Wednesday, May 29, 2013

America Losing Its Religion

CNN Religion blogs ran the headline yesterday: America Losing Its Religion.

The headline is a bit of a misnomer because Americans aren't exactly losing their religion.  The article spells that out.  The headline is a cheap ploy to get people to read--yours truly included.  :-)

Pertinent quote--the first four paragraphs:

More than three in four of Americans say religion is losing its influence in the United States, according to a new survey, the highest such percentage in more than 40 years. A nearly identical percentage says that trend bodes ill for the country.

"It may be happening, but Americans don't like it," Frank Newport, Gallup's editor in chief, said of religion's waning influence. "It is clear that a lot of Americans don't think this is a good state of affairs."

According to the Gallup survey released Wednesday, 77% of Americans say religion is losing its influence. Since 1957, when the question was first asked, Americans' perception of religion's power has never been lower.

According to the poll, 75% of Americans said it the country would be better off if it was more religious.

So, the headline is blatantly wrong.  America isn't losing it's religion.  In fact, the poll actually suggests the vast majority (3/4) of Americans believe the country would be better off if it were religious.  This speaks volumes!!  People believe religion has a positive effect on the country!!!

Yet, these same people believe religion is losing influence. 

It's not surprising.  Religion has had a very tough time adapting to a host of things:

1. The rise of secularism.  The secular worldview has ascended to prominence when it comes to debating what goes on in the United States.  Faith based arguments generally no longer have much persuasive power.  This forces people of faith to suspend the place where they draw most of their ethics and morality and argue from a much different, uncomfortable place.  Too many people of faith do not have the tools to do this or to argue the difficulty of dealing with moral issues from a strictly secular point of view.  #2 below has contributed to this mightily as well.

2. The rise of relativism.  This path of thought developed to deal with pluralism.  In our now global culture, we have been made aware of the differences in thought and practice of people and belief.  It is not easy to forge a way forward when confronted with many differing worldviews.  Yet, instead of arguing the merits of which worldview provides a better way forward (atheism? Christian? Muslim? Jewish? Secular? Scientific?), we strive to say all worldviews are equal--none is better than another.  This is most certainly an absurd argument, but it actually has a good number of adherents.  Many people of faith have few philosophical tools to argue with the rise of relativism.

3. The prominence of science.  Science is cool.  It's brought about some awesome things--the ability to understand the world, how it works, and how we can work in the world to improve our survival.  Yet, science has proven poor at providing a framework for morality and ethics despite the claims of some that it is capable of doing such a thing.  Science has also been shown to be quite limited in other areas and aspects; yet one might never really know this based upon what one hears in the news.  For many, science is the be all and end all, and people of faith have had little training in saying, "Science is not this.  It is good in one area and not in others."

Because people of faith have not been provided such tools, secularism, relativism, and scientism have undermined the power of religious faith to shape public policy.  Most are unhappy with this because they see the benefits faith can bring.  Yet, most don't have any idea how to argue in the cultural milieu we find ourselves in.

Perhaps Christian apologists like Timothy Keller, Richard John Neuhaus, Ravi Zacharias, John Lennox, William Lane Craig, and Alvin Plantenga will be read and studied more as they offer some substantial tools to deal with this process, for it seems like America does not want religion to lose its influence--and you can count me in that portion of America as well.


Bubba D. Luxe said...

Howdy, Rev. Excellent and relevant installment. It's interesting that when I think about my church I feel (i) frustration toward my church, (ii) grief toward myself. Several years ago I read the phrase, "In europe, religion is dead." I wonder whether religion has the courage to revive itself before it is too late.

Kevin Haug said...

I think the final question is an intriguing one especially since most religions can't figure out where they stand on their own.

I too have no small amount of frustration toward my church, and part of the reason for my frustration is that it tries to please everyone so that no one is actually pleased. Intellectually, I believe we (the ELCA) has embraced some pretty weak trains of thoughts trying to be relevant in a relativistic culture. It has led to a watering down of our understanding of the faith.

This, of course, is a vast oversimplification, but I think it shows part of the problem: religion, particularly the Christian faith, has no agreed upon sense of what it is supposed to do or be. Too much ideology propped up by biblical citation instead of biblical theology leading toward ideology.

Just my .02.

Kathy said...

I could not agree with you more. We cannot just throw Bible passages at each other and expect to come to some sort of resolution. John Henry Newman struggled with these question a hundred years ago. He concluded that Doctrine develops within the Church. It is not just who is "right" about the Bible. This goes back to the Augsburg Confession. Here is a comment from a Lutheran pastor on my blog about the use of the word "rightly" to justify Doctrine:

"- Another translation indicates that Article VII of the Augbsurg Confession states in pertinent part: “(The Church) is the assembly of believers among whom the gospel is purely preached and the holy sacraments are administered according to the gospel.”

Sadly, there is no difference between "purely preached" and "rightly" -- both are RELATIVE to the interpretation of an individual.

I am encouraged to see an awakening among many Protestants to this situation. We would all do well to read "Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine" by John Henry Cardinal Newman.