand the hopes and fears of her generation. She's also introduced me to some of its most engaged and engaging members—amazing people who give me hope, with whom I now work. When Courtney's book, "Do It Anyway" came out, I called her "one of our most insightful culture critics and one of our finest young writers." On Being's readers are very lucky to have her on board! Full disclosure: Courtney serves on the board of the Center for Courage & Renewal, a non-profit I founded. But that doesn't make me biased—that just says more about Courtney's many gifts!

As you know I'm already a huge fan. As a non-academic, the first one in my family on either side to even attempt college and actually graduate, the world of smart people is an ever constant challenge but one I seek all of the time. I'm drawn to whatever you say because you make me think but also because in your writing I've experienced a spiritual woman who embraces life with questions, observations and a deep love for others. Discovering that you'll be a regular On Being columnist made my day today!

Thanks, as always, for your support Jane!

At age 62, a PK (preacher's kid), I find myself a radical, reluctant to identify myself a Christian because I'm afraid people will think of me as one of the crazies, affiliated with a traditional protestant denomination - but loosely - deep into prison ministry as the perfection of Christian outreach.

This post articulated a childhood very similar to my own. It's exciting to see someone speaking for the more thoughtful, less heard from portion of young voices. Congratulations on the new column. I'm thankful for the opportunity to follow it.



P.S. I just saw Lauryn Hill in concert, and my inner 11-year-old couldn't sit still from the jubilation I felt when she performed "To Zion."

Consider me considerably jealous re Lauryn Hill! I saw her in concert when I was 16 and she freestyle rapped about women and self respect and I've never forgotten it.

:-). Thanks for sharing.

Dear Courtney,
Congratulations and best wishes- you are in the right place.

Honestly, this is the first time in a decade that I've read something I've written and found that the comment section was constructive and generous. Thank you all! (I write frequently for places like CNN, where the comment section somehow surfaces the worst of humanity.)

Which is not to say that I don't want criticism and/or constructive feedback in this space. I'm one of those people who believes that we all need way more well-intentioned, clear feedback (myself included).

I do look forward to getting to know all of you through the column. Please feel free to suggest topics etc. And thank you again for the warm welcome!

Although I am 80, your story could be mine...without the writing ability. The birth of a son John who taught me that I could love unconditionally and then his crib death at 10 months taught me that surviving the unsurvivable proved to me the existence of Something beyond me. Your writings help me possibly better understand the 12 grandchildren. Thank you

Wow, I am so sorry for your loss (the depth of it feels close since Maya is inching towards 9 months) and awed at your resilience. I do hope I can get you insight into your grandchildren!

Beautiful Courtney. Such refreshing honesty! You are a perfect example of the new, truest religion...speaking from your heart.
There is no god, and she is always with us.
Thank you!

Oh I like you Courtney. You said it so well. I am right there with you and almost 60.

Thank you, Ms. Martin! Welcome to "On Being." I loved your comment about sitting in on seminary classes and realizing that you "didn’t actually care about the history of the Bible, as much as I wished that I did. I just wanted to talk about how to live a meaningful life with smart, kind people." I sat in on 3 yrs of those classes (at Union), and graduated, and have been a pastor for 25 yrs and realize that I feel the same way still! Blessings to you and all who follow "On Being."

Dear Courtney,

Closing your wonderfully fresh and honest paragraphs with a the word "gratitude" resounds in my heart. Yes, there are so many reasons for concern in our world, and so many ways we can and must respond with creativity and compassion. And yet gratitude seems the key to moving from burden and resentment to the reminder that life itself is a gift.

Looking forward to reading many more of your blogs!


May your post be the beginning of a long and thoughtful conversation. I hope to read more of your writing. (from a "boomer" as you appear to be interested in generational differences in proclaimed faith.) I wonder if you, and other boomers, relate to any of the "labels" that are out there - humanist, secular humanist, agnostic, atheist. Or writers who help approach ancient traditions from a wisdom and direction approach instead of a religious or doctrinal approach - such as Thich Nhat Hanh for Buddhism; or John Dominic Crossan for Christianity (or even our founding father Thomas Jefferson). What ever happened to the age of enlightenment anyway?

Beautiful piece Courtney! I was just having a conversation about "pluralism" last night with a friend who is struggling to figure out how to navigate how he was raised and what is calling to him. Thank you for this gorgeous storytelling! LOVE YOU!

Thanks so much for your insightful sharing! Much of what you say resonates with my experience and my own inclinations.

And yet, even as I often think as you do, I have chosen to be an affiliated Jew, which is the faith in which I was raised. There is more to being spiritual, for me, than being open to kindness and the wonder of the universe and seeing God in others. I find that being affiliated with a formal religious community provides something yet more for me. Praying in community on a regular basis with people I know well adds a deeper texture to my spiritual experience. The community provides education and religious guidance for my daughter, as well as a sense of community.

Of course, formal religious structures can be stifling of spirituality. And worse, they sometimes have (and continue to) support extreme views that lead to hate and wars, or suppress the freedom of their own members or those who are not co-religionists.

I hear these negatives stated by many of my unaffiliated friends as reasons why they do not belong to a church or synagogue. But these are not inevitable outcomes of affiliation. There are many churches, synagogues, and mosques that preach the best values of their religions. They need to be supported.

Perhaps my view is influenced by being a member of a minority religion. There are so few affiliated Jews in the world that I fear our religion may lose its dynamism in the not too distant future. I think the world would be a much poorer place if churches, synagogues, and mosques began to disappear due to a lack of interest in affiliation. My wish is that religious institutions find ways to be meaningful for the unaffiliated, and also that the unaffiliated (but spiritual) folks find the meaning that already resides in these religious institutions. These institutions are not perfect, for sure, but they can become a whole lot more dynamic and responsive when invigorated by seekers.

My roots are Mennonite but so much of me is "none." The practice of being grateful everyday is so important for my contentment and well being in this big old world. Looking forward to more from you.

You describe where you live as a "wildly intergenerational" co-housing community. As a 66-year old whose parents both ended up in nursing homes, as did my mother-in-law, I am painfully aware of how these facilities are very close to being "warehouses" for those in failing health. I believe, though, that my generation, many of whom lived in "hippy communes" in the 60s and early 70s, will return to such living environments, which will support a variety of residents with various skills, some nurses, maybe even some doctors, some people with technical skills or fix-it skills. See these articles:Seniors Creating Community and New Era for Long-Term Health Care

You may have heard of the Sunday Assembly, with the motto "live better, help often, wonder more." I participate in my local SA, and our members continue to struggle with labels. Some media have called it "atheist church" which doesn't help. I'd be very interested to hear what you think better descriptors and labels might be that capture what those like us are "for" versus what we are "against." Humanist may be the closest, but I wonder if there is something better.

Thank you so much for the reminder. Somewhere along the way I caught wind of SA, but I forgot and now I see there is one in the East Bay. I just might go check it out next time they have a gathering!

This read just brings me to think of not only you Courtney, as a woman filled with love and wonder, but prompts to remember to do the same....each and everyday. I LOVED THIS!!!

Of course I relate to each and every word you wrote and I look forward to gettng to know you as you continue to share who you are and what you are thinking and feeeling. And , indeed, we're so much more!

I am also delighted that Courtney will be appearing here on the On Being site on Fridays. I have loved and followed her insightful work for several years now. I love your honest and clear eyed view of the complexity of modern spirituality. As a songwriter who writes a great deal about finding the sacred in our daily lives, I appreciate your words about finding connection with something larger than ourselves. A deepening spiritual practice can express itself in so many ways. It expresses itself sometimes in traditional spiritual community, or in our encounters with the natural world. It happens in the care and nurture of our deepest loving relationships. I'll be sharing this post and many more to come I'm sure! Thanks Courtney.

Carrie! It's so awesome to find you here, with insightful words, as always. It's been far too long since I last saw you, but your music is with me! Sending love and gratitude for your wisdom and art.

I can relate to what you said about going to divinity school is search of conversations about the "examined life". I've never gone as far as attending divinity school, but I'm always seeking that sort of conversation. None of my religious experiences has quite provided it. Any ideas about where I person can find these conversations, other than in blogs like this? I look forward to reading your thought-provoking articles in the future.

Wonderful! As a Millennial, I am so excited to see this. The vast majority of what is published about us comes from a place of judgement and misunderstanding, so it's about time we had "one of us" to speak for us. Thank you, On Being!!

Wow! Such wisdom and kindness and acceptance in one so young. My husband and I were both brought up in the Catholic tradition. About 20 years ago, we both independently realized we could no longer be practicing catholics. The rules and regulations were too burdensome. Some friends and family members were being hurt by rules that were not Christ-like. The church leaders, being all males, could not seem to accept that over 50 percent of their members are female. Anytime ant organization is so heavily weighted with just one gender, perspective and humanity seems to get lost.
Thank you for being who you are and being so courageous.

1 am 76 and still wondering how to be truly honest and treat everyone with love, kindness, and respect, and not to draw back from anyone. Your blog is great. Thank you so much.

Your mom posted this on Facebook. She and your dad must be so proud of you. I went to grade school with both of them. Really! I didn't know I was a "none" until I read this. I always just tell people I'm big on God, but don't have much use for religion. You know now what took me 50 years to figure out. With people like you out there - there really might be hope for world peace. I am looking forward to reading your future columns as well. You are an inspiration.

Mary Lou has helped me in so many ways. Thank you for bringing her to more people.

I could not feel more in tune, even tho I happen to have stumbled on a religion (Quakers) that permits my belief in a relationship with a higher power both in solitude with spirit and in community with other seekers. Thoughtful, mindful people have much to contribute. Peace is powerful!

Courtney, I am delighted to find your voice this morning. I'm skipping church -- an amazing, open and affirming United Church of Christ congregation where all are welcome, regardless of belief/dogma -- opting to feed my spirit with authentic, soulful writing online and a long walk. I look forward to more from you and I am going to check out your website once I finish typing this comment. Thank you for articulating the richness and fullness of your none-ness!

Wow! Love your words! You are learning early what took me most of my life to learn. I truly resonate with what you're saying and love your honesty and vulnerability. I sometimes wish that I was more true to myself about organized religion earlier in my life but I am here now. Looking forward to reading more from you! It inspires me...

I ove your perspective! When you were wondering about where to go to live a meaningful life with smart kind people, diid you ever consider becoming a psychologist? My wonderings were similar to yours when I was I have been practicing clinical psychology for 20+ years, and I can't imagine not being in the middle of my colleagues who do think and talk about meaning, kindness, and compassion. I am so pleased to see you will be writing to us on this site. Best Wishes. Cynthia

A delightful, thoughtful voice! You asked for topic suggestions: We of the generation that came of age in the 1960's and 1970's were so passionate about our political views and, most importantly, our ability to change society toward our perspective. And, largely, we succeeded: protests and activism to end 1950's conformity and silence, for Civil Rights, ending the Vietnam war, women's rights, environmentalism, sexual freedom, gay rights (we weren't yet aware of Bisexual and Transgender issues). My young friends your age believe they have no power to change anything but local concerns. Numerous articles attest to this. What do you think? This issue, I believe, touches on the quest to examine our lives. Thank you. I eagerly look forward to your columns. .                                                                                         

Courtney, it's great to meet you! I'm a Boomer who became a congregational pastor. I have just retired and am now back home in the mid-South. Along the way I spent five years in Erie, Pennsylvania, where Sisters Mary Lou Kownacki, Joan Chittister and the other amazing nuns at Mt. St. Scholastica taught me much about what Parker Palmer calls the power of paradox. For me, that power includes living a life filled with both contemplation and action.

I first found Sister Mary Lou's words in a devotional booklet at an Erie soup kitchen, where she and other Benedictines loved all kinds of folks every day. Yes, there is no one, I have come to believe through experience, I could not love, if I am willing to stop and listen to their story. When I do that, I have learned, I will discover how much we two human beings have in common.

In my budding retirement I am already asking: What will my religious affiliation now look like? This Fall I want to explore that more intentionally, with folks of all kinds of faith and none. I look forward to and am already grateful for your Friday posts.

Courtney---right here---asking such life-giving questions! I've loved Krista's voice for years. Her ability to exquisitely frame the questions, adjusted for what really matters in this thing called life. To SEE that in every interviewee---seeing a real, living breathing person, always. And you, beautiful wonderer----here's to you, landing, like a new momma life-force on the planet, in the new nest of your belonging! Welcome HERE! I, for one, can't wait to hear you. SEE you. Years ago (yup, I'm a hungry quester, too) I read a book called Everyday Sacred. In it, the author, Sue Bender, elevated
the idea of the empty bowl. A space open, ready, receptive. So, perhaps 'nones' is just that. As in, "Yup---I have good questions and there is nothing in the way"! Sending love and joy, that Krista brought you right here to us---with your best, emerging questions---and bold, beautiful responses!

"They Call Us Nones....." what a great article that seems to have hit the nail on the head! I believe you search for the same thing women in the 50's, 60's and 70's did: "a meaningful life that holds kindness, ethics and surprise" as hallmarks of their existance. So many young girls/ladies entered religious life because that was the platform for women to make a difference in their world. In our current society, I believe young people are not religious, but spiritual beings....still in search of living life well and finding the pearl of great price....that of meaning and mindfulness!

Hey Courtney. Thank you for writing this article, but I I'm a little confused on the (no doubt only peripheral) details. You say that you were 11 years old when you wrote a letter to George W. about the war (and you mention Iraq in the quote of it), which, if memory serves me right would be in the Spring/Summer of 2003. Yet another article of yours () says that you met your husband in college (about 1999). So, I'm a little confused as to your age when you wrote the letter to George W. Any insight on to help clear the confusion? Thanks!

I welcome your contributions and hope they will address ideas about life after death, as well as how to pray when you can't for your life imagine what the being/entity/force you used to call God really is.

Courtney, thank you for your thoughtful reflection. I think our category of religion is too narrow, and that the "none" moniker doesn't do justice to so many seekers.

I do want to respond to this quote: "Then I sat in on a few classes at Union Theological Seminary and realized that I didn’t actually care about the history of the Bible, as much as I wished that I did. I just wanted to talk about how to live a meaningful life with smart, kind people."

Full disclosure: I am a student at Union., and if it weren't for that, I don't know that I would have kenned so readily with this piece, particularly your references to Lauryn Hill, ee cummings, and King's "beloved community". These are all revolutionaries I've learned more about from my peers and my teachers. Biblical and church history have been an important part of my development in my own search for meaning, though I can say with humor that were they the sole or even primary foci of my work here, I'd be quite unfulfilled.

This is all to suggest that many (all?) progressive seminaries embrace (and produce!) "nones/seekers" and that much of what we do involves "talk about how to live a meaningful life with smart, kind people". It also offers classes in social/religious ethics, philosophy, practice, art, and justice. The progressive seminary experience is vivid and complex, and I'd like to advocate for it, as a Jesus-loving-"none". And I can point you to dozens of progressive seminary grads and students who are doing phenomenal work in both the "secular" and "religious" sectors and who identify as Christians and "nones" and Jesus-loving-"nones".

Of course it's likely that you had to limit your written experience of Union to a sentence because of word count limitations, but I hope in the future you might frame progressive seminaries as institutions that are contributing to, if not leading, major movements in social justice toward the "beloved community".


So great to read this and hear that you'll be doing a regular column. I am very much with you on the "spiritual person that doesn't fit neatly into a box" front. And I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the "...there isn't anyone you couldn't love once you heard their story” quote as well. I hadn't heard of you until recently, when I ran across your book, Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters, and in fact, quoted from you just last week in a weekly blog I very cool to hear that you'll be writing more here. Here's the post I quoted you in:

you really should meet the couple who minister to the Walnut Creek Unitarian Church, not too far from you, trust me, just go there once, on a lark...i live in Va, and don't get to hear them anymore, but when I read this piece, I thought of them (Unitarians in general, but especially David and Leslie Takahashi Morris)...nice writing by the way.

Joining the chorus of delighted readers to say that as a 33 year old mother, it will be a pleasure to have your words here.

I'm a UU, as well, *and* - I think many of us, and perhaps there's a generational component but I don't think it's that simple - are looking for those deeper, richer, life-filled conversations. Church as a structure, esp. sunday services, doesn't always lend itself well to that. It can do other things, of course, but engaging each in dialogue and reflection and acts of love...well. it's a work in progress and I think there are interesting new ways emerging to share and speak and live values and love.

HI courtney,

I really enjoyed reading this; very thought provoking. i'm 28 and i still affiliate with the presbyterian church usa. obviously, there's a big debate going on within the churches now involving theology, political engagement etc. conservative churches typically point to the theological liberalism of mainliners as the cause of decline in affiliation. but, of course, conservative churches seem to have increasing problems of their own with keeping millenials involved as well.

you're someone who obviously has a great interest in the ethical life. what are some things that have made the churches uninteresting and/or IRRELEVANT for you in your journey? behavior of christians? problematical scripture? worship style? i don't want to be invasive at all. i know an agnostic friend told me that the reason he doesn't like talking spirituality with christians is he doesn't want them to start the sales pitch. but as a twentysomething who has chosen to keep a christian affiliation, i am interested in what it is about the churches that makes them IRRELEVANT to so many of my friends. and i do think it's notable that we mainliners have gone pretty left in political engagement, but that doesn't seem to be making us more relevant to millenials who have dropped out.

I'm curious.....when you pray, to whom do you pray?

I don't really pray to a deity, but rather pray as a mean to keep myself connected to those about whom I'm concerned. My wife and I have a prayer we say every morning. It goes like this: "Let us remember to use this day wisely, to be aware of the needs of those around us, to be thankful for this day - it is a gift, remembering that we are servants, to do no harm to anyone or anything." After that we call to mind those about who we are concerned so they don't drift out of our minds. Hope this helps. RogerH

Courtney, I enjoyed the insight from your article. I like to share with you something I wrote a few months ago. I like to know what you think about it.

The Secret to Spirituality and Growth

At times, do you ever feel overwhelmed with all the books and talk on spirituality?

Maybe you’re confused or just not clear on various terminologies and or principles used in these books or conversations.

Do you wish all this was Simple?

I feel you, I'VE experienced the same.

Watching Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday and Lifeclass programs, I learned that there’re many people who struggle with spirituality. It’s noted, some viewers struggle with how to make spirituality less theoretical and more practical.

I’m here to say, the challenge with spirituality is not the elusiveness of spirituality in itself but with one’s ability to receive or to tap into it.

The assertion is something as innate as spirit is not difficult.
We simply need to learn how to get out of the way so we can experience it.
As a system analyst, I embrace keeping things simple. It’s my professional nature to find the essence of how things work.

I’m The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Steven Covey enthusiast. Let’s embrace Covey’s third habit of “put first things first.”

The first thing here is to harness a fit (healthy) state of being.
Metaphorically speaking, I call it the SOB.

What most spiritual teachers don’t simply or overtly tell you is that the SOB you carry around has everything to do with spiritual growth and or connection.

I know you’re thinking, that’s why I want spirituality, to improve my state of being; or once I find spirituality I’ll be at a better state.

It’s like, which came first, the chicken or the egg?

I’m here to say the SOB comes first.
It’s the foundation for spiritual growth and connection.
What do you think meditation is all about?
What do you think fostering a quiet mind to being in the moment is all about?
What has not been said enough is, these are techniques merely designed to harness a fit SOB.

Here’s the deal, you decide on the SOB you carry around – either fit or unfit.

Unlike an unfit SOB -- which is easily agitated, fearful, anxious and egotistical; a fit SOB fosters a calm, relaxed feeling that is open, confident, egoless, and authentic.
It’s much more receptive to your spiritual nature. It empowers your personal power that enables you to better manage life challenges.
Your emotional and intellectual intelligence is heighten. You find yourself less stressful consequently your overall health improves.
The biggest difference, you’ll feel more connected to your source and primed for divine guidance.

Isn’t that what spirituality is all about?

Your state of being is your life’s foundation. It’s the precursor to your spiritual growth and relationships you have with others.

You wouldn’t build your home on a shaky foundation, why build your life on one?

You can do it with Kisses! – Keep It Simple Steps to Evolving Spiritually

Thanks for bringing us courtney. "The world cracked opened and Maya came into the world." yup!

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, but using the past tense seems wrong, because I am still enjoying it. your points are well made and full of true clarity, clarity based in experience.

I do want to air a slight peeve of mine. you label being judgmental as "ugly," perhaps because you've forgotten that praise and agreement are judgments as well. From reading your entry, I don't think you want to live in a pollyanna world where nothing negative exists. the fact that morality exists implies the possibility of negative judgment.

Gen X here. Your thoughts on these matters truly resonated with me. Thank you for sharing them and I look forward to reading more of your insights.

Well said, I wish you lived closer. my dream is to move back to Provincetown + would to live in an intergenerational COMMUnity by the sea.

Lovely piece lovingly posted. I'm not much of a scholar but I remember in one of my colleGe ClasseS a reference to someone asking one of thLeading french intelectuals of the day what he thouGht of the then ongoing American Revolution. He responded: 'ask me in hundred years and I'll tell you'---or words to that effect.
Some one once asked me where did all the counter-culture people go. Recalling the Frenchman's response I advised give it 50yrs. And take another look. Time reveals all and you Courtney and the (blEssed community) you embrace have bolstered my faith that my response was not in vain.

When they asked the French thinker Rousseau what he thought of the American revolution then ongoing. He replied something to the effect of 'Ask me In a hundred years and I'll tell you'
For many years I have had faith that the Counter Cultural revolution in America circa '60's/70's did not In fact die out but rather needed time to suffuse the societal paradigm and would emerge again in an intensely personal transformational form.
You Courtney, and your blessed community of seekers are witness to and substantiation of that faith. So here's to all the Courtney's and their blessed communities out there. Well done.

Hi Courtney,

It's been a long, long time. It was a bit of a jolt to find you here, in a space that (in retrospect) seemed private, if only because I come to it for quiet and reflection. But your words resonate strongly for me, and WOW can you write! Congratulations on Maya's arrival. I look forward to reading more from you. . .


I just try to make a difference in someone's life, every day, in any small but positive way.

I also dislike both the "nones" label as well as the label "atheist". In his atheist manifesto, philosopher Michel Onfray said that a-theist, in-fidel, im-pious are words that sound like there's a hole in our soul, yet he owns the label atheist and makes it his and very political, which doesn't make sense to me. Instead, I assume the label humanist because I believe in human values instead of religious values ... and the label Epicurean, because that's the philosophy I adhere to.

Thomas Jefferson (who like Onfrey and myself was also an Epicurean), once said that Christianity had degenerated into a "heresy of immaterialism", taking as the reference point materialism which is an afirmation of our values rather than assuming as a label a negation of the false values of religion (by identifying against pious, theist, etc.)

I think Jefferson was on to something. Identifying in relation to those false labels always gives them the appearance of advantage and legitimacy in the public converstion. This is why I hate the label atheist and always identify positively as a humanist, a naturalist and materialist philosopher, and an Epicurean. The nones? That means nothing, literally, and it's just a fad ...

Beautiful Cortney! I'm 67. I had a 21st century road to Damascus experience. I meditate/contemplate, look and find God everywhere and in everyone. I serve homeless/disenfranchised men and women. I worship in an inclusive church presided over by 2 catholic women priests. All of the above gives abundant energy to smile, serve,love be kind and grateful!-like you! Keep going you are there. It's what the "kingdom" looks like don't you think-including the hard messy days!

Courtney, I look forward to reading your thoughts through time. I'm a 31 year old woman attempting to live an examined life and I identify with much of what you've said. I'm not not religious; I'm constantly trying to articulate a spiritual wholeness into what I do. Interesting that you mention divinity school -- what kind of schooling exists for those of us interested in larger questions but with no interest in biblical scholarship? Or is further schooling missing the point?

Dear Courtney, I'm newly a "none" for the umpteenth time in my life. Always searched and always disappointed. You wrote everything I've felt so many times. Thank you for putting words to it. Have a beautiful life of wonderment and conversation!

"Nones" is a fictitious category invented by Barry Kosmin, an active member of ideological atheist groups dedicated to anti-religious propaganda, CFI, for example. By his own admission, he invented it so he wouldn't have to say what the data he was collecting showed, that being religiously affiliated was the norm in the United States. Its dishonesty can be seen by how it's generally used to mean "atheists" or some kind of an amalgam of atheist-agnostics when they don't even comprise the majority of the people who are shoehorned into that non-cohering set. More of the group believes in some form of god or spiritual force than are atheists. I'd be categorized as a "none" when I certainly wouldn't call myself that.

I'm also adverse to the title "None". I don't totally want to give up religion as such so, after much reflection, I have come to describe myself as a "Faith Informed Humanist", one who reflects on and applies ideas, rituals, etc. from various faiths and from rationalism. The journey isn't over!

One thing I often think about is how isolated and lonely modern society has become. People live in little boxes, and are mostly anonymous to each other, even neighbours... it's everyone for themselves, which is evidence that organised religion has separated us, instead of united us. I also don't wear a "badge", a badge saying which "team" I support. I have no religious affiliations. Jiddu Krishnamurti used to say: "I have no allegiance to any nationality, caste, religion, or philosophy, and I will spend the rest of my life travelling the world, speaking to large and small groups and individuals". He constantly stressed the need for a revolution in the psyche of every human being and emphasised that such revolution cannot be brought about by any external entity, be it religious, political, or social.

Hi Courtney - Thank you so much for sharing your experience. It is beautiful. I am a Christian. I would describe myself as progressive. I have relied on my faith and sensed the presence of God throughout my life. That said, there are so many people in my life who don't ascribe to faith / religion; some describe themselves as spiritual and some don't. I love each of them and am thankful for many different perspectives and outlooks. Thank you again for sharing yours.