The pollsters are finding more people than ever who no longer feel connected to Christianity, even in the nominal way they used to. My Twitter feed introduced me to an interesting explanation of the trend in the Huffington Post: “Four Reasons for Decline of Religion.” It is another attempt to interpret the startling news from the latest Religious Landscape Study by the Pew Research Forum. That report says that Americans are still VERY religious, but it also shows that the percentage of Americans who believe in God, attend religious services and pray daily has declined significantly during the last eight years, especially among adolescents. The blogger gives four reasons for this. They are all about how the “secular” environment is meeting needs better than religion, which may be true if all people do is follow their personal values around, as he purports. But I think there may be something else, too: the nominal Christians who no longer identify with Christianity may have made choices based on the lies people are telling about Jesus and the church. Every reason the blogger submits for the perceived decline is accompanied by a corresponding lie that seems to be helping people make new choices.
See if you think people believe these popular lies and so end up connected to a growing Jesus-free part of the population.
Lie one: “Spirituality” is the replacement for organized religion.
The lie is: If you join up with Jesus-followers you are joining up with a cult. Doing such a thing is infantile, undignified, abnormal and maybe unhealthy psychologically. These days faith is all about “spirituality,” which leaves believing up to your values and turns spirituality into an individual collection of experiences, a commodity or an affinity group. That is the new normal and what the Christians try to get you to believe is abnormal.
The blogger said that “William James, whom some consider the ‘Father of American psychology,’ and psychiatrist Carl Jung, who developed the idea of the extrovert and introvert, were among those who embraced mysticism, or a sense of the Absolute, but had little use for organized religion.” They had good cause to desert the institutional church of their time as they looked for authentic encounter with God. Now their desertion is popular. More Americans than ever are saying that they are “spiritual, but not religious.”
But are they right about Christianity? I think authentic Christians are deeply connected to God within. They have a lot more going than a “sense of the Absolute” (or yes, Hillary, “the Force be with you,” too). They are not just into themselves, but they have a deep inner life built on all sorts of well-tested spiritual disciplines. Even the Christmas story can’t get far without: “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”