Allen Hunt columnist for townhall.com reports on yet another survey of religious preferences. However this one Hunt calls the Church’s obituary. The reason?
“The leading source of information for the Church’s obituary came from the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), a survey which revealed a deep shift in America’s faith life since 1990. The two most remarkable nuggets of data include the decline in the last eighteen years of those Americans who call themselves “Christian” from 86% to 76% of the population. The second nugget: nearly 15% of Americans selected the “None” category to describe their religious faith. That figure has almost doubled since 1990. About one in six Americans now state that they have “no religious affiliation.”
There was a time when I thought atheism was dead. Then (probably on some Easter Sunday) Daniel Dennett called Richard Dawkins and they both got Christopher Hitchens sober and decided to resurrect militant atheism. It might not have happened exactly that way but I’m sure its close. I remember someone from Midwest Christian Outreach (maybe Ron Henzel) said that the biggest problem of the 21st century will be paganism not atheism. Its no small thing that Witchcraft is still the most popular new religion with teenage girls. There are still plenty of pagans out there but they aren’t making the news and debating with Ben Stein in a room full of ominous shadows.
So it didn’t surprise me that the “none ” box on the religious survey had gained a few points. What did surprise me is how many of those “none” were not ready to hoist a glass to the unholy trinity of Dennett, Dawkins, and Hitchens (and Sam Harris, Penn Gillete, and Julia Sweeny . . . is that an unholy sextilogy? ? ) Instead these same people who checked “none” claim to be very religious. Hunt explains:
Many of these “None” individuals pick and choose the parts of various faiths they find meaningful. They essentially mix in a selection of their own likes to create a faith concoction . . . They may utilize Christan prayer, Wiccan walks in the park, Hindu polytheism, a little Buddhist meditation, and even some Muslim attire, while saying “I have no religion other than myself.”
Ah. What Don Veinot calls Designer Faith which they have cobbled together from the boutique of mix and match possibilities. Now there are two things that we of the apologetic set should keep in mind here. First, this do-it-yourself-religion is really seems to just be narcissism without the pesky conscience.
If I can make my own religion then I can leave out those things I don’t want or make me uncomfortable. I would be very surprised if these Nones have ever been convicted to repent from any sin by the god of a thousand faces. I would be very surprised if the designer god required them to do anything specific. I understand this I think. Someone longs for what they think is the essence of religion: ceremony, ritual, peace, discipline, even an impetus for social justice but forget what is actually the essence of faith: relationship.
And the thing about relationship is that some parts of it are not in your control. You don’t get to chose what your beloved wants or likes or dislikes. You don’t get to choose the manner in which they will be courted. You don’t get to choose before hand what your relationship will commit you to 10 years from now and you certainly don’t get to create your perfect mate by pasting together three or four profiles on facebook.
Make no mistake, the church never dies. If we mean by the church what had ole Screwtape quaking in his boots–the Church, the bride of Christ, triumphantly marching through history setting up missions a yard from the gates of hell–then she is alive and well.
If however, you mean American Christendom then Hunt may very well be correct. If the “Nones” are the future of American Christianity then its time to tear down our steeples, our fog machines, and the 90,000 dollar light show, because we will lose. Felt needs are best met by the person who feels them and no sense getting up early on Sunday to do that if you can cobble together a god using amazon.com and ebay.
The second thing that we, the body of Christ, should keep in mind, is the answer to a very very important questions: “What’s wrong with cobbling together the best of all religions?” What is the answer to the Nones? No use quoting scripture to them. Their Bible is most likely Chicken Soup for the Seeker Soul with short passages from new agers, gurus, and Oprah mixed in with the nice parts of the New Testament. No use talking about the holiness of God and their sin just yet. That will only scare them away.
No, I think you have to appeal to something you both agree about and that ain’t felt needs. What’s at stake is the very nature of the claims of God, worship, and religious practice. And there is something that the Nones are really missing. I won’t mention my own thoughts about what it is yet because I want to hear your thoughts. I want to hear what you would say to the Nones.
And lest you think you won’t run into any Nones, consider that someone in my small group was asked by her neighbor just the other day, “So why do you think you need God cause I’m doing fine?” Notice the implication: If you need God, that’s fine. I don’t have that felt need. What do you say to that guy? I look forward to your responses.