Saturday, March 14, 2009

The End of Religion

The Christian Science Monitor has a piece entitled The coming evangelical collapse:
We are on the verge – within 10 years – of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity. This breakdown will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and it will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West. [....]

This collapse will herald the arrival of an anti-Christian chapter of the post-Christian West. Intolerance of Christianity will rise to levels many of us have not believed possible in our lifetimes, and public policy will become hostile toward evangelical Christianity, seeing it as the opponent of the common good.
And while I agree with some of the general predictions, I think there are some fundamental flaws with the reasoning here, due to bias on the part of the author.  He got many of the symptoms right, but the true prognosis is much more dire than he'd like to believe.  I mean, if Christianity is on the wane due to growing anti-religious intolerance, where could the intolerance have originated from?  It's like if the chicken and egg created each other simultaneously.

Because intolerance of Christianity isn't what he's describing, but rather, intolerance of Christian intolerance.  People are sick of Christians who stick their nose in our business and tell us how to live our lives.  And that has nothing to do with Christianity.  The real problem is that Christianity has been on the wane for centuries and what we call "Christianity" have been a series of substitutes, with each incarnation getting further from original.  And we're slowly reaching the point that we won't be calling it Christianity at all.

Flag, Family, and Jesus

As a seminarian at Carpetbagger's wrote:
I agree with the comment that the number of "Christians" is overstated unless you equate Christianity with the common "folk religion" of the U.S. and espcially the south and otherwise rural areas. That is the religion that is flag first, family second, Jesus third and maybe God and Bible in there somwhere as well. Oh yeah, and condemnation of how other people conduct their sex lives (that's definately ahead of God).
And that's the real reason why these groups are going down: Because it's not really about religion any more.  This isn't Christianity.  It's about the culture war.  It's about the megachurch.  It's not about Christianity; it's about the Christian identity.  This is a group of people who are lost in modern society and found an island of sanity that they can believe in.  "Christian" is who they are and "church" is where their friends are.

Not that all Christians are like this, as I've known many Christians who have a deep understanding with their religion.  But for too many, their religiousness is restricted to very specific areas of their lives.  For them, religion is a person, a place, a set of actions.  But it's not an overarching belief system that extends to everyday life.  They might pray for rain, but they still understand weather patterns.  They'll nod in approval at the Sermon on the Mount, but they'll obey the tenants of "tough love" that satisfies their moral code.  

And honestly, how many of them truly act like death is a great reward, rather than a horrible event to avoid?  None that I know of.  They might say that their Uncle Joe is in Heaven, but they rarely celebrate the idea or seem eager to join him.  Nor have I seen conservatives trumpeting the number of American soldiers they sent to Heaven.  They might find comfort in the concept of Heaven, but they rarely act as if it's real.

The Beginning of the End

And the reality is that God is Dead.  And the people who "killed" him are the ones who imagine they're keeping him alive.  They've made religion "real."  They've given practical solutions to eternal questions, as well as a complete set of political beliefs.  And they've given it charisma and a self-help mentality to woo the masses.  Gone is the suffering Jesus of the Middle Ages.  It's all about the power of positive thinking these days, and figuring out how to make God work for us.

And by doing these things, they took the immaterial and made it material.  God now has a price tag and the only "mystery" left is how much praying we have to do before He gives us that big promotion.  God for them is little more than the anthropomorphic version of their own desires.  And before long, they'll set the god aside and just reach for what they desire.  But of course, the only difference is that they'll have to justify these desires on their merits, rather than attributing them to a supernatural power.  They'll say that God is too mysterious to understand, but that never stops them from insisting that he supports their actions.

But these aren't variations on an ageless theme.  These are short-term bandaids that mask the effects that our expanded worldview of have given us.  The old school religions are only hanging on due to habitual attendees who feel obligated to remain faithful, while the newer incarnations will only last until the charismatic preacher dies or the culture battle wears thin.  And for as much as people hold on to this "faith," it's really only their identity as The Faithful that they so desperately cling to.  They made God in their own self-image and refuse to relinquish the authority they imagine He gave them.  But even that will fade over time.

And I should add that I don't say any of this to be antagonistic towards religion.  I'm not anti-religious and think that if a belief system helps someone become a better person, I'm all for it.  I'm not trying to push for the death of religion.  I'm just giving a better explanation for the phenomenon that was described in that Christian Science article.  And much of it actually came from that article, though I obviously have a more pessimistic conclusion from it all (or more optimistic from my POV, I suppose).


Anonymous said...

Like you said, these people who put flag and intolerance front and center can't really be said to be following Christ, who said to love your neighbor as yourself.

So to draw from the decline of these pseudo-Christians some "death of God" is quite bizarre. It cannot even be said to represent some diminishment of Christianity for false doctrines of selfish hypocrisy to be destroyed.

repsac3 said...

Not to return to the prior debate, but it's all a matter of perception, Mahakal... For those who believe those pseudo-Christians represent Christianity, their decline represents a diminishment of religion.

Whether that diminishment a good thing or a bad thing depends on how one views the pseudo-Christians (including whether one calls them pseudo-Christians in the first place). Those who don't see them as Christians in the first place will be less concerned about it, obviously.


Anonymous said...

Putting labels to one side, if the entire membership of these churches were to disappear completely, how would that represent a diminishment of religion? It would certainly be a diminishment of these churches, but it doesn't indicate that the membership became atheist.

John of the Dead said...

"I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."

-- Mahatma Ghandi

For a great many "Christians," it's not about following the teachings of Yeshua bar-Yosef. It's a social gathering, an emotional support group, a habit. They go to church because they've always gone to church. That's not to say those are all bad things, mind you, but they're not what Jesus taught. I really wish more self-professed Christians would put more emphasis on what Christ said, and less on what Paul wrote. I think we'd all be better off, believers and non-believers alike.

Doctor Biobrain said...

Mahakal - What is Christianity without Christians? Because this isn't just a trend with a few of these churches. The woes that will be hitting these churches are the same woes that already ripped through the old school churches, which only survive due to habitual attendees; and those habits face a slow but certain death. Churches just aren't relevant anymore. But it's not just the churches. It's the belief in a god that is irrelevant to them.

And yes, these people are atheists. I'm quite convinced that most self-professed Christians don't believe in God. Sure, they claim to believe in something and they don't call themselves "atheists" but they sure do live like them. They believe because they were trained to believe and don't really give it much thought. But rather than God being some active part of their lives who guides their actions, they rarely think about God at all, except during church and when they need something. And they certainly don't act like people who think God is watching and judging them.

Religion is a habit for them, not a belief and certainly not an over-riding force in their lives. They live their lives just like us atheists do. All of us live our lives the way we think we should, based upon the things we learned. The only difference is that some people imagine that the universe was designed to favor their specific worldview. But we're all just doing the best we can with what we've got. And the real problem is with the people who insist that their worldview is the only one that could possibly be correct. But again, it makes more sense to imagine that they imposed their own morality on a self-created god than to imagine that they somehow were the Blessed One who received the One True Morality that everyone else is screwing up.

And frankly, I still don't see why any of this matters. If there is a god who expects us to find His One True Belief and punishes anyone who fails to do so based upon the few clues we've been given, well I'm totally screwed no matter what I do. But, if we have any decent sort of god who just expects us to live like decent people, then I've got it made in the shade. And so I'm totally fine just doing my own thing and not worrying about the eternal punishment that no two people seem to be in any agreement on. And to be honest, I'm quite sure I've done a lot more thinking about this than the typical "Christian." I'm telling you, if you're a true believer, you're one of the very very few. Most of the folks out here don't believe in anything but themselves, and they're really not even so sure about that anymore.

TRUTH 101 said...

" I really wish more self-professed Christians would put more emphasis on what Christ said, and less on what Paul wrote"

That was profound almost to the point of Biobrain level genius John of the Dead. Paul's writings always seemed to me the ravings of wack job. Even the Apostle Peter said Paul was a (In modern terms) long winded pain in the ass. Much like our own Professor Douglas.