Thursday, March 24, 2011

God Is Dead! And I Don't Feel So Good Either

A detalied study by the American Physical Society, published by Fox News on March 23, 2011, finds that nine (9) countries in the world are losing their religion - literally. The study concludes that religion is headed for extinction in Australia, Austria, the Czech Republic, Canada, Finland, Ireland, New Zealand, the Netherlands and Switzerland. An equally disturbing finding is that Americans without any religious affiliation comprise the only religious group which is showing substantial growth in the United States.

What could account for such a decline? When times are bad, don't people historically come back to their faith as an anchor? Is anyone seriously arguing that times are good in our world toiday? People come back to their faith when they have one. We so compromised the teachings of Christianity in the last half of the 20th Century that many today have no faith base to which to return. When jobs are lost, war breaks out - again, and deadly devastation hits Japan, these bring on personal tsunamis for those who have no personal faith on which to lean. I understand and can hear some of you wailing already that belonging to an organized faith does not mean you are a person of faith. Many in our churches on Sunday are going through ritual motions and have no meaningful faith from which to draw strength. The point is: How did we let the condition of collective souls become so fragile? How did we get to be so arrogant that we no longer need God? We have heard it said that Christianity is only one generation from extinction, but we didn't expect it to be ours.

Rather than being the influence that the world needs, the church has allowed ourselves to be influenced by the world. We adopt the view that if one sincerely believes something, then it must have value. From that we derived the idea that if something is believed by enough people, it must be true, even if there is significant evidence to the contrary and teaching in scripture to back up that evidence. Do you follow the logic here? If we are sincere, then it is ok to hold those sincere beliefs. If we sincerely believe that God is our creator, does that make it true? Growing up, I looked forward to watching the Peanuts special, "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown." Linus proudly held up the sign saying, "Welcome Great Pumpkin." He believed that the Great Pumpkin would come on Halloween to the "sincerest" pumpkin patch and bring wonderful gifts as a reward. Well, you know what happened - the Great Pumpkin never came. Sincerity was not enough. The truth as Linus understood it was flawed. He was sincere, but he was sincerely wrong!

If the study is right, we are drifting away from the God who made us in favor of gods we have made. We cannot save ourselves. History proves that, and a quick glance at the natural, political, and military landscape of the world in 2011 verifies that there is nothing going on now to change that. In fact, the world is blundering through an unprecedented set of serious problems that we still think we can handle on our own. We have lost our moral compass in favor of moral relativity. We have no courage to stand up for what is right because the fear of offending someone is suddenly more important than doing or saying the right thing. I wonder how long those nine nations have? I wonder how long we have? I wonder what generations yet unborn will say when they go to the museums that were once churches and are told how the technological and scientific advances brought innovations that were inconsistent with the 'erroneous' beliefs of the church.

Dr. Thomas J. J. Altizer, while teaching at Emory University, wrote the controverisal book, Radical Theology and the Death of God. His position was not so much that God was indeed dead, but rather that we have killed God with our indifference and distorted view of reality. In the preface to his book, Oriental Mysticism and Biblical Eschatology, Altizer notes that the book:
". . . was written with the hope that the very abyss of faith in which we must live may paradoxically make possible a deeper encounter with the authentic meaning of religion. For “modern man” has lost his homeland in faith. . . . We moderns are immersed in a profane world that charges the immediate moment with absolute meaning and value. To us, religion can only appear as an alien reality. In our sensibility, the religious Reality can manifest itself only as the Other. Therefore man, qua modern man, cannot associate religion with “reality.” We have "lost our homeland in faith," and if we continue to alienate ourselves from the faith, we will lose our homeland.


  1. With the rapid diminution of respect for a singular authority (witness Ireland and the Catholic Church in the past 20 years), the fast pace of change, ready access to a variet of perspectives and relative prosperity for more, religion to many in the societies who are abandoningfaith seems quaint and burdened with the baggage of pre-rationalist world views. Also, those countries that have a monopolistic, establishment church have fallen into bureaucratic indifference and routine. The relative "free market" of religious expression in the USA helps us to sustain more interest, but the older, more bureaucratic denominations would seem to be struggling more than most. Catholicism is anomolously growing in part because of immigration patterns. Part of the appeal of religion to those who practice is its ties to the tradition, so that serves as a barrier to change and adaptation in organized churches. At the same time, much of the world-wide growth in religion is in the more fundamentalist and ecstatic expressions. Universities, many of which were founded as religious institutions, systematically mock religion. And the pop worlds of humor, film, art and music for the most part emphasize corrupt clergy, trot out right-wing cartoon-like zealots for mockery and allege hypocrisy at every turn. So many of our young people are influenced by those pervasive messages. Ironically, many of the tenets of modern liberalism have their roots in Christian thought.
    In my opinion, the only way Christianity can reassert itself in our society is to have the courage to take on the "elephants in the room" that traditionalists often dance around and avoid discussing entirely, but which everyone is wondering about. We need to stop driving truth or truth-seeking underground in a world where kids through the media are exposed to so many competing ideas and world views. In the church, young people need to be able to openly wonder about heaven and hell, the bodily resurrection, what really happens during prayer, and whether it necessary to imagine a theistic God, or can other metaphors suffice, just to name a few. We need to make Jesus's model "way of being" the example, and we need to seize back the high ground: Jesus was the quintessential anti-hypocrisy teacher who confronted empty "religious" practices that simply reinforced the authority and importance of the priesthood. We need to move the discussion to open and honest discussion of essential elements of Christianity, and have the courage to consider highly relevant, essential 2,000 year old teaching stripped of the medieval world view. We all need to understand humility, self-examination, the folly of materialism, judgment, forgiveness and sacrifice. Unfortunately the politics of religion (power, club membership, etc.) have cloaked what the Master Teacher has to say about how to get along in the world. Prosperity theology promises riches (now didn’t Jesus call that idol worship?) and demands nothing of us – besides checks. But it allows us to posture with assurance that you are an anointed one. Christian leaders have got to be open to the wide range of expression without fearing apostasy and doubt - the varied interpretations and doubt has always been there, but it's been held underground by the insistence of outward expression of credal conformity, when the truth is that there are many asterisks. Let's get real. Let's talk openly and stop driving truth seeking underground. Let's foster real discussions and active thinking out in the open and pull back on propaganda. Let’s dare to talk about what it means to sign up for costly discipleship.

  2. I completely agree but what do you propose that we faithful few do? If we separate ourselves from the world, how can we spread the faith that is needed in the world?

  3. We cannot separate ourselves from the world, but rather we must be the instruments through which a return to faith and truth are realized. We must pray and be active in all aspects of society - not just the church. Unfortunately, so many other things society offers are more appealing than what the church has been offering. We must do a better job of marketing the message of truth, or no one will consider it anything special. We still operate too often out of the 20th Century notion that the church is here, and everyone should come. That never worked and never will. As competiton intensifies in the marketplace of ideas, we must find a more excellent way to communicate the truth of the gospel.

  4. To those of you who have read this post in Canada and the Netherlands, I would appreciate your reaction to the study's finding that faith is declining in your country.

  5. I believe it a lack of Christian courage. We cower behind masks of the fear of offending someone because we are told we Christians must 'tolerate' everything we find offensive. The problem with that is those who are preaching 'tolerance' tolerate everything under the sun.....accept Christians who disagree with them.