Shuck and Jive

Monday, March 09, 2009

America Becoming Less Christian

As a Christian minister, who is increasingly embarrassed by the "Christian" label, I find this good news: America Becoming Less Christian, Survey Says.

The rise in evangelical Christianity is contributing to the rejection of religion altogether by some Americans, said Mark Silk of Trinity College.

"In the 1990s, it really sunk in on the American public generally that there was a long-lasting 'religious right' connected to a political party, and that turned a lot of people the other way," he said of the link between the Republican Party and groups such as the Moral Majority and Focus on the Family.

"In an earlier time, people who would have been content to say, 'Well, I'm some kind of a Protestant,' now say 'Hell no, I won't go,'" he told CNN.

I really love my little congregation. I think there is a need for communities. People ought to connect, find a place where they can think, tap into the great wisdom traditions, find their own personal paths, and contribute to the welfare of Earth.

But I think before humanity discovers its next step, religion 2.0 or creation spirituality perhaps, organized religion may need to deconstruct. That is not a bad thing. People are finding their way without the need of the structure, its hierarchy, and the outmoded beliefs of conventional religion.

While erecting bigger and bigger crosses may be thrilling for some, this is this very thing that people are rejecting. We don't need any more crosses. We need some human decency. The ones getting hit the hardest are the mainline denominations who haven't yet found a way to celebrate this movement away from religion and still cling to old ideas and methods.

Meanwhile my atheist friends are impatient with me. As Sam Harris has suggested, we moderate-liberal-mainline-progressive Christians are enabling the religious right.

Religious moderates are, in large part, responsible for the religious conflict in our world, because their beliefs provide the context in which scriptural literalism and religious violence can never be adequately opposed.
It will be interesting to see how this all plays out especially as human beings will face the biggest challenges we have ever faced in the next few decades.

I frankly don't care what happens to religion as such. I do care what happens to humanity and Earth. I wonder if those who have left traditional religion will be sufficiently organized to offer any substantive help.


  1. Hasn't it been historically true that religion grows during difficult times. I do think it's definitely time to deconstruct American religion, Christianity in particular. People need a lifeboat of hope to jump into and we will create another religion. It just seems to be human nature.

    I keep finding myself in the same conversation over and over. It's usually with young women and they want to know what I believe. I always think, I wish you'd ask someone else, because I don't even know right now. But, we usually manage to have an interesting discussion on religion, beliefs, faith, etc. The woman I talked to just this past weekend said, "I think we all need religion, just not too much of it." I had to agree.

    PS, and just what is up with the enormous crosses? I'm beginning to appreciate the Islamic law about no images.

  2. Oh John, I have not been here (or much of anywhere, blogwise) in ages and how great to come find this piece here.

    Part of my reason for being away is that I am really loaded down with work from the class that I am taking.

    In any case, as a result of that class, I have been studying the early church and really pondering the cluster f*ck that so much of institutionalized religion has become.

    In pursuit of subtraction, a very Lenten thought (oh you know me, I am still an RC *snort*)I also read about that study with the same spirit.

    Less is not always bad. In fact, it is far often better than such profusion.

    Out of the mess, simplicity and clarity can emerge. This is what I pray for and try to live.

    This whole "us versus them" from the more intense so-called Christian groups, with "them" being Christians who don't agree or the un-churched and un-God-ed is dangerous indeed.

    Which underscores again why less can be a blessing of great grace.

    As ever, I am reminded of my hero Anne Lamott and her wisdom that says something to the effect of you have sucessfully remade God in your own image if God hates all the same people you do.

    Peace to you my brother.

  3. And yet, people like me find solace in churches like yours. I guess we can once again thank fundies like our delightfully absent ex-President for influencing my life - it was the anti-war movement in Minneapolis that compelled me to step into a church of my own will and find the community I needed. How ironic.

    And the crosses. Yes, the crosses. "Take shelter in the cross", I can hear in my head, with a lovely Texas drawl or Illinois hillbilly twang. Yet how many homeless people could have been helped with the money it cost to erect those aluminum calfs?

  4. Sara,

    Good thoughts. What is up with the enormous crosses? I think it relates to the need for a lifeboat that you mentioned. I don't think it is much of a lifeboat, though. It becomes an idol substituting for authentic faith and hope.


    You keep on studying! Excited about your program. I haven't commented at your place in awhile, but I do sneak over to keep tabs on my delightful, radical justice-monger! Annie Lamott is one of my favorites, too!


    You represent (if I can say that) the very type of person that is helping to shape 'religion 2.0' with its emphasis on a community engaged for Earth and its well-being.

    Bush=delightfully absent. : )

  5. "It becomes an idol substituting for authentic faith and hope."

    This is truth in it's purest form.

    The cross around the neck is popular for two reasons. A subtle expression of belief, which is fine, and a way for Christians to recognize each other.

    Subtle because excessive display of piety is forbidden as per Jesus.

    These massive crosses are nothing more than "hey, look at me. I'm religious"!
    Piety in it's most arrogant form.
    They satisfy the ego of those who commissioned them and have no spiritual significance whatsoever.

    "Humble" does not exist in the Fundi church.

  6. The other trend discovered in that survey was that evangelicals are now leaving the denominations and classifying themselves as "nondenominational". This could be a silver lining...

  7. Lemme 'splain. My guess is what's happening is that conservative splinter denominations like the EPC and PCA are going to become more and more irrelevant, as their core constituency is trending toward "nondenominationalism" (which in the South, means evangelical and almost exclusively some flavor of Pentecostal).

    It's one of those "the same Chinese character means crisis and opportunity" moments for the mainline church. We have a chance to again define ourselves in terms of prophetic justice and offering a message of hope to all God's children. As I've said over and over and over and over again, my church is bucking the trends of smaller PC(USA) churches. We're growing by leaps and bounds, and while some of the initial growth were gay Christians coming home, the vast majority of our new members are young straight couples who can't stand the gay-bashing in other churches, but still want a loving faith community that's a safe place to raise a family. From what I understand, First P of Elizabethton isn't doing too shabby either, despite that crazy heretic in the pulpit (we love ya, John!).

    Again, I commend to everyone the collected works of Diana Butler Bass. The neighborhood church is the future of mainline Protestantism.

  8. Perhaps John Spong's prediction is coming true after all--that Christianity must "change or die". Maybe people are moving away from Christianity because they've been sold a bill of goods on what Christianity must necessarily entail, and they want no part of a religion like that.

  9. From what I understand, First P of Elizabethton isn't doing too shabby either, despite that crazy heretic in the pulpit (we love ya, John!).

    We're having fun. : )

    Seeker! Long time no seek! Welcome!

    Maybe people are moving away from Christianity because they've been sold a bill of goods on what Christianity must necessarily entail, and they want no part of a religion like that.

    A group of us are reading Borg's book now, Heart of Christianity, and he offers a view that is very helpful for many. His approach to the Bible is my favorite part. He is one (by no means the only) voice that is helping some folks find a way to find value in Christianity.

    There are others from the emerging movement (ie. Brian McLaren) that are doing the same the broaden the scope for evangelicals.

    I think both of those responses are helpful in showing that the fundamentalist view is recent, limited, and not what the church has always been or needs to be today.