Primitive religion is not believed, it is danced!

Arthur Darby Nock

Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
And only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

Elizabeth Browning

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The "Self-Liquidation" of Religion

"Religion will all but vanish eventually from nine Western-style democracies, a team of mathematicians predict in a new paper based on census data stretching back 100 years. It won't die out completely, but "religion will be driven toward extinction" in countries including Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands, they say.  The mathematicians say it will also wither away in Austria, the Czech Republic, Finland and Switzerland....Peter Berger, a former president of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, once said that, "People will become so bored with what religious groups have to offer that they will look elsewhere."
He said Protestantism "has reached the strange state of self-liquidation," that Catholicism was in severe crisis, and anticipated that "religions are likely to survive in small enclaves and pockets" in the United States.
He made those predictions in February 1968."  (Richard Allen Greene, CNN Wire, March 23, 2011)

This article really caught my eye.  It raises the question, "Why are people moving away from "faith systems", otherwise known as religions? 

It is because the ideology is antiquated?  Because the idea of a God no longer seems acceptable?  Because the teachings of faith systems such as Christianity no longer seem to have anything to say to contemporary society?

I would suggest it is "none of the above". Perhaps the real issue is that faith systems have become, for a variety of reasons, either irrelevant or actually "negative" in terms of their impact on the world around them.  A faith system that supports the status quo, when the status quo is destructive and immoral is a system from which people should move away.  So when the "Christian Church" becomes (in some of its forms) the Republican Party at prayer, and that party supports legislation that steals from the poor and gives to the rich, then that religion is one that has become negative. I can easily be an equal opportunity blogger here because it is clear that the Republicans do not have a monopoly on morally questionable legislation.

But I think it is more the church's unwillingness to stand up and be counted that is the biggest issues facing the church.  Right now in America we are rolling into a "me first" and "screw the poor" culture.  We are getting to the point where money and power are more important than people.  We are losing our moral compass.  What is the church doing about that?  Pretty much nothing.  It has lost its voice.  Indeed many of the biggest churches claiming to be Christian have jumped on the band wagon and preach a gospel of abundance and wealth.  Believe in God, do the right things, and God will heap blessings on you!  The poor? Oh, they must have "defective faith."  Not!

I believe the church needs to find its voice.  In Nazi Germany the church lost its voice.  Only a few people like Bonhoeffer dared speak up.  They made a difference.  The words of Bonhoeffer are still read and relevant.  In South Africa the church found its voice on apartheid.  It made a difference.  The church in America needs to find its voice.  It needs to look past moral issues such as homosexuality and abortion, which are profound moral issues indeed (and profoundly complex in many ways) to broader and deeper moral questions such as "what does it mean to be the church in a world of greed, in a world where the gap between the 'have and have nots' is growing exponentially?"

Does the church have the faith to speak out in a political climate that is patently non-Christian? Does it have the courage to say that people who talk about being pro-life and about supporting morality are actually being immoral as they throw the poor and needy and ill "under the bus" because it benefits them monetarily?

I don't have any great answers.  But I think this is an important question.  Do we want to be relevant or not?

1 comment:

  1. And yet, for all of Berger's predictions, religion in the United States is going like gangbusters. As, frankly, it is in much of the rest of the world. I think the particular challenge is in stable social democracies. If you do not fear for your livelihood, or your physical health and well being, the health-and-wealth gospel that has so flourished here and in the developing world seems...well...like the empty thing it is. If your culture has wearied of religious conflict, and embraced a scientific worldview, then the rigidities of literalism will have no purchase. There's space for faith, but just not the forms of faith that predominate. Being "relevant" in Europe and Canada will mean a different vocabulary. More Rob Bell, less Joel Osteen, if you will.