April 1, 2020

The ARIS Study: Christianity On The Decline In America

UPDATE: Welcome to all of you stopping by from the Drudge Report and Real Clear Politics. Glad to have you.

The American Religious Identification Survey published its results this week, and if you go to the USA Today graphic and punch in Catholics, Other Christians and Non-Religious, you will get the picture.

(Touchstone Magazine has a good summary piece as well, with excellent summary analysis. Be sure and read it.)

Hispanics are the only thing floating in a sinking American Catholicism. Catholicism in the northeast is in rapid decline. Stunning, really.

Protestants are in a free fall. Evangelicals are moving to non-denominational megachurches and away from mainlines and traditional evangelicalism. Non-denominational, highly Charismatic flavored evangelicalism is on the way to domination, and you heard it here first, megachurch evangelicalism is a house of cards. If those in the pews of the megachurches think think grandchildren will be there as adults, I have a bridge I’d like to sell cheap.

While out and out atheists are still a sliver of the population, those calling themselves non-religious are growing rapidly. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet in that category. America remains a nation that says it is over 70% Christian, but Christianity as a percentage of the population is shrinking in every category except for Hispanics.

Baptists are coasting into decline, with growth far behind the total population. Generational horizons- the end of churches because no younger generation exists- are everywhere in the mainlines.

This is the stage for the coming evangelical collapse. It is the dawning of an America where Christianity is generic or declining, for the most part. It is the stage where serious Churches and theologically/culturally conservative churches have a first century style mission field. This is the stage where many of us will watch our children and grandchildren identify a generic Christianity when they are young, but never join a church and eventually drop into the ranks of the non-religious.

This is the stage for a cultural disengagement from the Christian memory of America. It is the dawning of a new American religious landscape. Give our culture 25 years. How much faster will this happen? How much deeper will it go?

If you are an evangelical and you aren’t enthusiastically supporting innovative, cross cultural, missional church planting, you might want to go pre-plan the funeral. The future isn’t the megachurch. The future is ACTS 29.

Catholics, Orthodox, Lutherans, Anglicans: You’re at the crossroads. I’d get serious.

Liberal mainlines: Wake up and find the lifeboats.

Your thoughts?

Comments

  1. grace:

    Not wearing the cooler clothes is a defining issue of fundamentalism.

    I take it you aren’t a Driscoll fan? 🙂

    peace

    ms

  2. Your insight is prescient. Please read a very brief Catholic response to this prophetic article at bonreport.com.

    Truth is not relevant, and your analysis is based on truth.

    Your hope for home churches though is misplaced. Chaos and disunity will never auto-assemble, and will certainly never answer the culture with one voice. What voices manage to answer will have no authority. House churches are simply a structure, not a faith. You can’t hand on a house church to your children in the same way you can’t hand on a conversation with your neighbor to your children. It is another stillborn idea, yet born from a sincere desire to “reboot” Protestantism. There are other ways to “reboot”, yet the most basic of ideas escape sincere believers, due large in part from the plethora of teachers Paul warned us about.

    Paul predicts that when there are “many teachers”, it is a bad sign, and that is where we are at. (2 Timothy 4:1-5) And isn’t the situation you describe exactly this? If not, what WOULD a multitude of teachers in a Christian landscape look like? And would it not end up exactly what you describe as present – and doomed?

    To “reboot”, you have to back to the beginnings, to the foundation, which according to Paul is the Church, not private interpretation of Scripture, not random ministries without authority, not multitudes of teachers leading this way and that.

    As monkeys banging on typewriters will never produce a Sonnet, so to will random views of the faith mount together to produce a cohesive and singular answer to the evil of our times. And a singular answer is what it needs. Look around – you just might find one…

  3. The Guy from Knoxville says

    Michael,

    Boy this post opened up the looney bin and all the
    nut cases have come flooding in! I’ve always known that I was a bit “sheltered” but the abject hatred for christians is of a level that I had not expected assuming I’m reading all the above right. This is good for me though as one needs to see the real world and realize what’s really happening. I’ll admit that I have great issues with my SBC background but I can never go to the point of an outright denial of Christ that is so evident in some of the comments above.

    I suppose we need to see just what the world really thinks because it’s very evident that many sitting in the church pew, especially in the megas and similar, have no clue how they come across to people and if that’s so with them it’s 100X or even 1000X worse for
    hardcore fundie churhes and similar.

    Reeling somewhat from reality…. but it’s needed.

  4. Nick wrote:

    “Secularism and every other ism will fall before Christ and His church…”

    One of those isms might be evangelicalism, which isn’t necessarily the same as ekklesia (i.e. church). The hollow shell of evangelicalism can fall, yet His people assembled just might remain. I read of people out there that are disillusioned with the “organized churches” as they exist and are trying to form communities that don’t resemble what we’re accustomed to seeing. I’m not bothered so much by people leaving “churches.” I think people are realizing that what’s “out there” isn’t really any worse than what’s “in here,” so they leave.

  5. Steve,

    Well said.

    Wyman

  6. Michael,

    The full detailed ARIS report is available here. There is a wealth of information here, far beyond what was available in the summary articles.

    It should keep me busy with blog posts at Eclectic Christian for quite some time. 🙂

  7. James of Duluth says

    Clearly you thought long and hard before writing obituary of the evangelical movement. In normal times hubristic rants are best left falling to the ground but we find ourselves in an age that listens and acts upon foolish intellectual thought. The Evangelical Christian Church as you have defined it never existed so it can’t be killed. The Evangelical Christian Church has always been focused on their communities by God’s inspired leadership in the community this will continue with or without building and money.
    Like most rambling thought there a few truths worth digesting if they were not already subject of debate within the community. If you intention was to spur debate within among evangelicals’ then I would remind you of Matthew 7:5 “Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” However, if you intention was to feed the flames of Evangelical Christian hatred then may God have mercy on you.

  8. “[W]hen the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” – Luke 18:8

    Guys, I think we just answered that question.

    I think what’s happening is that we’re going “back to the future”, so to speak. If the house church movement continues to thrive in greater numbers than before and big denominations continue faltering into nothingness, the picture of Christianity in America’s future will look more like the early Christian church meeting at believers’ homes during time of the Roman Emperors.

    The non-religious community will grow, but there will be a very vocal and hostile one dominating all discourse which, with other religious groups and the government, will eventually eliminate all Christianity from public life.

    Seen in California a few years ago was this one T-shirt with the message, “So Many Christians, So Few Lions…”

    It will come to a point in which, when push comes to shove, those remaining Christians will say, in open defiance of the seculars, “Jesus is Lord, not the State/Government/Leader.” Exactly what happened during the time of the Emperors. We all know how it ended.

    The lions are waking up after an age-long nap.. and they’re mightily hungry…

    Oh, BTW: to the dude who talked about how the Enlightenment promises the better future… Look at the other side of the Enlightenment coin – the French one. Yep, “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite”. Did you see that little guillotine emblazoned in that coin? You should. Did you know that little machine cut the heads off nuns, priests, and many, many innocent people during the Reign of Terror, including Marie Antoinette? Hey: Robespierre was a very efficient follower of the Enlightenment! After all, he was a fan of Voltaire, right? … right? Today’s America is being quickly populated by those whose political influences can be traced to the French Enlightenment/Napoleonic Code. How promising…

  9. Your quote, which I am adding verbatim below, is not really racist… what is it?

    “Hispanics are the only thing floating in a sinking American Catholicism. Catholicism in the northeast is in rapid decline. Stunning, really.”

    To begin with, Hispanics are not “things” and they don’t float. Most of us go to church to visit socially; we leave the “believing” to the older generations. Things will get worse for the church, however. As members of the younger generation grow up, they will also leave religion. And that is stunning.

    Many of my contemporaries have “inherited” (forced, really)religion from our parents. This was akin to being brainwashed, but forcefully accepted— the choice was not there. Nowadays, most people, including the floaters, are learning that there is not such a thing as Satan, for example. This notion, and many like it, is only the product of the nightmares of a scribe from antiquity, a monk who, in his spare time, wanted to make things more interesting and fearful. He needed converts, you see.

    Therefore, I am not surprised (maybe somewhat elated, however) that people are leaving organized religion in droves. These are people who are educated, have degrees, etc. They have opened their eyes, and closed their wallets, to reality. The only remaining frontiers to keep the “faith” going are remote places in the world where people have no minds and are, therefore, submissive to the words of preachers and missionaries.

    It is a cruel world, but reality bites.

  10. Ragamuffin says

    James of Duluth

    Clearly you thought long and hard before writing obituary of the evangelical movement. In normal times hubristic rants are best left falling to the ground but we find ourselves in an age that listens and acts upon foolish intellectual thought. The Evangelical Christian Church as you have defined it never existed so it can’t be killed. The Evangelical Christian Church has always been focused on their communities by God’s inspired leadership in the community this will continue with or without building and money.
    Like most rambling thought there a few truths worth digesting if they were not already subject of debate within the community. If you intention was to spur debate within among evangelicals’ then I would remind you of Matthew 7:5 “Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” However, if you intention was to feed the flames of Evangelical Christian hatred then may God have mercy on you.

    Way to miss the point.

  11. willietheartist says

    The Guy from Knoxville
    Wrote

    Boy this post opened up the looney bin and all the
    nut cases have come flooding in!

    I’m not exactly sure who the guy from Knoxville is referring to but in case it is me let me explain. I enjoy being around Christians and attending church each Sunday. I consider Christians to be my tribe and the church service is where I go to hear the tribal drum being beaten. So look around next Sunday and you may see me there.

  12. F. Leon, could you please provide me with the name and/or location of that one particular scribe who invented the devil out of nowhere, managed to get this imaginary construct inserted into all copies of the Scriptures produced globally, and avoided having anyone go “Hey, last time I read this, that ‘Satan’ guy wasn’t mentioned anywhere!”

    Kthanxbye!

  13. Eulogy Jones says

    Trust has been broken. The remedy is not to continue to demand trust. The remedy is transparancy. Authority at all levels and all sectors has been abused and on the information super highway word spreads quickly. The social consciencousness is bombarded with new revelations of corruption and hypocracy on a regular basis. With story after story in the public eye, it seems pervasive and this is not only impacting decisions but confirming negative stereo types. These stereo types are consistently reinforced and we are relegated to an us vs. them mentality and guess what: a culture war.

    It seems like we forget that the wisdom that is from above is without hypocrisy and willing to yeald.

    The church has lost the moral high ground and can no longer afford to be dogmatic. The old debates have gained nothing. The only hope for growth and healing is thoughtful dialog in a spirit of sincere comradery. With such negative results and such dire predictions, the church can no longer posture as though it has all the answers. Its not even asking the right questions.

  14. I think some readers have misunderstood the context of my post. I don’t hate Christians. I don’t want to see Christianity disappear. I don’t think that people should join a religion just because the practitioners are nice.

    What I do believe is that there are some irrational behaviors on the part of some Christians and that turns a lot of people off. I am reminded of a sign saying “God made AIDS to cure fags.” Love thy neighbor, unless he’s gay?

    What is a reasonable, intelligent person to do when confronted with this behavior? Do you think Jesus would hold that sign?

    What I want, and what others like me want, is a religion that espouses universal truths that apply to all humans, without marginalizing others or using minorities as a target for rallying support. Do not lead us to God as if we are sheep, but walk along beside us as if we are discovering the God together.

    As Christians, you have the opportunity to provide a religion for those of us who have yet to identify with one. It is your own selfish demand to legislate morality for others that is holding us back.

  15. James 1:27: Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

    Sounds an awful lot like social work to me.

  16. The Guy from Knoxville says

    Willie – we have too many tribal drums thumping now…. enough already!!

    F.Leon – Read the post again and take it in its context “things” were not ment in a bad manner – it was actually a compliment – it were not for the hispanic people it would be far worse off. Your last paragraph
    was just silly!

  17. Every advance in the history of mankind starting tens of thousands of years before Moses (if there really was a Moses) was accomplished by man. From his discovery of fire, agriculture, animal husdandry, metalurgy, irrigation, architecture,money, democracy and culminating in the modern miracles of jet planes, computers, digital TV and cell phones, to name a few. All of these things would have been called works of God by preceding generations. Any objective study of history must lead to the conclusion that all through his evolution, man has invented some sort of God, or Gods, to explain the obsevations around him, that he could not understand. As science has led to more and more complete understanding of the world he lives in, relgion has become focused on the one mystery that science cannot explain. Namely, where do we go when we die? The fear that this may be the only life we have is the bedrock on which the Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths rests. I submit that there is not a shred of evidence that there is an afterlife, nor any evidence that God has ever concerned himself in the affairs of mankind, although there are those who maintain that the tsunami that killed a quarter of a million people in Thailand was indeed one of his “acts”. One final observation: There is hope in the fact that as the level of education rises, the need to believe in the supernatural wanes so our grandchildren may indeed live in a more rational world.

  18. Rev.Rowland says

    um, F. Leon, how do you start a post by calling a statistical fact, (ie: that if not for the influence of Hispanics in Catholicism, the RCC would be in much steper decline) RACIST, and end with such a statement:

    “The only remaining frontiers to keep the “faith” going are remote places in the world where people have no minds and are, therefore, submissive to the words of preachers and missionaries.”

    This last statement of yours is not only racist, but imperialist as well, as it shows you believe people in ‘remote places’ have no capacity to reason or think.

    Dude……party foul!

  19. That Other Jean says

    “That’s not religion. Awe, terror, rage, savage indignation, delight, and the peace that passeth understanding – yes. Sticking plaster for society – no.” – Martha

    Martha, I only have a problem with that last bit. There’s this verse in Matthew about “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” It seems to imply that “sticking plaster for society” is pretty important.

    Perhaps if Evangelicals (and others) concentrated more on helping others and less on feeling good about themselves, or praying for something good to happen to them, or whatever’s in vogue this week, Christianity wouldn’t be declining in this country. Yeah, I know–salvation is a gift, and is not won by works. Doesn’t matter: take that gift and DO SOMETHING with it!

  20. Martha,

    Glad you asked that question. I cannot give you a reference for his location, not even the name of the scribe because it was an example, a figment of my imagination.

    My point is that we don’t really know who wrote such things. For example, who wrote the stuff in Genesis? Was it written by some divine being? Was he/she/it from another planet? I don’t know. We don’t know, do we?. The snake in the Garden of Eden would be another appropriate example. When I was very young, the tale of the snake instilled fear in me because, like Indiana Jones, I hate snakes. The mention of Satan, likewise, had a similar effect on me. As a result, I had to go to church, or else, you know what.

    The key word is fear. That is why one often reads that Satan is a Liberal. Church-going people are supposed to fear Liberals because Liberals have their eyes opened and can spot a sleigh of hands a mile away.

  21. Rev. Rowland,

    Please re-read my quote. I said that the quote is not really racist… but I could not pinpoint what the writer really meant. He might have meant something else, but you can ask him. Maybe he is the racist in this instance, who knows?

    As a member of a minority who was born and lived in a remote part of the world, I have seen and experienced first-hand the way missionaries operate in such an environment. Perhaps I was too harsh when I stated that these people “have no minds” because they certainly do— one of them is answering your posting. What I meant is that, when they are contacted by these saviors, they usually do not have experience with religious matters, or, worse, its consequences. In that sense, they are ignorant. They are ripe for conquest. The Catholic Church has been a very active protagonist in these sad tales.

  22. F. Leon,

    I feel sorry for you, that your main response to Christianity is fear. I can understand where it is coming from, because too often Christ is not shown as the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His Sheep, but as the Judge. Also, all forms of Christianity have added stuff to it; like being told that I’m not a Catholic because I don’t like praying the rosary or that Baptist women NEVER wear slacks.

    The heart of the gospel is LOVE. God loves us, Jesus loves us (and wants us to love God, then our neighbor and even ourselves.)

    I won’t pretend that it is easy, because it isn’t. Scary too. Imagine a birthday cake candle loving and being loved by the sun. I hope that I have helped you understand, just a little bit.

  23. Anna A.

    In my comments, my references to fear had to do, in part, with the experiences I had when I was very young. My parents, priests, nuns, teachers, etc., instilled fear in me at a young age because they wanted me to go to church, confession, etc., so that I could be saved, but they never told me from what. In their eyes, I was just a new recruit.

    I think human beings must believe in some Higher Being who loves us, but this choice must be personal. I had no choice when I was young, but to follow what my parents and other grown ups dictated me. I have that choice now.

    Thank you for your comments. Love is certainly the answer.

  24. Rod Mullen was correct that the inflection point of history was the Enlightenment. Sadly, since then the church has been busily destroying its credibility among the educated and thereby shutting out people from the gospel. The church staked everything on its losing gamble that science would eventually be proven wrong so that its traditional (but non-essential) beliefs that conflict with science would be justified. And so we’ve seen the church wrong on an unbroken succession of issues: geocentrism (it hurts to even name that over-wrought and inflated issue), geology and the extent of the flood, the age of the Earth and universe, and now — coming into ever sharper focus with the tremendous influx of genomic data — evolution and the literalness of the Adam and Eve account. (This last one strikes closest to the essentials of the faith, but in my opinion is not really an essential after all when the genre of the account is taken into account.) What kills me is that the church is almost completely unaware that this is why it is losing. Rather than recognize our 300 years of failure, we once again double down and take the bad gamble, asserting our failing traditions over the evidence. Whereas we should have been patrons of the sciences, giving full support and freedom to investigators, waiting to see what truths of nature God was going to surprise us with, we have let the world know that we are the enemy and alternative to science (which just happens to be tremendously successful and thus increasingly identified by our neighbors as the foundation-stone of their worldview). I’m convinced that the conversion of a culture always occurs from the intellectual class downward. (Paul wanted to preach before Caesar, recall.) Grassroots growth among the population does precede conversion of the intellectual class, but ultimately the overall culture won’t be converted until the intellectuals are. Well, we have lost the intellectuals in the West almost completely. You can hardly find a Christian professor on campus these days. The education establishments even down to K-12 levels are easily converting the youth away from Christianity by making us appear intellectually backward, or rather pointing out how we actually _are_ intellectually backward (in our evangelical instantiation). So it’s no wonder that we are losing the souls of people all around us. But why can’t the church see this? The only answer I can see is that the power of tradition won’t let people face the facts. People just don’t want to question the literalness of Adam and they can’t bring themselves to do it, no matter how obviously out of touch they are with science and no matter how high a stumbling block it puts in front of people who aren’t starting from the same traditional bias that we are. It’s heart-breaking. I’m only now finding my voice on this issue, and I hold hope that maybe some others are, too. But I have to wonder if the church is already, no matter what, too late for this generation.

  25. Mark,

    The story you tell is neat and tidy, but it’s just a story told by secular scientists to reassure themselves. (I’m not dissing secular scientists – I’m one myself.) The idea that science is a (nearly) complete explanation of the world doesn’t stand up to even moderate examination. Scientists have been kidding themselves with this idea for 200 years, at least – ever since Newton published his theories. As soon as the “end of science” is announced, new phenomena are discovered that blows the old paradigm apart.
    Far from “not a shred” of evidence, there is a massive amount of evidence for the existence of a spiritual component to the universe (yes, including an afterlife, as well). Much of the higher-quality evidence was actually generated by scientists themselves in the late 19th century, when studying it was temporarily in vogue. Today’s scientists usually assume, without any justification other then wishful thinking, that the matter has been adequately explained.
    Even in a “mined out” field such as Electrical Engineering (my field), there are numerous physical phenomena (some repeatable, some not) that have never been even approximately explained by current theory: ball lightning and water-arc explosions are a couple of examples. Most things that can’t be explained by science are simply ignored by scientists. The idea that scientific explanation in the life sciences is even approximately complete is a total joke.
    As an Engineer/Scientist, I’m not going to accept a religious explanation as the truth, without proof. However, I don’t buy the “secular fairy-tale” that current science explains more than a tiny fraction of the Universe.

  26. Mark said, “I submit that there is not a shred of evidence that there is an afterlife…”

    Correct. That’s why we call it faith. I have chosen to follow Jesus as who he said he was and believe what he said. That probably seems irrational, even crazy to many, but I’m OK with that.

    As for your statement “There is hope in the fact that as the level of education rises, the need to believe in the supernatural wanes so our grandchildren may indeed live in a more rational world”. Hitler abandoned his Catholic upbringing for a secular state, Joseph Stalin was an avowed atheist, Paul Pot abolished all religions in Cambodia in an attempt to create a Utopian society. All three were responsible for the death of millions. Hardly a rational world.

    And yes, the Christian community also bears responsibility for participation / complicity in genocide throughout recorded history, so you needn’t remind me of the crusades or nuns in Rwanda. Whether or not a person chooses to believe in God wouldn’t seem (based on our history so far) to be a predictor of peaceful co-existence with one’s neighbors, so don’t I wouldn’t get my hopes up.

  27. One thing about the “least of my brothers” reference —

    In that particular Gospel account, there is no loyalty oath, no identifying oneself with a denomination or even “the Name above all names.” There is just the unconscious, intrinsic reaching out to others in need in sincere care and compassion. The ones deemed successful were not even aware that they had done anything Divinely noteworthy. And they were the Saved.

    Judge with righteous judgment, I think.

  28. Here’s some food for thought regarding science and religion. “Aquinas v. Intelligent Design” http://www.catholic.com/thisrock/2008/0811fea4.asp

    I think what will in the long run prove to be to the advantage of the Catholic Church, with respect to science, is it’s intellectualism, especially Thomism, which is a Christianization of Aristotle. The basic premise is that religion and science are not mutually exclusive, as God is the author of the laws of nature. “God is the author of all truth; the aim of scientific research is the truth; therefore, there can be no fundamental incompatibility between the two. Provided we understand Christian doctrine properly and do our science well, we will find the truth.”

  29. Patrick Lynch says

    I feel the need to correct this:

    Sadly, since then the church has been busily destroying its credibility among the educated and thereby shutting out people from the gospel.”

    This sentence, I suggest, should read, “Sadly, since then uneducated people have been busily destroying their credibility among the educated and thereby shutting out people from the gospel.”

    Lets not forget the deep (and historical) socioeconomic and class-divides in play when we speak about “educated” people, and lets make doubly certain that we don’t unknowingly adopt their ‘rationalist’ prejudices when we analyze the evangelistic efforts of the uneducated. The Evangelical American Christian zietgeist we’re all tearing down here was built on the labor of the Baptists, Methodists, immigrant Catholics et. al., whose formal educational and economic attainments were generally modest. Seething underneath all these debates that are supposedly about science is a class battle, and fundamentalist religion is falsely taken to be the ideological fault-line when it’s really just a scratch in the dirt compared to the real churning of value / capital ongoing.

  30. Bob
    As a fellow engineer, Bob, you surprise me in your assertion that I even suggested that “scientists have been kidding themselves with the idea that we have an almost complete knowledge of the universe since Newton”. I am not a scientist (BSEE and MS Nuclear Engineering), but I know that scientific knowledge builds over time as ever greater insight into physical phenomena is achived. Newton’s laws, as you must know, are still the basic models for the design of macro mechanical devices. The old saw which you repeat that later discoveries blows the old paradigm apart is nonsense. Einstein’s work started with an application of Larence’s transformation which was based on Newton’s laws of motion. A few years later Heisenburg, Bohr and others developed quantum mechanics by combining Einstein’s work with earlier quantum physics using a new form of matrix mathematics. Quantum Mechanics, as you probably know, is at the heart of solid state physics which, in turn, makes possible the design and production of most modern electronic devices. To suggest that any scientist is so arrogant as to either claim that we now know (almost) everything or ignore a phenomenon that he doesn’t understand tells me that you have never worked closely with a true scientist.
    And, Bob, I would be delighted to review any of the “massive amount” of 19th century higher-quality evidence you have that supports either the existence of an after life or supernatural interaction with human life. I would agree that since it is logically impossible to prove a negative, there may indeed be as you put it, a spiritual component to the universe, there just isn’t any solid evidence to support that theory.

    Biophysics is making rapid advances in understanding the fundamentals of biological systems, but the science is in its infantcy. I have never read of anyone working in that field (and I do read of their progress)who has even suggested that our understanding of these systems is any where near being complete. On the contrary, anyone in the field who stated that would be ridiculed as a total joke, to use your words. In closing, Bob, I am sorry you find the field of electrical engineering to be “mined out” with no remaining challenges. I suggest you read the IEEE journal for inspiration.

  31. Ah, I see, F. Leon.

    You reproach Christianity for inventing fables by inventing a fable.

    Yes, that makes perfect sense.

  32. That Other Jean, I was not denigrating the Corporal Works of Mercy by any means. What I intended to show scorn for was the view that religion (Christianity in our particular context) is perfectly fine as long as it confines itself to nice, harmless, agreeable things like works of charity. But please don’t drag your horrid deity into this, or even faintly intimate that the reason you are doing these works is because He has commanded us to love one another, or for any reason other than social utility.

    No, please just stick to a “Vicar of Dibley” level of being a vague figure of vanishing authority whose only job is to inform us, with a diffident smile and an apology for being so forward, that the message of Christ boils down to “Let’s all be nice to each other!” And as long as you’re a good person (for a particular value of “good” that does not include doing or saying anything to prod society’s conscience about its pet sins), it doesn’t matter what you do or don’t believe, because it’s all the same anyway at bottom and besides, science has explained the real reasons for everything so religion is relegated to warm, sentimental Christmas Carolling and Easter Bunny fuzziness.

  33. Mark,

    I think that you missed Bob’s most important phrase about EE, he mentioned that there were still a number of phenomena that were unexplained, such as ball lightening.

    I was glad to read his posting because I am a formulating chemist, and I find challenges daily. I have to, more frequently than I would like, to try to either explain a difference in a raw material and if it changes anything in what we make it into. (and to my sorrowful irritation, the suppliers tend not to be able to help.)

    I think that part of the problem is that modern science does NOT make a clear distinction between its philosophy and the facts of science. You may be talking past each other because of this confusion

  34. I was raised in an evangelical mega church and was so turned off by the tone deafness of its leadership that I never looked back after I left for college. Some of my friends from similar backgrounds opted for congregations with more doctrine, but I took the opposite route and ultimately lost faith.

    I agree that the church is dying, and until the majority of Christian denominations repudiate the doctrine of eternal punishment and original sin then it will continue to do so.

  35. Alex: Which do you believe we have here:

    1) Eternal punishment and original sin are not taught in the Bible at all.

    2) Eternal punishment and original sin are taught in the Bible, but Christians need to excise them from their beliefs anyway.

    thanks

    Michael Spencer (A person who would be happy to do away with both doctrines if Jesus didn’t teach them.)

  36. Martha,

    Yes, it does make perfect sense, doesn’t it? I am just putting into practice what I learned in Sunday school. After all, I had great Christian teachers. And I am not reproaching Christianity; I am merely using their own tools to attempt to understand, and uncover, their modus operandi. Deception at its best. Maybe, under these premises, the scribe I invented does really exist.

  37. J,
    You left me confused with one of your statements:

    *Generational horizons- the end of churches because no younger generation exists- are everywhere in the mainlines.*
    Ah ah ah! One exception: As they have been doing for the past 35 years, Unitarian Universalists are very, very slowly growing. Like, a fraction of a fraction of a percent.

    How is it that you consider Unitarian Universalists to be one of the mainlines?
    From their own beliefs page they admit the following:

    “Unitarian Universalism is a liberal religion that encompasses many faith traditions. Unitarian Universalists include people who identify as Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Pagans, Atheists, Agnostics, Humanists, and others. As there is no official Unitarian Universalist creed, Unitarian Universalists are free to search for truth on many paths.

    Even if they are growing, it isn’t Christianity that they are advancing.

  38. That Other Jean says

    Martha,

    Ah, OK. You’re right about that: a religion with no sharp edges isn’t worth having.

  39. Anna
    I appriciate your comments concerning Bob’s reply to my posting. I am aware of course of the ball lightning phenomona, its been around since Ben Franklins day, at least. The current theory suggests and in fact has been demonstrated in a Brazilian lab, that lightning vaporizes silicon into a cloud which then oxides rapidly in air producing a glowing, hot, sphere which persists up to 8 seconds. This has ,as I said, been demonstrated in the lab. It is further speculated, but not yet demonstrated that other materials could be similarly vaporized such as aluminum. In any case it is not likely to be the work of ghosts, angels or demons. As far as the philosophy of science goes, I believe that a true scientist’s philosophy is pure skepticism. Accept for the moment the theory that best explains and predicts events in the real world, but be ready to abandon or modify that theory should a fact or observation occur that contradicts the expected result. To me, at least, that is a clear relationship between the philosophy of science and scientific facts.

  40. iMonk:

    I don’t believe the Bible is clear regarding hell (Gehenna vs. Sheol vs. Hades). It seems that these were all different concepts, With Gehenna being an actual physical place in Jerusalem known to be a nasty place. However, even if it was clear as a bell I could never reconcile the concept of eternal punishment for temporal crimes with an omnibenevolent God, and thus the scriptures must be inaccurate. The worst part is that mere indifference towards the Creator is supposedly enough to land us in hell.

    Original sin also calls into question God’s benevolence since we are created already in need of atonement, despite our complete innocence and lack of consent in our Earthly existence. The whole premise of modern Christianity as presented to me has been a cosmic Hobson’s choice (You have free will, but if you don’t use it to Love God then you will face eternal suffering. But God loves you). I don’t believe original sin is actually taught in the Bible, but was created by St. Augustine who tried to scientifically explain that sin was carried by a father’s sperm.

  41. Solar Hero says

    The problems are deeper than any of you realize. Theological concepts from the most evangelical to the mainline are worn and prima facie absurd. Only the charismatics can deliver a coherent christology, for instance, thus their popularity.

  42. Mark,

    If you believe in pure skepticism as a philosophy for a scientist, how do you know when to stop testing the simple stuff. By simple stuff, just weigh something, and how do you know that the balance is right, etc. etc. etc. You have to choose when to start accepting answers, or people’s words and deeds. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a great believer in questioning; I once told the truth and admitted that I didn’t believe in scientific evidence. Got me off of a jury (based only on breathelyzer evidence.) But, you do need to know when to stop and trust.

    Alex,

    How do explain Roman’s 5:12? That’s the verse where Paul says: “Wherefore as by one man sin entered into this world, and by sin death; and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned”

    Solar Hero,

    I find it interesting that you praise the Charismatics. I was involved with them for a time, and enjoyed the worship, but left because there was very little or nothing to challenge my mind. The emphasis seemed to be emotional, not intellectual.
    Can you please give me an example of what kind of theological concept that you consider worn?

    Thank you

  43. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    No, please just stick to a “Vicar of Dibley” level of being a vague figure of vanishing authority whose only job is to inform us, with a diffident smile and an apology for being so forward, that the message of Christ boils down to “Let’s all be nice to each other!” And as long as you’re a good person (for a particular value of “good” that does not include doing or saying anything to prod society’s conscience about its pet sins), it doesn’t matter what you do or don’t believe, because it’s all the same anyway at bottom and besides, science has explained the real reasons for everything so religion is relegated to warm, sentimental Christmas Carolling and Easter Bunny fuzziness. — Martha

    Which will resist Islam (which stands for someting definite and ACTS upon it) about as well as cotton candy resists the edge of a scimitar.

    I don’t believe the Bible is clear regarding hell (Gehenna vs. Sheol vs. Hades). It seems that these were all different concepts, With Gehenna being an actual physical place in Jerusalem known to be a nasty place. — Alex

    Gehenna (aka Hinnom Valley) WAS the Jerusalem city dump. As well as an infamous location of human sacrifice when Phoneican Baalism was making inroads on Judaism.

    Carrying on that imagery, Gehenna/Hell is a cosmic city dump, a landfill for refuse who couldn’t make it into the Kingdom. When you strip down and rebuild a house, you’ve got to dump the scrap and garbage someplace.

    I am reminded of a sign saying “God made AIDS to cure fags.” Love thy neighbor, unless he’s gay?

    What is a reasonable, intelligent person to do when confronted with this behavior? — DCX2

    Fred Phelps strikes again?

  44. AT Chaffee says

    “However, even if it was clear as a bell I could never reconcile the concept of eternal punishment for temporal crimes with an omnibenevolent God, and thus the scriptures must be inaccurate.”

    FWIW, annihilationism is the view that those not in union with the source of life will no longer have life (with some variation-there can be burning up involved). This seems to be late 1800’s theology but some evangelicals, notably John Stott, are sympathetic.
    http://www.the-highway.com/annihilationism_Packer.html

    Original sin is not necessarily a fiat but could also be seen as descriptive. That is, even if it weren’t a sin “nature” (and we can argue about that), there is for sure a sin “nurture” that will be passed on because there is no sin-free culture.

  45. Lance in TX says

    Alex,
    The issues you have with the idea of hell is one of the reasons I fell away from the Episcopal and Catholic Churches and was “inactive” for many years. It never made sense that there were only 2 choices: Heaven and Hell. There was no inbetween. You were either Awesome Or Terrible.

    The Church I belong to does not believe this. We believe that there are 3 degrees of Glory (Heaven). We also believe there is 1 location of NO Glory, but only a Son of Perdition would go there and that there will be very few people there. We believe The Holy Ghost will reside over the lowest Glory, Jesus Christ will reside over the middle Glory, and God (our Heavenly Father) will reside over the highest Glory after the Second Comming when Jesus Christ comes back to judge over us all.

    The Church I belong to has this to say about Original Sin:
    Because of the Fall of Adam and Eve, all people live in a fallen condition, separated from God and subject to physical death. However, we are not condemned by what many call the “original sin.” In other words, we are not accountable for Adam’s transgression in the Garden of Eden.

    Our Prophet said, “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression”

  46. To Alex,

    God is perfection, correct? Since God is perfect, it stands to reason that He is not only all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving, but also perfectly just. God does not push Himself on us. Consider human familial relations. Equate it to the “Prodigal Son” story. The son was living in sin, and ended up working in a hog lot, wishing he could eat some of the pods that he was feeding the hogs. In the end, the father received back the son, whom he thought was dead, back into the family, not as a servant, but as his son, with all the same rights as if he’d never left. The son, in reality, created his own hell by his actions and choices.

    I’m not so sure that our concept of hell shouldn’t change with the times, because frankly I think we DO create our own hell. Bottom line, hell is going to be awful firstly because it is going to be eternal imperfection, the lack of God’s presence. Secondly, it’s going to be bad because, well, it IS HELL.

    One example of what I think hell might be for, lets take fanatical Islamists, since I’m pretty sure we all agree that class of individuals is going to hell, is a room full of scantily clad women, 72 minimum, all exceedingly beautiful, and he can’t even lay a finger on them FOR ETERNITY, and there’s nowhere to get away from them, either. That certainly would be hell for him (for any man so tortured, I’m sure).

    On the topic of original sin, I found this interesting article by an Eastern Orthodox writer on St. Paul’s theology of original sin. It does go as far as to call Prot. and RC theology, and in practice, many Orthos due to western influence, to be heretical based on Paul’s theology.

    http://www.romanity.org/htm/rom.10.en.original_sin_according_to_st._paul.01.htm#s2

  47. Mark,

    Perhaps I owe you an apology – thanks for your temperate response. I’ll try to clarify my position with the restraint you showed.

    I don’t have a personal stash of evidence about the spiritual world – this is available in any major library, for anyone to research, and has been for nearly 100 years. The fact that most scientists and engineers (like yourself) simply assume that this evidence doesn’t exist (or has been falsified) reinforces my point about the parochialism of science today – they start out assuming that science explains nearly everything, then ignore whatever it doesn’t explain. This is the attitude that I read into your original post (perhaps wrongly).

    If you want a short introduction to some of this evidence, you could do worse than looking at “Best Evidence” by Michael Schmicker. (Note: NOT the book on the Kennedy assassination!)

    As to whether scientists have been “kidding themselves”: Planck’s academic advisor warned him against studying physics, as it was a “mostly completed” field, with only a few loose ends to fix. Fortunately, Planck didn’t listen to him, and his attempt to fix one of the loose ends (blackbody radiation theory) started quantum mechanics. In more modern times, when some physicists talk about a “Theory of Everthing”, they aren’t joking – many think that String theory will become this. It remains to be seen, but my bet is that history is repeating itself.

    You are right to call me on the “mined out” crack – I’m currently patenting a new way to build solar cells, so I don’t believe that either. A better way to make the point would have been to note that electromagnetic theory has been around for 150 years, and there are still apparently electromagnetic phenomena that can’t be explained. To assume that the explanation of these phenomena is a trivial “loose end”, as Planck’s advisor did, might be just as foolish.

    I agree that scientific knowledge builds over time to achieve ever greater insight into physical phenomena. From inside this effort, it is easy to assume that the major part of the World is being explained; and, indeed, this is the attitude of many scientists and engineers. From a larger perspective, I like Isaac Asimov’s simile: That scientific knowledge is like an ever brighter light on an ever higher lightpole. It lights up more and more ground – but at the same time, the boundary with the darkness grows. We are nowhere near an explanation complete enough to even talk about rendering religion moot, and we always will be if science doesn’t start reaching beyond it’s comfort zone. Though they are usually ridiculed today, I admire the courage of the 19th century scientists who assumed that science could study anything, not just what was accepted as “physical”.

    I, personally, would welcome a scientific knowledge-based “religion”. There is a very long way to go to get there, but to make progress, science has to stop ignoring inconvenient evidence that current theories are only scratching the surface.

  48. Mark,

    RE: your explanation of ball lightning. I am not aware that there is a single accepted theory of ball lightning — I’ve read a number of hypotheses, none of which are currently capable of explaining the range of observed behavior.

    My own interaction with ball lightning in 1966 (too long to go into detail here) indicated that the (~10 in dia) ball followed the intersection between a magnetic line of force (it tracked due magnetic north) and an atmospheric equipotential surface (it maintained a constant 6 ft height above the ground as it came diagonally down a mountainside with knobs and gullys) — leading me to conclude it was probably an electromagnetic phenomenon. Despite glowing brightly enough to be seen in daylight, it was not hot enough to even singe the cotton string of a badminton net it passed through; but it easily shorted out a gasoline generator’s ignition. The observed track of the ball was over 150 yards, and it lasted for more than 30 seconds. This is not consistent with the expected behavior of a ball of burning silicon vapor. (I spent some time mapping out this encounter, as so many things happened that it seemed an almost ideal natural experiment — now, if only someone had taken a swipe at it with a badminton racket!)

    There are available hundreds of eyewitness reports of ball lightning showing behavior that is not consistent with the Brazilian theory. Perhaps there are many types of ball lightning, and they have found one; perhaps they have found a different phenomenon that is visually similar to ball lightning. At any rate, the claim that the Brazilian research results explains ball lightning seems somewhat premature.

  49. My initial thought is that this survey is indicative of a shift in the American folk religion from a nominal Christian appearance to the “spiritual but not religious” grab-bag form that has become increasingly common. I think something akin to your notion of an evangelical collapse will come to pass, but a large part will be a result of the growing distance between the folk religion and evangelical Christianity and the end of their intermingling and alliance. Atheists may momentarily celebrate the initial appearance of a more secular society, but they will find the world much more hostile when they turn their materialism-only rhetoric primarily against the new folk religion. Welcome to the New Corinth; same as the old Corinth.

  50. Haven’t read all the comments, but a couple of observations. The much proclaimed survey; ” People who don’t believe in God growing” must be examined at face value. The survey showed 10% of Americans fall in this category. Evangelicals are derided as a vocal minority (20+ % of USA) What does that make that 10%, an even more vocal, smaller minority?
    The damage the megachurches and prosperity movement have done is requiring no real commitment to Christian discipleship. They should cast out the teachings of Robert Shuller and pick up Dietrich Bonhoeffer. If there is a falling away in the near future it will be in the seeker friendly movement full of people whose faith is a mile wide and an inch deep.
    America is full of often small vibrant churches faithfully preaching God’s Word and reaching out to broken people. Authentic Christian discipleship may be a narrow path but it is still a soul winning and joyful path.