Pearl Jam & American Religiosity: Having Faith In No Faith…And the Freedom to Do So.

ImageSurveys prove that a continually, increasing number of Americans are choosing to be non-religious, irreligious, or areligious.  A Pew Research survey (just to name one of many) found an increase in those categorizing themselves with no religious affiliation, those intentionally not seeking a religious community, and those deciding to attend their religious community less. This data can be alarming for many who consider religion the moral crux of society, but the statistics can be hopeful by many who perceive religion to have dominated the American landscape for too long. 

In a newly published book titled Varieties of Personal Theology: Charting the Belief and Values of American Young Adults, David Gortner discovered a lack of religious influences upon young adults’ overall personal theologies (or worldviews).  This work is interesting especially for this topic because it relies heavily upon interviews conducted with emerging adults before September 11th.  Thus giving us some insight into the same generation (Generation X?) maturing into young adulthood at the time when the music of Pearl Jam was most popular.

So how does one who is not religiously affiliated perceive faith, religion, or morals?  Pearl Jam’s new album discusses disaffiliation from religious institutions in the first song “Getaway.” 

The song opens comparing religious groups to leaking boats in an approaching storm.  In this midst of these inadequate rescue vessels, Eddie Vedder states, “But I found my place and it’s alright…I got my own way to believe.”   Interesting enough, in this song, every boat (all religious perspectives) are full of holes.  

Additionally, the song does seem to suggest that if someone chooses to religiously practice, they are free to do so as long as they do not infringe upon others: “If you wanna have to pray, it’s alright/We all be thinking with our different brains/Get yours off my plate, it’s alright/I got my own way to believe.”  The emphasis on subjective religiosity and individual freedom are important values for many from Generation X and Millennials (as well as others, but younger generations seem more concerned with freedom of [no] religious expression).

As a matter of fact, the chorus beckons:

It’s Ok

Sometimes you find yourself

Having to put all your faith

In no faith

Mine is mine, and yours won’t take its place

Now make you getaway.

There’s a rich reflection found in this chorus.  Is placing faith in no faith simply not committing trust to any religious institution/community/doctrines? Is this arguing for the complete privatization of religion (i.e. do not attempt to proselytize)? Further, the last line is very interesting.  Is Eddie Vedder suggesting that more people should make their getaway from religion? Or those that would want to pressure the religious nones into religious affiliation should getaway? Or both?

But, do not think that lack of religious affiliation leads to a lack of reflection on life’s purposes, meanings, and values. That’s next.