September 30, 2020

The Mystery Of A Lost Generation

I read two very interesting articles on CNN.com this week. One told of how more of those under the age of 30 are expressing doubt in the existence of God than ever before. The other was a story of the Clergy Project, an effort to help those pastors who want to come out of the closet—and admit they no longer believe in God.

I want to say right up front that I know what I’m going to say is preaching to the fully-robed choir. And I know we could turn this into a good old-fashioned roast, with the evangelical circus as our guest of honor. That is not my intent today. I want to look at one reason why I think so many are ignoring God. And  And then we’ll move on to a review of the new album by Rush. And by the end I hope to have drawn all the threads together to make something that somehow resembles sense.

Are you with me?

The Pew Research Center’s survey is not new. As a matter of fact, it’s more than two years old. Why CNN just now deems this “news” is beyond me. Yet it does paint a pretty clear picture that those labeled as Millennials (born after 1981) are less inclined to find religion an important and active part of their life than any other age-based group going back to 1900. More of those in this group are defining themselves as “nones,” meaning they have no religious affiliation. And many are referring to themselves as agnostics or even atheists. Yet these same twenty-somethings express that they are morally conservative. We’re not dealing with heathens and pagans here. We’re dealing with a generation that no longer even sees a need to bring God into the conversation.

Thirty years ago, if Stephen Hawking had said, “There was no need of a God to be involved in creating the universe as we know it,” Christians of all stripes—evangelicals, mainline Protestants, Orthodox, Catholic—would have made a loud noise to show their disapproval of his remarks. And they would have been heard. Today, Millennials hear this, shrug, and say, “Yeah, sure. So what?” I don’t think of these “nones” as anti-God. They just don’t care to even consider him.

In our second story we read about those who have been working as ministers for years, sometimes decades, who are being help “out” as non-believers. Jerry DeWitt, a former Pentecostal preacher who is now an atheist, said in the article, “You can either be honest that you don’t believe … or you can pretend that you do,” he said. “Which is what so many people are doing and that is called faith.” He is leaving out one other choice. You can honestly believe God exists and that he takes a personal interest in his creation even though there is no concrete evidence that proves this. That is real faith, and many people possess it.

Yes, there are many who wear a mask, pretending that their vending-machine god will make life rosy for them, and we’ve talked about the motivational speakers in the pulpits who propagate just such belief. But I don’t think this is the reason so many Millennials don’t believe in God. Instead, I think it is something much deeper. And I do think it is also the reason so many choose to wear a mask instead of looking honestly at their own beliefs. My reason? We have taken the mystery out of faith.

It is very much a part of our modern upbringing. We cannot abide not understanding how something works down to the smallest detail. The telescope allowed us to take apart the heavens, thus erasing the mystery of the planets and stars. Once we were able to explain them, the gems in heaven became simply rock and gas. The microscope allowed us to take apart living organisms, taking away the mystery of how living things grow. It was an easy and natural progression to wanting to take God apart and explain him. What once was a mystery became a doctrine. We became afraid of what we couldn’t explain—it had control over us. And that is one thing we could not allow. So we began to explain how God works, down to the smallest word in the shortest verse. Faith no longer was “I believe because I don’t understand”; it morphed into “My life must line up with my words; if I say the right words, then faith will rise up and God must do thus-and-so for me.” We are compelled to understand, to explain, to know for certain what was never meant to be understood, explained or known. Real faith is considered childish. We fear the dark of the unknown, and have created a god that can be turned around on a pedestal and described from every angle. This god does our bidding, and if ever he does anything differently, we can retrospectively change our doctrine to explain why he did so.

Is it any wonder young people have no interest in our god? They can explain thoroughly just how you get an app on your phone that shows how many miles you walk in a day. That’s no longer a mystery, it’s just a tool. Once God became a tool, he was no longer of interest to them. And we, you and I, are the ones guilty of perpetrating this idea that God can be explained, just as you can explain how a combustion engine works.

Which brings me to what you’ve been waiting for: a mini-review of the new album by Rush, Clockwork Angels.

I have never been a huge fan of Rush, but I love the writings of Neil Peart. His book, Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road, is in my all-time top five non-fiction books. It tells of Peart’s journey to find his soul following the death of his daughter and, nine months later, his wife. It is a gut-wrenching, honest look at how little we really undertand of this life. Now Peart, the lyricist for Rush (as well as an incredible drummer), has penned twelve songs that take us on one man’s journey, a journey to find something bigger than himself.

The songs tell of a young man who had a great upbringing on a farm, but soon the safe and predictable ways lost interest to him. He had big ideas and needed to escape. He walked thru a land filled with angels that are moved by our commands (thus, clockwork angels), anarchists, and evil carnies. Time itself is an enemy on his journey. While searching for the city of gold, he is met by those who will wreck the human soul. In the end he finds one thing that is bigger than he. Love. He can’t explain it, but he knows it is real.

This is the story of the Prodigal. It is also the story of the Millennial, searching for something bigger than himself. If we can take something apart and explain away all of its mystery, it certainly isn’t bigger than we.

How is it that Rush gets it, while we in our Christian world don’t? If we want those of today’s generation to once again bring God into their life’s conversation, then we need to allow mystery to once again prevail. We need to cease our own understand about the things that make up our lives, and trust the Lord with all of our heart. Even when he makes no sense. Even when it seems he is contradicting himself.

We need to once again see that the only thing bigger than our lives is, indeed, love. And love itself is the greatest mystery of all.

 

 

Comments

  1. Very powerful, Jeff, and as a parent of a millennial about to embark on a journey to become a priest, I can say that you are right. I find that more and more sermons given by all sorts of flavors of Christians (evangelicals, Catholics, Episcopalians, etc.) are explanatory sermons. Trying to explain the mystery of the trinity (using very dodgy analogies to do so, btw), trying to explain the mystery of the ascension, trying to explain the conversion of Paul, etc. There is interpretation and then there is scientifically dissecting the Bible.

    I am reminded of an English teacher that was trying to convince our class that there was some super-deep meaning in a poem about a young boy riding a ferry. There was beautiful imagery in the words, but she was convinced that the water rushing by was some metaphor for this boy’s life passing him by and the ferry was some deep allegory for something-or-another. I raised my hand and said “can’t we just enjoy the beauty of the words and the images and not assign all this stuff to the poem?” I wasn’t her favorite student :).

    Sometimes I just want to relax and let the beauty of God wash over me without explanation. And this is saying a LOT for a total and complete geek-head like me. I do understand how atomic particles work, I know how blood takes up oxygen, and I understand how to load apps on my iPad. Yet, God IS a mystery to me – and that’s cool.

    Chris Rice, a wonderful Christian musician, wrote a song called “Smell the Color 9”. Understanding God is like trying to smell the color 9. God will have all the answers when I die – and I do have a considerable list of questions :). Until then, the questions will keep…

    • Small the Color Nine…one of my all time favorites, and I rarely actually BUY Christian music.

      “Nine’s not a color, and even if it was you can’t smell a color, that’s my point exactly”

      • “Nine’s not a color, and even if it was you can’t smell a color, that’s my point exactly”

        I love the song, but surprisingly enough, that is my least favorite line. It is like he is saying “Hey, for all of you out there who are two stupid to get what I am singing about, I am going to spell it out for you!”

  2. Jeff, have you explored the Mass written by Leonard Bernstein? I think you’d find it interesting in this context. To summarize, the priest begins the Mass as usual, but there is a group of rabble-rousing young people demanding that the Word be relevant, that the priest be relevant. Keep in mind this was written during the height of the Vietnam War demonstrations – it was commissions by the Kennedy Foundation to be used at the opening of the Kennedy Center.

    Bernstein’s hecklers reach a fever pitch as they sing “Half of the people are stoned and the other half are swimming in the wrong direction…they call it ‘Glorious Living’…and where does that leave you?”. One young person sings about their brother who is imprisoned because he was protesting. Others sing about the myriad of ways the church has let them down in their everyday lives. Where is the relevance? Their demands of the priest finally overwhelm even the staid choir who revolts during the Angus Dei. The priest, in mid-sacramental lift, drops the host and chalice where they shatter on the floor. He collapses in grief and a long soliloquy follows him through self-doubt and the realization that he is only a man…merely a man…and that he cannot save anyone. “There is no one under this robe but me”.

    Yet the young acolyte raises him out of the depth of his self-doubt and despair by singing simply “Laude” over and over again. The choir joins in as well as the hecklers and the priest finally rises, renewed. This piece still speaks to me today.

    I think that we demand too much of our clergy. I think that we expect them to lead us to salvation. All too often, we expect Jesus to be under those robes. We, the congregants, help pave the way to their self-doubt, their loss of faith. We demand from them a life, an ideal, that we cannot even hold ourselves to. And they do this with little support from anyone – who can they trust to tell their waves of self-doubt to? I’m glad that you are bringing this to light and would love to read a post about this topic alone.

    • Or maybe the priest should have had the guts to stop talking and wait till the hecklers were finished being disrespectful and arrogant. Oh my, the church let them down and ‘the system’ is unjust. He could, when they finally shut-up, point out that was exactly what the “Word” is about and that it couldn’t be more relevant to their claims.

      > I think that we demand too much of our clergy

      Nah. In my experience they are generally treated as a privileged class.

      > I think that we expect them to lead us to salvation

      Perhaps it is a generational issue [I’m born December 1972] but I’ve never felt that way or heard my peers speak in such a manner.

      >We, the congregants, help pave the way to their self-doubt, their loss of faith

      How often does this happen? That is *does* happen doesn’t prove a pattern. It, of course, will happen occasionally. [“it” being a pastor or priests loss of faith]. Clergy are people.

      >And they do this with little support from anyone

      They have a massive network of conferences and pastoral ministries. I don’t believe they are anymore alone than the lay person – who is also pretty darn alone. Loneliness is a societal pandemic.

      • I beg to differ on the “massive network” available to clergy. Clergy burnout is real and there is a lot of evidence out here for the Lone Ranger Syndrome (as coined by the Southern Baptist convention). I will grant you that there is a lot of theological support for clergy, but who is a clergy person to go to when they have a crisis of faith? Where is their comforting ear? To their church leadership and risk being tossed out? A fellow clergy person and risk being tattled on and removed? To a lay person and risk losing their congregation if word leaks out? To whom are they to go to wrestle lapses of faith? When I have a crisis of faith, I go to my clergy, where is their clergy? I posit that it just stews and stews until a full collapse occurs. I grant you that they have enormous resources theologically, but that they have no one to turn to in crisis of faith storms.

        • LA is right, in the largest American Protestant denomination it’s common for pastors to be expected to do everything except lead the different Sunday School groups and prepare the food for church potlucks. It’s a hell of a job.

        • Matthäus says

          Their confessor/spiritual father? Go-go-gadget-Seal-of-Confession.

      • It’s a choral piece. The “hecklers” and the “priest” are actually working in concert, as it were, singing their respective parts. In this way Bernstein acknowledges the social turmoil of the times, as well as the corporate nature of worship.

        • Thank you for that, Gerald, I didn’t make that clear. I had the opportunity to perform that piece twice in my career and both times people actually walked out when the priest dropped the sacraments…never stuck around for the conclusion/resolution. Sad.

  3. The problem with DeWitt’s statement is that, like many believers and unbelievers alike, he doesn’t understand faith. It’s not belief based on lack of evidence. The Greek word for faith, ‘pistis’ also means trust or confidence, and as Christians we have faith – trust and confidence – in God based on Christ and his resurrection and all the promises (the coming of God’s Kingdom, the new heavens and earth) that entails. I believe based on this, as well as nature’s testimony to God and God’s personal intervention in my life and those of my friends and family, among other reasons. I think I have good reasons for my beliefs. But much of the church has failed to teach that and encourages faith on the shaky foundation of emotional highs and experiences.

    I’m a millennial, and I think the reason why so many of my kin don’t believe in God is because they just don’t care, being drowned in a constant flood of entertainment and digital opiates in a sea of comfort and ease. But for me, finding the truth has always been vitally important.

    That being said, I do think mystery is a part of our faith. No matter how much I read and study, I struggle to understand exactly how God’s foreknowledge and human freedom fit together, for example. I still have times when I doubt that my interpretation of the Gospel is correct, and that God is going to look at my lack of good works and tell me I never really believed in the first place. It’s good to learn and study, but sometimes we just need to let go and entrust it to God and have faith that our salvation doesn’t depend on having the right opinion on every bit of theological minutiae.

    • > I’m a millennial, and I think the reason why so many of my kin don’t believe in
      > God is because they just don’t care,

      Agree. I’m exactly a decade too old to be a millennial but I work with lots of them I’ve no doubt the findings of the mentioned poll are spot on. But this article’s / essay’s analysis is off. It is trying to explain why they don’t like ‘our’ explanations. It is missing the true, awesome, and nearly impenetrable power of “I don’t care”.

      I read awhile back an essay about some psychologist who had an extremely accurate method for analyzing people’s interactions and determining the future success of the relationship. The single most potent, and almost overwhelming, variable – an eye roll. If one party rolled their eyes when the other was speaking it was relationship doom. It is a gesture of the ultimate dismissal and deprecation. Every group or generation has it’s own generalize / stereotyped tragic flaws; millennials are the generation of the eye-roll. Mention religion or any big-belief system / worldview and you’ll get the treatment; belief / faith / devotion is “quaint”.

      How you answer that – I have no idea. Simple dismissal is hard to respond to.

      Where it comes from? Lots of places I guess. I suspect one oddity of this malady is that just from its very nature it doesn’t matter where it comes from. It is too simple to be dissected, there is nothing to dissect.

      • Do you think perhaps because my generation didn’t make church a priority like my parents did? I have millennial kids and most of my peers were not “regular” church attendees like my depression-era parents were.

        I am of the impression, possibly mistaken, that most commenters here are not west coasters. I have heard that my area is the most unchurched in he nation (pacific northwest). I’m not sure how that is measured, but observation-wise, I think it’s likely true. Having lived in the Midwest, the deep south, Mormon-country, and now the PNW, I can say that there are fewer churches here and more of my outside-of-church friends and neighbors are not only atheists, but loudly so. At least in the urban areas…the rural areas here seem fairly standard believer-filled.

        Despite this, St. Marks Seattle has a weekly Evensong that packs in upwards of 300 college and post-college age millennials every Sunday night to hear the chanting in Latin. They bring blankets, pillows, etc and strew themselves everywhere (huge portions of the church are pewless) and listen intently to the peaceful music. Some bring Bibles, others bring spiritual books, some just close their eyes and meditate. My daughter tells me many are from Seattle University (RC university) but many are also from Univ. of Washington…a secular institution. When polled, they come to feel the mystery of the Latin, for the peace in their overly hectic lives, etc. I went with my daughter one night and while there were a few there my age and older sitting in the pews, I was overwhelmed by the numbers of young people accessing this service.

        I have to say that church attendance here is tough. I also have a tween at home and a lot of his middle school friends have soccer/football and other commitments on Sunday mornings…it is not a “protected” time as it once was. If you want to play sports, you cannot be a regular churchgoer.

        Also, of note is a recent survey done by the Episcopal church to be presented at our national convention in July. We were blown away to find that the majority of millennials were not in favor of replacing the 1982 hymnal with an updated version that included updated music. This age group asked to keep the old hymns intact and didn’t feel the need to add any additional music. In fact, most people reported they rarely, if ever, used the hymnal supplements published with updated music…the old hymns is what they wanted to hear. The results flew in the face of what was expected.

        Jeff, based on my observations out here in the supposedly godless PNW, I find your post to be spot on. St. Marks Seattle doesn’t pack them in with rock music…it gets them with Latin…go figure 🙂

        • Radagast says

          Could it be that less churches in the area for a particular faith expression, the bigger the attraction? When I visit down south the Catholic churches pack…

          In conservative Pittsburgh there still seems to be some hesitation to scheduling sporting events on Sunday mornings… but I suspect we will follow the trend eventually… unless of course prolonged world events causes the pendulum to begin to swing….

          Your post though does bring hope….

        • >Do you think perhaps because my generation didn’t make church a priority
          >like my parents did?

          I’ve no doubt that that contributes.

          > I am of the impression, possibly mistaken, that most commenters here are not
          > west coasters.

          Don’t know about anyone else, but I’m in the mid-west.

          > I have heard that my area is the most unchurched in he nation (pacific northwest).

          We are knee-deep in churches. Most of them have stagnate attendance [at best].

          > At least in the urban areas…the rural areas here seem fairly standard believer-filled.

          I see a somewhat similar patterns here; urban millenials tend to be either decidedly [often almost snobbishly] disinterested or loudly skeptical [athiest]. Rural millennials are more ‘traditional’. The contrast can be striking in some circles.

          > their overly hectic lives, etc. I went with my daughter one night and while there were a few there my age > and older sitting in the pews, I was overwhelmed by the numbers of young people accessing this service.

          Neither the poll nor the article, nor my comment, imply that millennials don’t exist in religious circles. There are vibrant religious communities of various flavors full of millennials. The survey just states, I think correctly, that in proportion they are more skeptical / dismissive / disinterested than other generations.

          >I have to say that church attendance here is tough. I also have a tween at home and a lot of his middle >school friends have soccer/football and other commitments on Sunday mornings…

          Yep, that is also true more and more in the midwest.

          > Also, of note is a recent survey done by the Episcopal church to be presented at our national convention
          > in July. We were blown away to find that the majority of millennials were not in favor of replacing the 1982
          > hymnal with an updated version that included updated music. This age group asked to keep the old
          > hymns intact and didn’t feel the need to add any additional music

          I’m not surprised. It fits in with the narrative that the old-school denominations are faring better than many of the hip new evangelical churches, or even ‘mainstream’ ones.

          I personally just don’t know if this is because of ‘mystery’ or if it just reflects the kind of millennial that remains interested despite the flow of the cultural time (and is perhaps also a counter reaction).

  4. “We are compelled to understand, to explain, to know for certain what was never meant to be understood, explained or known.”

    These are great words, Jeff. Excellent post!

    • Amen

    • humanslug says

      I like this quote too.
      Maybe it just boils down to God-envy.
      The simple state of not being God requires faith to survive spiritually and to connect with the real God.
      And when we try to be the gods of our own universes — even at just an intellectual level — we kill the very thing that can save us.
      The church will continue slitting her own wrists unless we stop settling for anything less than a Jesus-centered faith that is moderated by honest humility and motivated by love.

  5. Sadly, for many we find more mystery in our iPhone than we do in God. As Brother Lawrence once said, “Does God think we want too much, or too little?” God is offering us infinite joy beyond our imagination and think it should come to with less effort than downloading an app. As a pastor, God called me to lead people to discipleship in Jesus Christ, unfortunately most church members, only want me to lead them to safety. We can’t find the right answers until we start to ask the right questions. Those are my ramblings for Thursday.

    • Professor Failure says

      All right, I’m not a Millennial. My relationship with my own faith is problematic, though, so here’s a question for you…

      “God is offering us infinite joy beyond our imagination”

      Why should I want such a thing? I can’t honestly seeing myself wanting eternal joy. Frankly it sounds awful.

      Maybe Millennials ask the same question.

  6. I have to wonder how much of the lack/loss of faith is a pushback against conservative, fundamentalist theology. It seems that many Christians who are taught fundamentalist doctrine and biblically-centered faith, such as the Bible is inerrant, there are no contradictions in the Bible, the earth must be 6000 years old, etc. are unable to cope with serious doubt and questions that inevitably arise at some point when this theology just doesn’t hold up anymore. Some stick to what they believe and claim everyone else must be wrong, many come to think their faith is a fraud and abandon it altogether, while others are able to expand their faith and draw closer to Christ while letting go of doctrine. I think we may be seeing a relatively large group of people who has come through their faith crisis wounded and scarred and has given up on the faith and now they have been hesitant to “push” any beliefs on their children and their children’s friends in the next generation.

    • As a millenial–you got it. While I and many of my friends still profess faith, a lot of our peers have this idea that to be a Christian one must also reject science, take a stance against gay rights, believe that abortion is wrong in every circumstance, and vote GOP in every election. That leaves a bad taste in their mouths.

      • +1

        I’m millennial + 10 and the political hammering was a large part of what finally drove me to my church-hiatus. It was simply impossible to be comfortable there.

        Given that almost every millennial has a bitter and cynical attitude towards ‘politics’ (far more so than me) that must contribute. But I still think there is something deeper and attitudinal. Millennials of that stripe are cynical and completely uninterested in arguements, however coherent, that they shouldn’t be as cynical as they are. The right “not to care” seems dear to them.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Given that almost every millennial has a bitter and cynical attitude towards ‘politics’ (far more so than me) that must contribute.

          Especially when Christian Culture War Activists are right up there with classic Communists in making anything and everything into “A Political Matter, Comrades.” Culture War Without End, Amen.

          When Jesus Christ becomes a wholly-owned subsidiary of the GOP with Ayn Rand as co-Redemptrix, how do you think someone with “a bitter and cynical attitude towards politics” is going to react?

    • Interesting observation…one of my millennial friends asked me (around Christmas time) what those 3 guys were up to in the nativity scene I had displayed. She’d never even heard the Christmas story…ever. Come to find out, her parents were evangelicals in their youth and were tossed out of the church when they both became biologists and believed in a greater-than-6000-year-old-earth. Being a geek, I’m continually mocked by my work peers about my “opiate for the masses” beliefs. A friend experienced so much mocking at her lab job that she quit. When she went to a lawyer about her hostile workplace they laughed her right out of the office. To me, my science leads me closer to a thoroughly blow-me-away God. With every new discovery I learn about, He’s all the more fantastic, amazing and mysterious. But I am the minority amongst scientists.

  7. Kelby Carlson says

    Speaking as a millennial, I heartily agree with those who say that the real problem is universal apathy. Lack of mystery and/or liturgy in faith certainly could explain some of it. But the vast majority of the problem is that people simply don’t believe there’s a reason they should care. And, in general, the atheist and agnostic millennials I know aren’t “morally conservative”, unless by morally conservative you mean willing to be tossed about in whatever corrupt moral milieu the culture happens to be stewing in.

    • Thank you for sharing. I am the mother of two millenial sons….one is a lukewarm “Christmas and Easter” Catholic who just seems to find God irrelevant, his brother is deeply and passionalty devout. They are a year apart in age and had the same upbringing…..Mass, prayers around the table, God as a constant source of everyday low-key conversation.

      My sadness is that the first one is a father of two……and I don’t know how to help educate my grandsons, or even what went “wrong” with their father, who is a loving and devoted husband and father and hard worker. I understand that “God doesn’t HAVE grandchildren….but what is my role now, if any, other than prayer???

      • .but what is my role now, if any, other than prayer

        And passive encouragement. Don’t do as my mother and try and “fix” your grandchildren. All that will do is drive your son away. Whether or not he agrees with you.

  8. Radagast says

    First of all, I believe that news sources report these statistics to help shape opinion. For instance in the last six months I’ve seen everything from studies that state both born agains and conservatives in general have lower IQs, the sub-culture that does not embrace homosexuality are really closet homosexuals etc.

    Second – and I believe this falls into culture wars – many parents just spend too much time being busy or putting their child on a pedistal or being their child’s friend to realize that they are the mentors and teachers of their children. That is not an off-the cuff comment, that is based on dealing with parents in a coaching, teaching and finally running a religous program capacity for over 20 years. I have watched the change in the attitudes of the parents. There is a lot of child-like attitude of I-don’t need-to-do-that or my-child-would-never-do-that or its-your responsibility-to teach-them and on and on. And I see this attitude accelerating with each year passing.

  9. Radagast says

    ….But the world is changing. We have seen a generation or two now that have grown up and have done better than their parents. These days there is a lot of angst because one entering the workforce can’t instantly have what their parents to years to accumulate. Jobs for the new graduates are scarce, older guys like me (and I’m just shy of fifty so I am not old) are getting layed off and taking those jobs that the new graduate used to able to fall back on, and the jobs we older guys are leaving are being outsourced to cheaper labor abroad. For the first time the expectations that everything will work out fine isn’t a given….

    • Throwing random spaghetti against a wall to see what sticks…things that happened in the generation of the millennial’s parents…higher divorce rate/divorce talked about more openly…huge rise in two income families…scientific advances becoming common knowledge…technology distancing us from each other…the protest culture…the “ME” generation…gender roles blurred. Some, maybe all have contributed?

      Culture, though acts upon the chaos theory that there are generally so many variables that it’s hard to chalk it up to just one thing. I think the millennials commenting here have agreed on apathy as the main contributor, but what I think they’re missing is that the post here is trying to explore WHY they, as a generation don’t care. Why the apathy…what has created that culture of apathy?

      • Agreed LA… we need to hear the “why” from those experiencing it… but from my own chunk of the world, with my own brood and also interracting and observing family units by things I run or coach, I see differing perspectives…

        For example, put me in the woods and I can find many things to do, or a park, or my garage etc. But life for the younger generations has been scripted, with managed sporting events, or band or play dates leaving many to complain of boredom when put in the environments I mentioned above. And not only are events scripted but kids are pushed to go to the next level – cup or travel soccer instead of in-house, performing at nationals instead of a simple dance recital. I believe this all has an affect on those experiencing it once they have to join the real world and get off the pedistal. At this moment in time the young and the old are experiencing the same conditions brought on by outside forces. Why are the perspectives different and why is there angst (I am genuinely curious)?

      • humanslug says

        Maybe self-proclaimed experts, self-exalted religious leaders, politicians, and talking media heads have been dishing out bullshit answers to life’s questions for so long now that people are beginning to suspect that “why” is a question with no meaning and no hope of being answered with any degree of certainly.
        And with so much information and input coming in from every side and every angle these days, I think some people are just turning off the reflective side of their brains just to keep from being overwhelmed or going insane.
        And the place that theology or philosophy or just plain old level headed thinking used to occupy in people’s heads and hearts is now being filled with a never-ending inflow of media manufactured pop culture garbage.
        Strangely, we’re constantly gorging our senses, but, all the while, we’re starving to death spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally.
        God save us from getting what we want!

  10. Those who demand a never-ending emotional high, a constant flow of warm fuzzies and misty-eyed wonder from faith are bound for disappointment. Faith is a conscious decision to accept the evidence of your own mind and heart. It is not irrational, but neither is it provable, because there is always a gap between what you know and what you believe to be true. That’s what marks the difference between faith and certainty. You simply trust that the rest will follow and proceed to conduct your life accordingly. That portion that remains unknown …the mystery of it all …is the true spice of life. It should be cherished.

    • Love this. But then again, pretty much everything in life is taken on faith, if you define it as accepting the evidence of mind and heart. I like that you include both, to many traditions tend to emphasize one to the exclusion of the other. However, I fear that ultimately true certainty about anything is nearly impossible, regardless of the “evidence.” A good Christian epistemology starts with “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.”

      • Outside of mathematics, certainties are rare, to be sure. Again, faith is a conscious decision and one is free to place his faith in the wrong things. We have the right to be wrong. Those of us with a faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob …and Jesus Christ …approach a certainty hard to discern in any other “religion” or philosophical system. And we have an end game to go with it.

    • > Those who demand a never-ending emotional high, a constant flow of warm fuzzies
      > and misty-eyed wonder from faith are bound for disappointment

      But doesn’t this just dismiss the question? if-millennials-are-not-interested-they-must-be-those-described-by-the-above.

      I don’t believe this describes them at all. I’m not certain they desire a “constant flow of warm fuzzies”. The millennials I know do not strike me as over-aged spoiled children [well…. not most of them anyway]. They seem to me to be intelligent and educated adults… lacking something I can’t quite describe. “wonder” maybe? I don’t know, that seems a bit hippie to me, but it is something near that.

      • Guilty as charged. Lumping “millennials” all together is a dubious thing. I don’t believe we can really create a class of people we call “millennials” except for convenience of discussion, but I do believe that many younger folks likely observe so many of us older folks who fail to sustain the emotional high of our “faith” and reflect only doubt and defeat. They logically conclude that there is no light down that particular path. Those who do follow are bound for the same disappointment.

  11. Christine says

    Another millennial here to weigh in. I’m 27, grew up in the Southern Baptist faith, and have been wandering the post-evangelical wilderness for quite a while. I don’t go to church anymore, read the Bible, or pray. Why? Well, there’s lots of reasons, a few biggies are:
    1. Churches aren’t really into people who question the party line. I can’t imagine going into a small group or Sunday School at any church and feeling safe enough to voice my doubts and questions. At the best, I’d probably get weird looks and kindly-meant attempts to answer my questions; at the worst, I’d be thought a heretic and argued into submission. I don’t necessarily want answers–I just want a place where I can ask the questions and be told they’re valid and I’m not a bad person for asking them. A spot at the table, if you will.
    2. The Bible confuses me. I have an MA in Literature, so I know my way around interpretation, but after a while it’s exhausting trying to reconcile everything…so many different genres, authors, tones, characters. I know that the Bible doesn’t exist to be systematically understood or to be taken literally, but it’s a frustrating book, and quite frankly, I’m tired of dealing with it.
    3. Prayer started feeling useless. I ask God to heal someone, for example. If they get better, hooray! God blessed them and heard my prayer. If they don’t get better, well, it just wasn’t His will. But God has a purpose, don’t worry. After a while, it feels like an exercise in futility.

    Maybe Jeff is right and the reintroduction of mystery would help me and my generation. And not mystery as an excuse for not being able to face up to hard questions, which is how I feel it too often is presented (“The Lord works in mysterious ways” is NOT helpful). But mystery as part of the Divine and questions/skepticism as an inherent part of faith, not poison to it.

    • Good thoughts here, Christine.

      God continually dares us to wrestle with Him. And, like Jacob, when God wins, so do we. Churches have become cities of refuge and not places of discipleship. Discipleship is too demanding …and skepticism is an invited and welcome part of discipling. Millennials must be told that doubting and questioning is a required part of the course. 🙂

    • Christine,

      I haven’t always felt this way as a fellow millennial but I’ve come to the conclusion that church isn’t the right place to bring your questions and doubts, you come to church to worship God and learn a thing or two about him and the Bible and that’s about it. Most American Christians live in a world in which it is difficult to publicly express their faith unashamedly and so to bring all your challenges into the little that space they have to be refreshed by each other is somewhat inappropriate. On the other hand, there are plenty of resources online that can help you engage with other Christians who have thought about these questions in a serious way without all the discomfort that comes with bringing them up in church.

      Looking over your list, what might help the most is to learn how to marry a robust Christian faith with a lower view of the Bible than what most evangelicals are comfortable with. Speaking for myself, I believe with all my heart the essential truthfulness of the Christian narrative but I don’t accept the perspicuity, inspiration, and inerrancy of the Bible, so I know it’s possible to do this.

      • NW –

        You make a good point about how Evangelicals view scripture. Evangelicals have a high respect for the Scriptures, but some times this respect leads us to enshrine the Bible as the center of the Christian faith, when in reality it is Jesus who is the center and the Bible exists to point us to Jesus. The Bible’s proper place is in support of Jesus, not a replacement of Jesus. Unfortunately some Evangelicals may interpret what I just said as liberalism, when it is in fact the proper way to view Scripture.

        Basically what Evangelicals are afraid of is liberalism. They don’t want the central truths of the Christian faith redefined because they don’t fit with modern preferences. This is a good goal, but our methods sometimes lead us too far into conservatism. The result is the absence of any middle ground on which Christians can disagree yet still be united in faith; you’re either “conservative” or “liberal.” This middle ground needs to be reclaimed.

        Here are some more thoughts on some things you mentioned NW:

        Inerrancy is a term that seems to misunderstood and abused these days. My understanding of inerrancy is basically that there are no doctrinal errors in the Scriptures. Any errors in the Bible will have no doctrinal impact. Unfortunately some Evangelicals use inerrancy to support their view of Scripture and if you disagree with them then you are violating inerrancy.

        Inspiration is a bigger issue for me. It is certainly well within the realm of orthodox Christianity that God inspired the authors of Scripture. Since the authors were human though it doesn’t mean that it is free from *all* errors (e.g. grammatical ones). However God’s intended message for humanity is without error. This is also abused sometimes, though less so than inerrancy.

        As a student in an Evangelical seminary I have been taught to use the plain-grammatical reading of the text when interpreting. Meaning, to accept the plainest, literal (meaning taking into account genre, figures of speech, style, etc) reading of the text and not go beyond that. The purpose seems to be to avoid the allegorizing of the Middle Ages. Generally speaking this is the correct way to interpret Scripture (especially in a historical narrative like Kings), but I think this method falls short in parts of the prophetic books, the first few chapters of Genesis, and the majority of Revelation.

        Like I said above though, Jesus is the center of the Christian faith. So as long as you believe that Jesus is who he claimed to be and accomplished what the Scriptures say he accomplished then you’re ok in my book, regardless of how you view the Bible.

        • SRQTom,

          I agree with a lot of what you said. For my part, I’ve come around to the view that the proper orthodox approach to the Bible must be a maximalist one where the scriptures are innocent until proven guilty. For example, the scriptures are clear that homosexual behavior is a sin and barring some good reason to think that this is not the case we should continue to affirm what the scriptures say in this regard. With respect to inspiration, I’m willing to say much of the prophetic literature in the Bible is inspired and/or God-breathed but I cannot honestly say this for all of the writings in the Bible.

        • SRQTom.

          I forgot to mention that I believe that the Bible is sufficiently reliable for the purposes of theology, it’s not just any old collation of imperfect writings. From this claim it then follows that we can trust the essential truthfulness of the theological-historical narrative that runs through the Bible, which is all I need to recover all the essential doctrines of Christianity. It’s a big step down from the lofty view of the Bible dominant in the conservative evangelicalism of my youth, but it’s good enough.

      • > I haven’t always felt this way as a fellow millennial but I’ve come to the
        > conclusion that church isn’t the right place to bring your questions and
        > doubts, you come to church to worship God and learn a thing or two
        > about him and the Bible and that’s about it.

        +1 Especially “church isn’t the right place to bring your questions”. I really heartily believe that the place to bring your questions is to *friends*. Not the church, not the pastor/priest [assuming you can even get access to a priest/pastor for any meaningful amount of time]. Dealing with these types of questions takes relationship. If you have those types of friends [or just “friends”, because what are the other kind-of-friend? not very friendly] you are fortunate beyond words. Otherwise you are probably screwed, or at least just quietly miserable. Been there.

        Just don’t try to wrestle with these questions at church or bible study. As I get older I hold that less and less against the church – I doubt it was ever the right place.

    • Wow, all excellent posts, Christine. I am more than double your age (58) and was brought up Catholic, but I often have these same thoughts you have. I live in Maine and saw recently that Maine is the least “religious” State in the USA based on questionnaires. If the questionaire asked, “Do you attend church weekly” and “Do you pray daily” I would have been counted among those non-religious folks too.

      It sometimes gets to the point where I want my entire belief system to be as simple as this:

      1. Be as kind as you can be.
      2. Forgive those who are not kind (including yourself)
      3. Just assume that there is a God and it can’t hurt to ask God to help
      4. If you can’t deal with #3, revert back to #1 and #2

      • Christine says

        Aww, thanks, JoanieD! I’ve been an avid iMonk reader for several years now and have always identified strongly with your comments. I’ve even emailed them to my husband saying “Look! That’s what I’ve been talking about!”.

        These days, my belief system has pretty much boiled down to your four points. Some days I’m more okay with that than others, but it’s so nice knowing I’m not alone.

        • Christine, I am honored that you have emailed some of my comments to your husband. And also humbled and…terrified. I know much too little to be affecting others’ beliefs. But here we all are anyway, just trying to help each other along the way.

          Thanks for being here. I am always impressed by the brightness of the young people commenting here. (Anyone under 40 is young in my book!)

    • Marcus Johnson says

      Christine, I doubt anyone has THE answer to your concerns but, as someone who struggles with the exact same issues as what you mentioned, here’s how I try to resolve them:

      1. If you are looking for an actual church community to affirm your skepticism (as I have tried to do), I seriously doubt that you’ll be successful. It may help to search for a group of people outside of the “church,” trusted friends who will accept your skepticism as a sign of maturing faith. If you can’t find physical people, might I suggest checking into forums like this every now and then? I know InternetMonk has helped me tremendously.

      2. Understanding the Bible is like pursuing a career; it is a lifelong endeavor, not a goal with set time limits. There’s still a lot about Scripture that I am trying to understand, and I am pretty awesome 🙂 There is a statement that says, “Believe those who seek the truth; doubt those who find it.” If you approach Scripture as a tool to help you explore life’s questions, rather than a puzzle that must be solved, you might find it easier to swallow some of the more complex material.

      3. Maybe you’re using prayer for the wrong reasons. Rather than praying to God to ask Him for things you want or need, or desire for other people, try using prayer to establish a closer relationship with Him. In your prayers, start by saying, “God, this is what I really want, but I accept Your authority and leave this problem in Your hands. Do what you will.” One of the problems of evangelicalism is that prayer is used as a help line, a way to get what you want from God, rather than a way to connect with Him on a deeper, transcendent level.

    • Christine: I am twice your age and had some of the same problems in the 1980s. I had quite a disintegrative experience over it all that threw me into agnosticism for a few years.

      I have sort of concluded that I can’t go to a typical church that would call itself ‘Bible Believing’ and expect anything else. Before anyone wonders, I am not saying I don’t believe in the Bible. Its just that my experience is that anyone that needs to point that out (‘we are Bible Believing’) is usually going to come with a whole lot of ancillary beliefs that tend to devalue questioning and prescribe what you can believe.

      Your MA in literature may actually help you in reading scripture! Add to that background some studies in near-east culture and perhaps reading on how to interpret the bible and you are well positioned to get a lot out of it. One book I have just read helps, written at sort of a college level is called Reading the Good Book Well by Jerry Camery-Hoggatt. I know what you mean about the complexity of the Bible, but it should be. It was written long ago in a different cultural context and over a period of hundreds of years. So it should be a wrestle to figure it out. My problem is I was led to believe it is all simple. Now I see it is more work, but I am up to a challenge.

      The question of prayer…Marcus Johnson says some good things(read his comments), I can add that the contemplative stream of Christianity seems to have done a way better job of exploring prayer and digesting scripture than your garden variety evangelical.

      Just to sum it up, I feel like in my youth I was sold a bill of goods that it would all be simple. It was the mantra don’t question, and read the Bible and pray every day and you will grow.
      In some ways I feel this model of the spiritual life is lacking, and the reality of Christian life can be a deep tapestry that can be very rich. And yes, there is much mystery but instead of that being threatening we can embrace it and find life to be richer.

      • Christine, God welcomes all of your questions. He won’t get weary or angry from any of them. Just understand, however, that the answer he gives is seldom what you expect.

        Your questions are always welcome here as well. Remember that we are all beggars on this journey with you. Don’t mind us if we answer your questions with more questions.

        Don’t dismiss the Bible because of the way it’s been presented to you in the past. It IS a difficult collection of books to understand. It was spoken, then written, by those of vastly different cultures and ages as we live in now. Yet—and here is the great mystery—it is still relevant to us today. It’s only purpose, at least the only one I’m interested in, is to show us God at work thru Jesus. Any other usage—trying to “prove” how the earth was created, for example, or trying to teach us how to be great parents—is an abuse of the Bible, for that was not the intent with which it was written. Remember, Jesus Jesus Jesus. The Bible is flawless in showing us that Jesus accomplished all, and that he is the sole way to reconciliation with God the Father.

        As for prayer, well, when you get that one figured out, tell me, ok?

  12. Tim VanHaitsma says

    Just so you know, Neil Peart is listed as an atheist/agnostic on the celebrity atheist list. So he could be part of the reason for the drop in god belief. But I doubt it.

    The more likely reason is that the certainty preached by the evangelicals, and moral hypocrisy of the catholic church is the driving force for them ignoring the church/god. The internet has offered a compelling alternative to what they are offering.

  13. I’m finding as the parent of two teens right now and a former person who worked in college ministry and was a youth minister, that the lack of willingness in our culture to allow for questions to be OK is a huge reason people become faithless.

    An example is from my own son. Andrew is 15 and is extremely interested in science. The youth minister he has is wonderful. He was graduated from Duke. Everyone says he is smart. The YM has waded into the whole creation v evolution fray with platitudes that resemble science and liberal dousing with “literal” statements from the Bible. Andrew came home after listening to one of these sermons (talks). His comments were so telling. “I didn’t want to ask the questions that I had because he seemed to be reaching the other kids. I didn’t want to make them questions.”

    I became a bit frustrated at Andrew’s unwillingness to question verbally because I’d seen so many kids come to college from good Christian homes. They had attended every youth group event, all the services every week, and owned at least five Christianeese T-shirts. When faced with a wider world, they began to think and question, and when they couldn’t get God they were fed in youth group and the real world of varying lifestyles philosophies, sciences, math etc. to sync, they tossed out the whole faith thing.

    We don’t let kids question. We don’t allow mystery. We as adults aren’t OK with not having all the answers. We need to be smart (or as Homer would say, “S-M-R-T – smart!”)

    On the plus side, in Bible Study a couple of weeks later another girl began to question a little and Andrew whose interest is all things marine asked about a universal flood: “If it rains and all this pent up water in the sky pours down on the Earth and the ensuing flood mixes the fresh and salt water, all the fish would die. Very few species of fish can make it in brackish water. How does that work? Did Noah have tanks on the ark?” The YM had the presence to say, “I don’t know. I’ll have to think about that question.”

    • Interesting. Our youth group is nothing but questions…our youth minister isn’t afraid to say “I don’t know” and I think that’s a huge chunk of the denial of questions. Being OK with saying “I don’t know”. Come out to our church…we’re always questioning our faith and many times saying “I don’t know…but let’s explore that together”.

      • On the flip side, several teens were asked to leave their class after asking too many questions about YEC “science” that didn’t make sense to them and the leader had no answer. We and others have since left that church.

        Maybe the kids from your church don’t walk away from the faith in big numbers. But I’m sure they do when taught as at my former church.

  14. Speaking as a millennial, this doesn’t surprise me as my generation is chuck full of more arrogant losers, malcontents, and lazy idiots than probably any other that has gone before us. The problem isn’t always with the church you know.

    • cermak_rd says

      I don’t think it’s helpful to slander a whole generation. Are some Gen X, Millenial, Boomers etc. arrogant, shallow, entitled, difficult people? Of course.

      I know a bunch of Millenial (self-disclosure–I am early Gen X) atheists, and, to a one, they have come to their belief after some analsysis and thought. Few have atheist parents. Many of them are members of the Grief Beyond Belief group, which is a mourning group for non-theists. So they have certainly experienced some of life’s troubles.

      I think the great apostasy (as I’ve heard it termed) is just greater awareness. They’ve known for a while that the average person in the US does not attend religious services weekly. Only about 25% does. That hasn’t really changed a lot in the past few decades. So that means that most likely at least half if not more of the millenials grew up in non-weekly religous-services-attending families. Couple that with the fact that there is no longer any peer pressure effect to state that one is Christian. Add to that the fact that there are a lot less avenues for evangelizing (door to door is less effective when most houses are empty for 8-9 hours a day; most work places have non-harassment policies); and that any unique service the church once provided (e.g. marriage counseling, addiction counseling, grief counseling etc.) can be obtained elsewhere; and you have a naturally reducing number of cultural Christians. Just look at the current practice of having a friend that has been internet ordained perform one’s marriage. Because the couple does not want a stranger involved. Why would it be a stranger? Because the couple did not grow up with a faith commitment.

      • I know, there are more logical reasons for the current state things then I’m letting on. Still, us millennials couldn’t be a more shallow arrogant bunch in the aggregate and that’s what I’m so disgusted with.

        • Every generation of full of such people. You just don’t notice them as much when they are outside your social groups.

      • i think you have hit it on the head Cermak! thanks for saying what i was thinking.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      NW, my generation (the Baby Boomers, those to whom the Millenials are keeper kids and Mini-Mes after the Gen-X discards) were the biggest bunch of arrogant perpetual adolescents to come down the chute in close to a century. My writing partner (who does a lot of pastoral counseling) says I’ve got my head screwed on pretty straight compared to others my age and that’s scary because I know I’m not wrapped all that tight.

      “HUG, you’re a baby boomer yourself.”

      “That doesn’t mean I have to like it.”

  15. “the reason so many choose to wear a mask instead of looking honestly at their own beliefs. My reason? We have taken the mystery out of faith.”

    I couldn’t agree more. I’d like to know how we got here. How and why did this happen? …and perhaps this what Bill Mallonee is getting at here?:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ejnwYsJiIRU

    • Miguel,

      I completely disagree with Jeff about the answer to his very good question. In my opinion, the real answer is fear. The majority of Christians don’t look honestly at their faith because they are afraid of what they might found out. Moreover, I don’t think this attitude is an irrational one, they have every reason to be afraid, the simplistic theology most people learn is full of holes and there’s no guarantee that they’ll be able to either patch them or completely relay their own theological foundation if such is required. My council for people is to remain ignorant if I don’t think they can handle the truth after the example of my Lord in Jn 16:12.

      • NW, why is it that Christians are afraid to look at their faith? Is it because what they find might not be concrete, definable, relatable, explainable? Could it be they are afraid of finding the answer truly is a mystery?

        • Jeff,

          I would say that people are comfortable with a great deal of mystery but are considerably less so with uncertainty. To honestly looks at one’s faith is to expose oneself to a certain measure of uncertainty that can be very disconcerting for most people

          For example, both the doctrines of the trinity and the hypostatic union are deeply mysterious yet most evangelicals don’t seem to have much of a problem with either. But introduce them to the Christological debates that are taking place in academic circles and watch out!

          • NW, I think that you hit on some fantastic points. Might I posit that the fear comes from a need to use religion (as opposed to a belief) as a way to prescribe behavior. Religion, to me, is the outward expression of an inward relationship with God. That relationship can and does happen without religion, but the church gives us an opportunity to worship God in a communal way and also a support network for when we are falling. For me, I need a balance of religion and self-study in order to fully support my relationship with God. Some require more religion/church and others require less. I do not believe in a cookie-cutter approach to faith – God made us in all the varieties under the sun, so I believe that our paths to God are going to reflect a very personal and deep relationship with God that is likely not to look like everyone else’s.

        • Because they have been fed the Gospel + with most of the + being so much nonsense. So as they dig into it they discover that what they were taught in terms of the + wasn’t really a part of the message. And if the + was a large chunk of their faith (and with many it is) then there isn’t much left after the close examination. At least not relative to what it was before.

          Going back a bit in history. Mixing the races, dancing, card playing, drinking, tithing, and a whole host of social conventions that we put in place to keep people in their place. None of it biblical (as much as I hate to swing that club). And for the last 10 to 30 years science. It’s been there for a while but many were able to ignore it until cable TV and the internet brought it into every home.

    • Marcus Johnson says

      NW, could it possibly be more than just that one reason? Maybe fear and willful ignorance and our tendency to expect a convenient faith, or a mixture of all three, contributes to this problem.

      • Marcus,

        I agree, it’s a combination of everything you mentioned.

        Actually, you’ve got me thinking, perhaps the desire for a simple faith is the dominant factor here. What I mean is this, there are good non-evasive answers to the many questions people have but they generally won’t be found in the tight theological boundaries that evangelicalism has drawn; moreover, it’s difficult to change those boundaries without also adding a measure of theological complexity that most people can’t really live with.

        For example, consider the Protestant desire to believe in an inerrant Bible, you cannot give that up without also requiring them to start reading their Bibles in a critical manner that seeks to discern the theological center of the Bible instead of just relying on isolated verses. I’m sorry, but that’s just too much to expect from most Protestants. It’s hard enough for them to think that God has set aside imperfect people for his work in the world much less that he also set aside some imperfect writings whose collation we now call the Bible.

      • Marcus Johnson says

        Yup, that desire for a simple, convenient faith is what annoys me the most, and I’m sure that is why, when people become aware of the complexities to life, Scripture, and God and encounter a church community that refuses to acknowledge those complexities, they leave the church.

        I would, however, tweak that thought about Biblical inerrancy. Absolutely, God used imperfect people for his work, and there is a great deal more about the foundational truths of Scripture which we just don’t comprehend (and I’m okay with that; once you know the “truth,” there’s no point in searching–where’s the meaning in that?), but I don’t know if it’s as much a deal that people believe Scripture is inerrant, as much as they believe that their interpretation of Scripture is complete and inerrant. Combine our need for convenience with the need to be right all the time, and it’s a perfect storm of willful ignorance.

        • Agreed, thank you very much for this exchange.

        • Marcus, I would like to challenge you a tad on the “simple” faith. We here reading this blog represent a layer of intellectual thought that is not the average norm. I have people in my own family who could not even read half of what you wrote.

          In the context of the Haggadah, there is a section of the Seder that deals with “The Four Sons”. Each son must be told the story of the Exodus in a way that each can identify with. There is the Wise, the Wicked, the Simple and the Immature. Most Haggadahs even give direction “when speaking with the Simple Son, you must say this….” This is wonderful because everyone has their abilities and limitations.

          Perfect example is my friend who is severely bipolar. She prefers her religion very sliced and diced for her convenience because she simply does not have enough brain strength to really delve into the deep mysteries of the scripture. For her, cut and dried is about all she can manage. My sibling’s family is another example. They can barely manage their simple jobs and their kids and have nothing left to pour into Bible Study or personal discernment. They have strong faith, but it is spoon fed to them, and that is a good fit for them.

          It is easy, when intellectually gifted, to remember that the spirits gifts run the gambit and not everyone was gifted with our intellect. There are many things that we cannot do, so it’s a pretty even exchange. What you may see as “willful ignorance” may be just a reality of spiritual gifts for someone else. My friend and my sibling’s family are not willfully ignorant, the reality of their lives requires a faith that is convenient and easy.

          • Marcus Johnson says

            First, you seem to infer that I am “intellectually gifted.” I am willing to concede that, yes, I am awesome. 🙂 Seriously, though, this discussion board demonstrates the ideal kind of thought that should be reflected in the dialogue from Christians regarding their faith. Regardless of whether I agree or disagree with some people, the conversations we have here are really transformational.

            Of course, people who have cognitive impairments or learning disabilities might have trouble comprehending some of the discussions we are having here. For the purposes of this discussion board, I think there is an assumption that each person has a responsibility to grow spiritually according to their own personal capacity. You don’t have to have a doctoral degree to mature spiritually, and every person’s standard for improvement is different. However, I believe that the main thrust of this discussion suggests that the tendency to settle for a convenient, elementary faith is a fault that rests first and foremost with church leadership within mainstream Christianity. The fault extends from there to indivudual Christians who, given the capacity for deeper reflection and contemplation, choose not to engage for the sake of convenience.

            As far as your friends with the jobs and the kids and the billion things to worry about, that is definitely not a unique situation, and I am willing to bet that many, if not all, of the people responding on this site can relate to that. However, accepting the gift of salvation is also a call to commit to discipleship. If your friends’ church community either has not, or is not equipped, to accommodate a strong discipleship programs that challenges and matures them spiritually, then it is the responsibility of the church to strengthen their outreach programs so that they can work with your friends.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      “the reason so many choose to wear a mask instead of looking honestly at their own beliefs. My reason? We have taken the mystery out of faith.”

      Somewhere in the IMonk Archives there’s a posting about “MAO Inhibitors”, “MAO” in this context being “Mystery, Awe, and Otherness” and how a lot of both Evangelicals, Reformed, and Mainstreams have removed any Mystery, Awe, and/or Otherness from their Faith.

  16. Blaming evangelicals is easy, but it doesn’t seem s complete answer to me. They may seem funny with their outdated childish beliefs, but I admire their steadfastness and envy their confidence.

    Frankly I can’t understand why anyone would believe in God for any reason outside of laughable faith alone. There simply is no proof to the contrary and overwhelming evidence against.

    Many profess, and there are plenty on this site that openly scoff at any belief system to the contrary that: the earth is an insignificant microscopic speck of dust in a huge universe, that there are 14+ billion years of universal existence that the Bible is either trying to explain in some bizarre symbolic way or is just plain made up. Human life is the result of eons of evolutionary development and hardly unique given the countless number of planets in the universe capable of sustaining life. Further, no verified miracles have ever taken place, God’s voice has never been recorded (I’ve certainly never heard it), and there is absolutely no proof that human life can be restored 48+ hours after death.

    And yet some of us I think, although I can only speak for myself, cling to an outdated, quaint idea that there is something more than physics, chemistry, astronomy and things that can be measured and analyzed. I’m an engineer, and it’s hard for me to believe in God, but it is a choice I make consciously in spite of the evidence to the contrary.

    Many times I choose not to respond on this blog for fear of open ridicule, and it’s a shame we can’t all just accept each others differing views without descending into name calling (YEC comes to mind and the title Evangelical is rarely used as anything other than a pejorative). My two cents and I apologize if I have offended or painted with too broad of a brush.

    • Ed,

      You have not offended me but you are completely wrong. Admittedly it’s not easy to see, but all the evidence does point to Christianity actually being true. It’s been the most shocking discovery of my life.

      • Thank’s NW, “evidence” is a strong word implying proof IMO, but perhaps you missed the sarcasm of my posting. I happen to agree with your statement of Christianity being true, my point is that taking a purely scientific approach to it, it is not surprising that many do not believe.

        • I did miss the sarcasm, sorry about that.

          “…my point is that taking a purely scientific approach to it, it is not surprising that many do not believe.”

          I still don’t agree with this, there are a handful of worldviews out there that people believe in and the Christian one is the only one that lacks a strong defeater. In particular, the materialist worldview now dominant amongst Western elites has been disproved in the last century, we now know that people have non-physical souls that will go on and experience a conscious afterlife of sorts. That they continue to hold onto it makes them no different from young earth creationists in my eyes.

          • “…we now know that people have non-physical souls that will go on and experience a conscious afterlife of sorts.”

            This is known beyond a shadow of a doubt? I mean, I believe it’s true as evidenced by the explosive growth of Christianity, which I believe is best explained by the actual bodily resurrection of Jesus, but your statement makes it sound as if there’s been modern research to confirm the existence of souls.

            I’m asking honestly, but I’m a bit incredulous as to so sweeping as statement.

          • Matt,

            Chris Carter is an Oxford trained philosopher who has written a couple of excellent books in the last decade that nicely summarize the state of the conversation in “Science and Psychic Phenomena” (formerly titled “Parapsychology and the Skeptics”) and “Science and the Near-Death Experience.” The materialistic worldview didn’t survive the 20th century but most people don’t know about it yet and those that do yet still resist this fact are like the atheist equivalent of young earth creationists.

            If you want a quick intro into what’s been shown check out this talk that Dr Sheldrake (a developmental biologist out of England) gave at Google a couple years ago: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnA8GUtXpXY

            I say all this as a professional scientist working at an elite American university, read the books and spread the news. It’s over for materialism as a worldview.

          • Matt,

            The linked talk is mainly about Sheldrake’s theory on the extended mind and includes some nice evidence for telepathy, which is an indirect proof for the existence of the soul.

          • It should also be noted that evangelicals have completely ignored the evidence from psychology because they aren’t willing to admit that it’s possible to learn a thing or two about the non-physical dimension of life outside the Bible.

      • Suffice it to say that despite whatever “evidence” you may have in mind, reasonable people continue to profess various religious opinions.

  17. I believe that the decline in Christian belief in the United States is more periodic than not. This time period may represent a historical low, but lows like this have happened before. The time period that springs to mind for me is the 1960’s/1970’s with the rejection of the perceived conservatism of the 50’s. (The 1966 cover of Time Magazine asked “Is God Dead?”) Another data point is Robert Ingersoll, who was the most popular orator in the 1870’s-1880’s, although this may be more to his skill than his subject.

    At the same time, I think the alignment of Christianity as a force against gay rights has driven off a great number of people. Unlike the previous civil rights dispute in the 60’s and 70’s, there are no prominent religious leaders leading the crusade for gay rights. The creationism and anti-abortion movements have not helped much either. Christianity has become a political force in the united states, aligned with a party that represents approximately 50% of the population. This, in my mind, does present a threat to the eventual resurgence that Christianity seems to gain after each wave of non-belief.

    As to the question of doubt, I remember a book by Madeline L’Engle an evangelical ex of mine lent me. The part she wanted me to start at concerned doubts and agnosticism, how all Christians felt ambivalence about the existence of God or some aspect of him during their journey. While it did not lead to my conversion, it did lead to hours more of fascinating conversation.

    • The “Death of God” theology promoted by Time did not represent a serious social trend, but more of a publicity student. At most, it was a minor phenomenon among liberal Protestant intellectual elites. Its language references Nietzsche, who seems to have meant something else by it (his point probably being that in modern times, religious belief is no longer sufficed to guarantee moral behavior–a tedentious claim on many counts). The 1960’s transformed many U.S. social institutions thanks to, for example, liberalized immigration, the civil rights movement, revolutions in gender roles and sexual behavior, and the rise of a mass popular culture. These did not so much erode morality, or religiosity, as cause them to mutate. If atheism and irreligiosity are growing in the U.S., they do so as elements of an increasingly diverse religious landscape (though one in which various forms of Christianity still dominate).

  18. Jeff,

    Speaking as a millennial…

    I agree with what you say. I think many segments of the church have been trying so desperately to combat skepticism that they have squeezed the mystery out.

    Do this, then this will happen has become the result.

    The seduction of unbelief is that it frees you from having to answer all the questions, so it can seem like a better, more reasonable deal.

    Now is the time for us to rediscover Sacramental theology. Give people the Word and Sacraments and they might just find something mysterious enough to keep their attention.

    Beyond that, I think people my age find themselves in the midst of a world that is proving to be much more harsh and unforgiving than they were promised. A general disillusionment with everything spreads to disillusionment with God. It’s the spirit of the age. Very depressing. Very sad.

  19. This reminds me of Wendell Berry in “The Art of the Common Place” asserts:
    “Invariably the failure of organized religions, by which they cut themselves off from mystery and therefore from sanctity, lies in the attempt to impose an absolute division between faith and doubt, to make belief perform as knowledge; when they forbid their prophets to go into the wilderness, they lose the possibility of renewal. “

    • Wow….powerful comment – I had to read that several times in order to really let that soak in. This concept that the strength is in the continual cycles of doubt and renewal. Powerful. We humans experience that all the time…some of the best marriages I know are strong because of their cycles of tension and release. The tension makes the make-up all the more rich and intensely close. In that same way periods of doubt and anger at God can pave the way for a more intense period of renewal.