Pope Francis extended a hand to those who don’t belong to any religion, urging them on Wednesday (March 20) to work with believers to build peace and protect the environment.
In his first ecumenical meeting, the new pope greeted representatives from Christian churches and other religions, including Jewish and Muslim leaders, who had come to Rome to attend his inaugural Mass on Tuesday.
Francis said that he intends to follow “on the path of ecumenical dialogue” set for the Roman Catholic Church by the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).
But he also reached out to those who don’t belong “to any religious tradition” but feel the “need to search for the truth, the goodness and the beauty of God.”
Francis echoed his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, saying that the “attempt to eliminate God and the divine from the horizon of humanity” has often led to catastrophic violence.
But Francis, who has set a humbler tone to the papacy since his election on March 13, added that atheists and believers can be “precious allies” in their efforts “to defend the dignity of man, in the building of a peaceful coexistence between peoples and in the careful protection of creation.”
Francis also stressed the “very special spiritual bond” between Catholics and Jews.
“There is no doubt that Catholic-Jewish relations will go from strength to even greater strength during Pope Francis’s pontificate,” said Rabbi David Rosen, International Director of Interreligious Affairs of the American Jewish Committee, after meeting with Francis.
Earlier on Wednesday, the pope met privately with the spiritual leader of Eastern Orthodox Christians, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople.
According to the Patriarchate of Constantinople, Bartholomew and Francis are planning a joint visit to Jerusalem in 2014 to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1964 meeting between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras.
That meeting led to the cancellation of the reciprocal excommunications between the leaders of western and eastern Christianity in 1054, otherwise known as the “Great Schism.”
Bartholomew attended Francis’ inauguration on Tuesday, the first Patriarch to do so in over 900 years.
Religion Among Americans Hits Low Point, As More People Say They Have No Religious Affiliation: Report
The number of Americans who claim to have no religious affiliation is the highest it has ever been since data on the subject started being collected in the 1930s, new research has found.
Sociologists from the University of California, Berkeley, and Duke University analyzed results from the General Social Survey and found that the number of people who do not consider themselves part of an organized religion has jumped dramatically in recent years.
Back in the 1930s and 1940s, the number of “nones” — those who said they were religiously unaffiliated — hovered around 5 percent, Claude Fischer, one of the researchers with UC Berkeley, told The Huffington Post. That number had risen to only 8 percent by 1990.
But since then, the number of people who don’t consider themselves part of a religion has increased to 20 percent.
“This was not happening really for decades, until around 1990 when it started to take off,” Fischer told HuffPost. “One thing striking is the trend in terms of renouncing religious affiliation you might say continues to move up at a regular pace, while there is hardly any perceptible trend in the percentage of people who express atheist or agnostic beliefs.”
However, it should be noted that the research looks at whether or not a person associates himself with a particular faith; it does not measure how spiritual a person considers himself to be.
“When you’re talking about whether people affirm a religion, you’re talking about identifying, ‘I’m a Catholic,'” Fischer explained. “Identifying is a different issue than people’s beliefs, whether they believe in God, or life after death.”
The research also found that men were more likely than women to claim they have no religion — 24 percent compared to 16 percent — and that African Americans and Mexican Americans were more likely to associate themselves with a religion than whites.
But perhaps the most telling numbers pertained to the breakdown of the respondents’ politics: 40 percent of liberals claim they have no religion, compared to just 9 percent of conservatives.
Fischer and his colleague, Mike Hout, analyzed similar data 10 years ago and theorized that the shift away from organized religion is directly tied to politics.
“This is a product of the involvement of the religious right in American politics and the increasing connection in Americans’ minds, the minds of moderates and liberals, that religion equals conservative politics equals religion,” Fischer said.
While Fischer and Hout have not yet conducted further analysis to conclude that these same factors are continuing to drive Americans away from religion today, a heightened national focus on social issues suggests politics may still be playing a pivotal role.
“Increasingly, people identify and link organized religion with anti-gay attitudes, sexual conservatism, a whole range of those kinds of social cultural values,” Fischer said. “One way you can think about it is, this is blowback.”
The results also echo some of the recent findings the Pew Research Center released in October. The center noted that a third of U.S. adults under the age of 30 don’t identify with a religion .
In addition to finding that many Americans don’t associate with a specific faith, Pew discovered that many aren’t in the market for one.
The report found that, “the unaffiliated say they are not looking for a religion that would be right for them. Overwhelmingly, they think that religious organizations are too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics.”