Maybe the best two songs (they’re the first two that race to mind) about how painful love can be are Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and REM’s “Losing My Religion”. What’s interesting is that both express the nothing-else-quite-like-it pain of romantic loss as a kind of religious experience. Leonard Cohen gives love the biblical potency to “cut your hair” like Delilah betraying Samson. Peter Lawrence Buck, Michael E. Mills, William Berry & Michael J. Stipe choose their confessions from “every whisper, of every waking hour”. Nothing can blow your mind, it seems, like losing one’s religion.
Most of us meet religion as kids. That is, it’s introduced to us and we’re expected to let it in. But, what happens when the indoctrination either wears out or doesn’t work at all? Maybe you ask a question in Hebrew School or Sunday School and the answer – well meaning perhaps but unsatisfying – only inspires more (and, now, deeper) questions. Maybe some tragedy befalls you or your family and all the religious salves meant to ease your pain does nothing for you. Maybe you never had religion to begin with but you still feel a spiritual tug, but towards what? These are all the traditional places religion claimed for itself.
Let’s stop right there. What exactly do we mean by “religion”? While adherence to or membership in organized religion is shrinking in America, the amount of shrinkage and adherence isn’t uniform across organized religions. And it’s not entirely clear who the beneficiary is of religion’s loss. Atheism, while rising in America, still only clocks in at four percent of the population. Still, it’s better to be on the upswing than on the downswing – which is what’s happening to Christianity.
Okay, here’s the obvious question: WHY? And (next obvious question) what can Christianity do – if anything – to stop it?
This one means a lot to Randy (as you can imagine). He has skin in the game. Will Alan choose to be a “helpful atheist” or an unhelpful one?
Or, if you’d prefer to watch…
Why is organized religion losing its hold? What can it do to fix itself – if anything?
- Barna stats. But this is only in Western culture. Percentages in Africa as an example. If you want to sketch a “Christian” today it would be a person of color who worships in a Pentecostal church. It is in steep decline in the West but it is rapidly growing in the non-Western world.
- The question is, why is this happening?
- The first thing to note is that this has happened before. In fact, this has happened numerous times in Christianity, often enough to say that from an historical perspective Christianity is cyclical in nature.
- This is in distinction to other world religions. Christianity shows an interest in translatability which motivates the cyclical nature. The great faiths of India have emphasized that the human sphere has no permanent significance or reality. It is all Maya. No translation needs to take place. Hinduism is far older than Christianity but it has mostly stayed in the same location. Islam is delivered in Arabic at a particular time unaltered and unalterably fixed in heaven. When Islam takes a geographical space it tends to hold it.
- Jewish, to Hellenistic-Roman, to Barbarian, to Western Europe, to Expanding Europe, to Cross-cultural transmission. (6 times over the last 2,000 years)
- Phyllis Tickle has developed a similar concept believing that every 500 years or so the church has a rummage sale.
- What she fails to see, however, and this is directly related to our question today, is that in each case Christianity begins at a center from which it is transmitted to another culture and then the previous expression declines. So, we are in decline as the faith is expanding in the non-Western world.
- The core beliefs that have made each journey are: 1-The worship of the God of Israel. 2-The ultimate significance of Jesus of Nazareth. 3-God is active where believers are. 4-Believers constitute a people of God transcending time and space.
- Each time Christianity enters into an existing community it shapes and is shaped by the existing culture. Each transmission includes some aspects of the development of Christianity in the previous translation while developing new aspects according to the questions of the new culture it has entered.
- What can the Western church do? Go back to the core beliefs and begin a fresh translation. That is what my virtual platform is all about.
I like to think of myself as “Alan, The Helpful Atheist” where that question was concerned.
Religions are all lens salesmen. They propose that you see the world through their lens. Do that, in theory, and all your questions will be answered. It used to work for people a lot more than it does now – those leaps of faith. I suspect more people than we realize may have accepted their church’s answers to their probing questions on the outside while, on the inside, they began to draw away from their church. Because the answer didn’t satisfy.
Religion’s big problem is the very thing it touts as proof of its universal truthiness: how old it is. Actually, here in America, it’s big problem is that it’s confused the message with the messenger. Religious institutions are not the message. Don’t try telling them that however.