According to a new Pew survey, and as publicized by news organizations such as CNN, the number of Americans claiming “no religion” has reached 1 in 5, the highest ever. Anyone who has observed the culture in the last few decades should not be shocked by this number. In fact, the number in all likelihood is actually higher, since many of those who officially “affiliate” are still “practical atheists,” meaning that their supposed faith has no bearing whatsoever on their daily lives, and that their religion is a completely private affair. God is weightless in this type of Christianity. If a Christian is better defined as one who is active in the church, takes scripture seriously, tries to live an upright life, and tries to implement and practice a comprehensive Christian worldview, the number is actually probably reversed. In other words, only 1 in 5 are actually committed Christians. Since the Pew survey also includes other religions and heretical groups, the number might actually be optimistically 1 in 8. Of course many secularist and atheist organizations are ecstatic, thinking that this will lead to some sort of secularist utopia, where man can worship himself (read some of the Christian-bashing comments on the bottom of the story if you feel up to it).
In typical post-Christian (and post-modern) fashion, many of these “non-affiliated” call themselves “spiritual but not religious,” a statement symptomatic of the highly individualized “personal religion” that is in vogue currently. The number is even higher for young people, with numbers in the 30-40 percent range. Interestingly, the “header” on the top of the CNN page involving this story includes an article of how the “spiritual not religious” statement is in reality an intellectual cop-out, and is worth a read. With this in mind, here are a few thoughts (not necessarily systematized, as this is pretty fresh):
1. Apologetics is and will continue to be extremely important for the church, especially in the education of the young. The vast majority of Christians who are still making an attempt to be faithful, are woeful when it comes to “knowing why you believe what you believe,” and in many cases fail to even successfully articulate basic Christian doctrine (such as the Trinity, person of Christ, etc…). Young people can see through the latest and greatest programs and gimmicks, so let’s give them some meat and teach them how to defend it. If your response to questions about the faith is “that doesn’t matter as long as you have a personal relationship,” you may be making the problem worse. Educate thyself!
2. The church (especially those classified as “evangelical”, although other orthodox Christians as well), in order to “reach the culture,” has preached such a stunted view of Christianity that this is a highly predictable result. When it is preached constantly that “all you need is a personal relationship,” and that “personal study” is the be-all/end-all, every person becomes a pope unto himself. Who needs the church, the creeds, the councils, the fathers, Greek, etc…when it is just me and my Jesus over a cup of coffee? What is amazing about this is how many assert this version of evangelicalism dogmatically while saying “we don’t need dogma/doctrine” without missing the irony of the statement.
3. This is also why grounding one’s self in historic Christianity is a position of strength, as it inoculates you from being “tossed about by every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14). Become biblically literate, know the Creeds and Councils, and live and defend them. Do NOT just do this because “we’ve always done it that way.” Keep in mind the axiom of the late Jaroslav Pelikan, “Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. Tradition is the living faith of the dead.” We have a living faith that has been dearly bought by blood, sweat, toil, and tears. Receive it and pass it down faithfully, “tearing down every argument that sets itself up against the knowledge of God” (II Cor. 10:4).
4. Faithful orthodox Christians will become increasingly unpopular and unwelcome in the culture. Modern chauvinists will try to marginalize, persecute, and ridicule those of us who hold to the faith and worldview that results. The culture will continue to deteriorate as the West undercuts the foundation that made it great in the first place. We should rejoice when we are subjected to this however, and be ever more bold when opportunities arise.
5. Orthodox Christians everywhere, who are already starting to cooperate together (in movements such as the Manhattan Declaration), should start taking seriously the idea of forming cultural alternatives, not just aped versions of what passes for culture today. You may be viewed as a reactionary, “anti-progress,” “old-fashioned,” or whatever label that usually comes with such things. The great classical Christian culture of the West is now counter-cultural, and this is a good thing. Our own heritage in the West can be a witness against the West.
Anyone else care to comment on this story? Possible Solutions? Experiences?