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Knowledge & News
Thought provoking topics and series, necessary news and information.
The Rise of the “Nones”
Another study showing us statistics to reinforce what we already know. Institutional Christianity in the United States is failing, and its ranks are thinning. The numbers don’t lie.
The Pew research study showing the increase in “nones” has distressing implications for the Christian community. Many churches lament the rise of immorality and cultural relativism as parallel to decrease in religious practice, often seeking to condemn opposing establishments, governmental or academic, for de-spiritualizing young people. But the problem appears to run deeper than that, as people from across socioeconomic and educational backgrounds, privileged and unprivileged, leave churches even in the Bible Belt heart of the evangelical world.
Other Responses in the "Losing / Finding Faith" Series
But this institutional bait-and-switch is not unique. It’s happening all around in the United States.
American academia is just now starting to reveal its cross-generational failures, with systemic issues like underpaid and striking faculty, the rise of temps and part time faculty (a move borrowed from old industrialists), record amounts of student debt, and the fact that half of American unemployed are college degree holders.
American medicine has failed to keep pace with the developed world, with huge numbers of uninsured, a bloated pharmaceutical industry, and widespread failures in the proper and respectful care of elders.
American government is at a point of all-time gridlock and polarization, with the decline of compromise and political civility leading to record numbers of independent political “nones.”
One could say that each of these institutions in The U.S. has performed a similar bait-and-switch to their religious counterpart: promising a meaningful and healthy life, the right to have one’s voice heard, and the security of a good career, but offering overworked professors, underqualified caregivers, widespread disenfranchisement, and no recourse from elected officials. The failure of American Christianity is not unique. These other large institutions are failing right along with it.
A Post-establishment World, and the Space to Breathe Again
Despite all of this, I don’t believe that religion or Jesus is out-of-date. I don’t think that learning from studied experts is a lost cause. I don’t believe we should give up on democracy. I do believe these systemic failures are symptoms of a much bigger shift.
When each of us can access a huge amount of data and opinions, news from around the world, and other information in a matter of seconds, the need for a group of high priests (whether they be literal high priests, politicians, academic administrators, or doctors) to guide and teach the ways of the world diminishes. The institutions of church, state, and university, which used to be so important for connecting and governing us, slowly erode away in the face of our individual interconnectedness and increasing ability to navigate the world on our own.
The era of self-education and self-empowerment is entering a new phase now, as information and training once relegated to the books of prestigious and exclusive institutions rapidly becomes available to anyone with a library card or a laptop and the money for a coffee. The irony: so many Christians are panicking, but this has happened to Christianity before.
In the 15th century, people started printing books, pamphlets, and other learning materials and distributing them widely; something that had never been done before. It created a new world. The populace learned more, and the church feared differing doctrines and interpretations of scripture, much like today.
This kind of destruction, the ripping apart of convention, is happening because a new world continues to emerge. A world that Christ would be proud of. A world of self-empowerment. After all, who is a better example of defying convention, self-empowerment, and abandoning unfair institutions than Christ? Eating with whores, tax collectors, and Samaritans, denying Caesar’s divinity publicly, causing a scene in the sacred temple of his people: Jesus was against all of the conventions.
What is really shown in the Pew Research Study is not a move in the U.S. away from Jesus. It is a decline in another particular cultural expression of closeness to God and the sacred. Sure, mainline Protestants, Evangelicals, and Catholics are waning and falling from prominence. But Jesus isn’t disappearing. Love isn’t disappearing. Redemption isn’t disappearing. It is again convention that is being stripped away.
And we, as Christians, or whatever we choose to call ourselves, should have joy in the face of these trends. As more people are set free from conventions and authority figures which they have no genuine connection to, more people will have the space in their lives for genuine experience of God. With all of the clutter gone, all of the quiet, beautiful, elegant meaning that exists in our universe will have room to breathe again. Christ will have room to breathe again.
There is a reason that Jesus held disdain for the Jewish establishment of his day: real experience of the divine happens anywhere and everywhere, not necessarily in or out of the walls of a religious institution. Real Christian practice, if we want to genuinely encounter the divine, needs that room to breathe.
The takeaway from the numbers in the article? Not as mind-shattering as you may think: love people, love God, and do your best to navigate a fast-paced and often confusing world.
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