U.S. Christianity is Dead, Long Live U.S. Christianity

Army Photography Contest - 2007 - FMWRC - Arts and Crafts - Ghost Prayin Photo By: SGT Pablo Piedra via Creative Commons

In the cluster of comment on the recently released report on the changing American religious landscape from the Pew Research Center, we have seen two basic story lines: the U.S. is “less Christian” now than it was seven years ago—by about 8 percent, and the population of  “nones” has increased, from 16 percent in 2007 to 23 percent this time around.

As bad as those numbers may sound for religious groups, things are actually even worse. The report only shows how many people consider themselves Catholic, Jewish, Baptist or “nothing in particular.” What this leaves out (which I suspect will be detailed in future reports) is what these religious identities mean as measured by attendance at services or participation in religious community.

In other words, do people who say they are Baptist or Catholic actually attend services and participate in the life of any faith community? Is religion really a part of their everyday lives, or is it just an identity marker?

We know from other research that attendance at religious services has been declining for decades, most noticeably in mainline Protestant and Catholic churches and Jewish synagogues. Now even groups like evangelicals are beginning to see their numbers thin out. Worse, younger people, who represent the future of religious groups, are attending services less often than are older generations. For example, current data on 23-28 year-olds shows that whether they claim a religious identity of not, 52 percent never attend religious services and are otherwise uninvolved in a religious congregation.

Taking into account both increased disaffiliation and decreased attendance at religious services means that the actual decline of religiosity is greater that what the Pew numbers tell us.

This may be bad or good news, depending on your perspective. Surprisingly, some religious leaders are trying to spin it in a positive direction. Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore said that the evangelical herd is essentially culling itself of “pretend Christians,” who are simply being more honest about their (lack of) beliefs. This is the same sentiment I’ve heard  mainline denominational and congregational leaders express, when I’ve asked about their decline and what the future might hold.

The implication is that these churches will be stronger going forward with fewer members. I can’t decide if these leaders are delusional or just unduly optimistic about the future of their religious organizations.

On the other hand, things may not be as bad as they appear. Buried in the Pew report are responses from those who said that they have “no religion in particular” to the question, “How important is religion in your life – very important, somewhat important, not too important, or not at all important?” Forty percent responded that religion is “very” or “somewhat” important in their lives. This might come as a surprise to pundits and scholars who assume the religiously unaffiliated don’t believe in God or are somehow “secular.”

The data—including what is available through the Pew report— shows that disbelief in God is relatively stable across time and generation. Indeed the current report shows that atheists (3%) and agnostics (4%) still comprise a relatively small proportion of the American population. Thus, the increase in religious disaffiliation is not necessarily linked to an increase in disbelief per se.

Rather, the phenomenon of the religious “nones” represents the larger reality that increasing numbers of Americans are disenchanted with and disengaged from big institutions in general, whether political, financial, government or religious. That is, unless those institutions directly benefit them. To the extent that churches represent large and often out-of-touch institutions that seem more interested in keeping themselves in business than in serving the needs and desires of members and (potential) attendees, people will continue to opt out of them.

From my vantage point, the current disarray in American religious identity and participation is less a story of people “losing their religion” than one of dissatisfaction with the institutional options available to them.

What does this mean for the future of American Christianity?

The decline of mainline Protestants and Catholics is unlikely to reverse. Younger generations may be marginally interested in the “smells and bells,” but they are allergic to the large-scale institutions that demand not only spiritual allegiance but also financial commitment. Crumbling bell towers require incessant appeals for money. None of those things are “religion” for these people. And now, the franchised megachurch model also is beginning to lose its appeal for younger people. They don’t want to simply reproduce a model that somebody else created.

But contrary to the doomsday headlines, all is not necessarily lost for churches. In work I am currently engaged in, my colleagues and I are finding that the corporate, megachurch-dominated models of organizing religious and spiritual activity are starting to be replaced by smaller, more locally oriented church communities, and by larger churches that attract the masses for a spiritual or musical performance, and a sense of belonging to something much larger than themselves.

Young people are looking for intimacy and personal connections, deep spiritual experiences, service to others and the opportunity to create their own community, whether religious or not.

Religion is not going anywhere anytime soon, regardless how people may identify themselves. But business as usual among existing religious institutions will not stem the losses we are seeing.

69 Comments

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    There is an important aspect to the American Christianity statistics that is not yet being much discussed as the surveys of percentages are calculated. It ties back to what is Christianity? Does Christianity mean Jesus is God, Jesus is coming again probably soon, Jesus lives in your heart and guides you in your life, and the name of Jesus is the path to salvation, and that means heaven? To some it is still yes to all these. On the other extreme, there are those who think the actual historical and Biblical evidence shows Jesus was a myth, a creation of the church. This group is growing if you consider 50 years ago it was extremely rare, and the few who might have felt that way were smart enough to know they needed to keep silent about it or they are in for big social trouble. Now we live in a different world. And between those two groups are possibly a majority of Americans who are not exactly sure about Jesus one way or the other, and likely don’t think that is so important to answer any more. Personally, I think that middle majority is on a path of gradual change. They have to follow the evidence, even if it is slowly. Over time, their path of change probably accelerates.

    This is really what you need to focus on if you want to chart Christianity. Do you mean the Magic Jesus brand of Christianity, or do you mean the humanism kind that is no longer stuck on all the doctrines and creeds? It is hard because as a nation, we are still pretty heavily stuck in pretend mode. But if you look at the last decade or two, you can see we are in a process of change.

  • robert.m.jeffers@lonestar.edu' Rmj says:

    In 1906, 41% of Americans identified themselves as religious believers of some kind. That is, they had some kind of religious affiliation.

    By the end of that century, the number was closer to 90%.

    Church historians talk about the huge increase in church attendance after WWII. There was also a huge upsurge in the ’20’s, corresponding to the economy, I suspect. I’ve been in Protestant churches which were once the social center of St. Louis (once a major American city; that was gone a long time ago, too). They had their own china pattern, their own sterling flatware, for meals not only after worship on Sunday, but during the week.

    All of that was doomed to collapse, too.

    Church attendance has been in decline since the ’60’s. I’ve been hearing about it al my life, and I’m 60 now. Mega-churches came along, and some saw them as the sign of the next “Great Awakening” (which wasn’t all that great, or that much of an awakening). Now they collapse like shuffles, or like any other institution pumped up on enthusiasm until the enthusiasm runs out.

    Churches as institutions have major problems. Buildings are expensive (the last church I served had a huge worship space, built for a population/economic boom in the neighborhood that ran out long before the church building did. The congregation there now can’t even afford roof repairs, when they inevitably come.). Pastors are expensive. A small church needs to raise $100,000 a year, and that minimally pays for a full-time pastor and basic bills (utilities, paper for printing bulletins for worship, etc.). Full-time ministry is rapidly becoming unsustainable for all but the wealthiest congregations, and even those can’t afford their own china and silver anymore.

    There will be changes, but that’s okay. Such things are inevitable. In the words of the prayer for the church in the old E&R Hymnal:

    “Grant that thy Church may be delivered from traditions which have lost their life, from usage which has lost its spirit, from institutions which no longer give life and power to their generation; that the Church may ever shine as a light in the world and be as a city set on a hill.”

    Changes will happen; and someone will embrace them. So it goes.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    Everything in that hymn would be subject to interpretation. I think interpretation used to be one of the gifts of the spirit. I don’t know how it would work now.

  • tojby_2000@yahoo.com' apotropoxy says:

    The gospel writers who Christians claim were the original teachers of their faith were under the impression that the End of Days would happen within the lifetime of their listeners. Isn’t it time to admit that no one is coming back to “save” the world?

    – Mark 13:26-30: “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then He will send forth the angels, and will gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest end of the earth to the farthest end of heaven. Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. Even so, you too, when you see these things happening, recognize that He is near, right at the door. Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place…“
    – Matthew 16:28 “quoting” Jesus: “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.“
    – Matthew 24:25-34: “Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door. Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.“
    Luke 21:27-32: “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. Then He told them a parable: Behold the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they put forth leaves, you see it and know for yourselves that summer is now near. So you also, when you see these things happening, recognize that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all things take place.”

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    Isn’t it time to admit that no one is coming back to “save” the world?

    We can’t just admit that. It is time for Christianity to make the split into two major branches, progressivism and trinitheism.

  • tojby_2000@yahoo.com' apotropoxy says:

    Many Jews downplay their messiah expectations these days. Christians can do it, too.

  • Dennis.Lurvey@live.com' GeniusPhx says:

    People will say they are christians just because their parents are. It’s more like a tradition than a religion. The author admits to people saying they are christian (for instance) having never stepped into a church (the ‘unchurched’ about 38% of christians) but fails to admit people say they are christian for the sake of their families and friends but are really atheist (and they know it). We may never know how many atheists there are for that reason.
    There is a video on you tube of a kid telling his mother he was an atheist, she beat him almost to death with a frying pan. It’s a thing.

  • Dennis.Lurvey@live.com' GeniusPhx says:

    The ‘city on a hill’ was written by a puritan leader who came here to start a more pure christian religion. The city was Boston and his idea was to convert everyone to their beliefs or kill them. In their biblical law the punishment for almost anything was death, the law books still exist today. They are the ones who hung ‘witches’, who executed Catholics by the thousands in new England and st Augustine. Catholics and native Indians also executed puritans. early America had no religious freedom, it’s the first freedom they took away when they landed here.

    the revival of the church after world war II was planned and carried out by a few ministers. the ones who convinced the secretary of the treasury to put in god we trust on money, god in the pledge, god in court houses, god in schools, etc. The idea was to connect patriotism to christianity in the minds of the public, and it worked. GeorgeHW said if a person didn’t believe in god they shouldn’t live here. People went back to church to show the atheist soviets we were better than them. Now ppl are running away because of education and scientific discoveries.

  • Dennis.Lurvey@live.com' GeniusPhx says:

    doesn’t the Nicaean creed apply to the definition?

  • wostraub@gmail.com' weylguy says:

    Good points. These are the big contradictions, like the eschatological end-of-the-world predictions that didn’t happen and the mutually contradictory birth stories of Jesus in Matthew and Luke, but there are many, many more smaller ones. For example, when Jesus condemned the fig tree for not producing any fruit to eat, it was in the early spring. My fig tree only produces fruit in the summer, and I suspect it was the same way 2,000 years ago. And so on, ad infinitum.

    Christians who actually read their Bibles and attend church services cope with these contradictions by simply not thinking about them, the way most people cope with the thought of death. The fact that the Bible has a lot to do with protecting Christians against the fear of death provides the explanation for their not thinking about nonsensical stuff.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    I think progressive Christianity is beginning a process to deal with the contradictions that came from total acceptance of all the old beliefs. They are forced into this mode because of the trouble that conservative Christianity is causing the nation and world in every area of life. It is a process they will work through, but ultimately every belief that is harmful or stupid will first become more optional, then later more discouraged, then eventually Christianity will have nothing left but humanism and environmentalism.

  • whiskyjack1@gmail.com' Whiskyjack says:

    Well, Church leaders have been reinterpreting those failed prophecies for 2000 years now. I doubt they will face reality any time soon.

  • imjessietr@yahoo.com' Kelly says:

    But Nicea said it was the definition. Didn’t see Jesus mention it anywhere…

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    As the world matures, more of us can see how foolish those prophecies are. It is up to us who are smart enough to see it to make the believer Christian church members feel like idiots for still believing. When they feel bad about it,they will start to pressure their leaders on the issue, and that might help with a change. This kind of needs to be our responsibility because now we know it doesn’t matter if years go by, or decades or centuries or millennia. Left alone, Christianity will be happy to go on forever thinking we are getting closer and closer and whatever happens in the world, it will always lead them to believe current events show we are obviously now almost there.

  • P5harri@gmail.com' Patrick says:

    It has been noted in reference to this research it’s really more about those some call nominal Christians, who for years have identified themselves as Christians but were not really committed to following Christ.
    Some identified themselves that way because of family, some because of tradition, but they never really had the convictions of the faith.
    As years pass and society no longer holds Christianity in the high regard it once held, like when I was growing up, it becomes much easier to let that self identification go.
    I don’t believe the Dones would ever classify themselves as not Christians, they are just not committed to a church.

  • gregsureck@aol.com' pegleggreg says:

    the obvious search for spirituality is manifest in zombies, walking dead, vampires, shape shifters and metamorphosis. Christianity needs to repackage its beliefs to capture this search for the Other..The Church has specialized in the spirit world. Get back to the spirit

  • gregsureck@aol.com' pegleggreg says:

    it is possible to hold two opposing and contradicting views at the same time. This is the sign of either a very strong or very weak mind. However in the current milieu compromise is required just to get by. So for most folks- just try not to think about it too hard.

  • gregsureck@aol.com' pegleggreg says:

    nicely said, rmj

  • Dennis.Lurvey@live.com' GeniusPhx says:

    Jesus was a Jew. He knew nothing about the religion that would be created in his name much later. For Jesus quotes I would trust the gospel of Thomas before the gospels.

  • Virtually all of them do, except for a few crazy hasidim.

  • chris@east20thst.net' cmbennett01 says:

    In order to maintain the belief that religion is not in decline, it seems that is necessary to radically redefine religion. The search for spirituality and “finding god on your own terms” as they say, is not religion in the traditional sense. If you on occasion think there is probably some higher power governing the universe but you organize you life around secular causes and social groups you are not religious. As more and more people people identify as none, or even christian but haven’t been to church in years, religious organizations will find very difficult to survive.

  • floralmouse67@gmail.com' SusieQ says:

    I’m a Christian who will no longer set foot in a church. I’m happy to have been culled from the “evangelical herd,” thank you very much!

  • chris@east20thst.net' cmbennett01 says:

    As the White Queen says, “I believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast”. The human mind is more than complex enough to hold many contradictory things at the same time. And everyone does. The danger arises when you take time to reflect on your beliefs, and choose the irrational over the rational.

  • conjurehealing@gmail.com' conjurehealing says:

    Excellent. Jesus is a zombie of sorts since he was a person who rose from the dead, and was walking around as a kind of living dead, (John 20:14) if you look at that way.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    Of course they will. That is where that path leads.

  • uner1972@einrot.com' Frank says:

    Christianity will never die.

  • uner1972@einrot.com' Frank says:

    And that’s why progressive Christianity is dying and biblically based Christianity is thriving.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    So what is the answer here? The statement is US Christianity is dead, long live US Christianity. My question is we need to get beyond just counting church attendance, what is US Christianity? In the past you could say it was the belief that belief in the name of Jesus gets you into heaven. There were two different levels of the religion, either the Bible was the perfect word of God, or the Bible was the imperfect word of God. I think we need to get beyond those old ways. What is Christianity today? If US Christianity is dead, why would we want to say long live Christianity? Is it only because it is our traditional religion? Is it because we wouldn’t know what to do without it?

  • jimbentn@verizon.net' Jim 'Prup' Benton says:

    Hooray, Jim. You have finally stopped asserting dogmatically that “Jesus did not exist.” As for the time frame, the argument has waxed and waned over the years. Charles Guignebert wrote a whole book against the ‘mythicists’ ninety years ago — using that term, btw — as well as discussing and debunking the position in his JESUS.

    (I am glad for the textual backup he and Ehrman provide, but have always considered it unnecessary. The question ‘who would deliberately invent a fictional divinity — and have him be wrong about a central core of his teaching?’ has always been sufficient for me. The only reason for including ‘this generation will not pass away …” and ‘some of you who hear me…’ and other failed ‘apocalypticisms’ would be that there was a real person who said them and they were too well known to be ‘brushed under the rug.’)

    As for the ‘humanism kind’ of Christianity, I hope people begin to realize how much of Jesus’ message was not original, but quoted from Hillel. His parables may have been an original — and very effective — method of making the points, but so many of them were quotes or paraphrases from the older source — and Hillel had died several decades before Jesus began to preach. Both are important in the history of ethics, but I like to see the teacher receive some of the credit that usually goes just to the student.

    The other thing I find fascinating about Jesus (and am willing to discuss, there’s something else even more interesting, but it’ll take a couple of months of research before I want to bring it up, if it proves out) is the total absence of any type of asceticism in his preaching. He never treats pleasure, or a reasonable and unselfish desire for pleasure as wrong or sinful. He never preaches against ‘sins of the flesh’ but instead against ‘sins of the mind’ and better ‘sins of the attitude.’

    Even when he argues against his followers worrying about food and ‘finery’ he does not condemn their wanting such things, but about them failing to show faith that God will provide them ‘since He knows your need of them.’ When his hearers are hungry, he doesn’t tell them to embrace the hunger as a sacrifice to God, he feeds them — even if, supposedly, it takes a miracle to do so. And if his followers, even a few decades after his death, are preaching that celibacy is desireable, even in marriage, the ‘marriage at Cana’ story has none of this, nor even a condemnation of drinkers already well-lubricated seeking even more wine.

    In fact, while he is, as many writers have said, generally an Orthodox Jew from birth to death, there are several hints that if he has a ‘radical’ opinion about anything, it is the Kosher laws and laws of Fasting. (“What enters a man’s mouth is not what defiles him, but what comes out…” and “Why do we fast and John’s disciples fast. but your followers do not.” And apologies for quasi-quoting, getting late, no time to check which of the 50 translations — from “Bible Gateway” — is best to use.)

    Btw, Frank, I’d be fascinated to hear your take on this — and I have plenty of quotes — pick your favorite translation, I’d guess Douay or one of the KJVs — waiting for you.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    Actually I’m on the Jesus is a myth extreme. I think liberal Christianity is on a path of doubt, but I am looking at them from outside. When you say Jesus’ message was copied from Hillel, you are saying biblical Jesus quotes were actually Hillel quotes, because when they wrote the Jesus quotes they were picking the best people they could find to copy from. That is what the Jesus myth was supposed to be about.

  • ebrindamour0@yahoo.ca' rickrod says:

    Evangelicals have depended on recruiting disaffected members from liberal protestant churches and nominal catholics to maintain their numbers. As these groups shrink and age, so will the evangelical movement.

  • flame@yourlink.ca' lorasinger says:

    Jewish messiahs are not gods nor is there an only only one. A messiah is simply a leader/king like David and Solomon. In Jesus time, the Jews were waiting for such a leader to toss out the Romans (as the messiah was prophesied to do). Jesus wasn’t the only messianic candidate.

  • It would be interesting to see some polling with testing built in. Many years ago a student of mine in Japan assembled international data on two questions, 1.) Are you a Christian? and 2.) Who wrote the four Gospels?

    At that time, in the early ’70’s, 89% of Americans, where church and state are Constitutionally separate, said they were Xians and 29% of them could name Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Swedes,

    In Sweden, by contrast, religion is next to compulsory. There was until recently an Established (Lutheran) Church, headed by the King, and the schools were run by the Department of Religion and Education. (That was under socialism… It was the newly elected Conservatives who recently amended these out of existence.) 3% of Swedes said they were Christians, though my own feeling is that by the lose American standards the real figure was higher: my feeling is that some percentage probably answered “Not a Christian” with the mental reservation “I wish I were but I’m not good enough.” I.e. there were some real Christians misidentifying themselves, lying for modesty if you like.

    89% of Swedes could name the Four Evangelists.

    In half a dozen other countries it went the same way: the higher the claimed Christianity, the lower the ability to name the authors of the Gospels, and vice versa. Strict inverse proportionality.

    I’d like to see Pew do an update.

    -dlj.

  • jimbentn@verizon.net' Jim 'Prup' Benton says:

    Jim, oh, Jim, you will not answer the one question, ‘why would someone invent a God who was wrong in so many ways?’ (The prediction about the End Times, the promises of ‘extraordinary powers’ given to people ‘if they only believe enough’ — there has never been a mountain moved by faith alone, even a hill takes heavy equipment, and I’ve never known a Christian so sure the ‘if you consume a deadly thing it will not harm you’ that they’ve willingly swallowed a glass of cyanide or lye. And those were, apparently not ‘rhetorical exaggerations’ as much as believers claim they were when they didn’t come true.)

    So let me give you a few more things to ponder. When was this done? If even a short time after 100 C.E., it requires an additional forgery of dozens of documents, the works of the ‘Early Christian Fathers,’ the various pseudo-gospels, the Shepherd of Hermas and the Stories of Tecla, and so on and so on. Pretty soon you find yourself in the middle of a Borges story.

    Do you have ANY evidence that the type of literary imagination and sophistication involved in producing this sort of forgery existed in the Roman society of the time? I don’t mean the skill to do it, I mean the ability to even conceive of doing it. (The Dutch Masters were great painters, but they didn’t produce works of abstract expressionism because that ‘way of seeing’ didn’t exist. Similarly, Gershwin never wrote for the electric guitar.)

    If you argue that it could have — then why did they do such an incredibly bad job of it, creating four books, all of which contradict each other — and, not infrequently, themselves, none of which are clear on what Jesus actually said — as shown by the problems that Paul tried to solve — not that the Persian (see where Tarsus is) had the slightest idea what Jesus actually taught. Why not create just one book, not the fifty gospels, epistles, and ‘apocalypses’ that actually were created (only some of which ‘made the final cut’? At the very least, if you are going to put words into your fictional preacher, why not make them at least consistent with what your church wants people to believe.

    Let me repeat that last. Jesus was not — in any quote — an ascetic. He never condemned pleasures, physical pleasures, as evil. His sins were sins of attitude, not ‘sins of the flesh.’ (The only slight exception was his attitude on adultery — something which I’d argue — were I though with the research I am spending about six months doing — was a reaction to something that happened in his personal life.) Yet his followers immediately changed this, but left his words instead of creating their own.

    For that matter, his insistence on following the Jewish Law… but you know that, of course.

    In fact, why create a new prophet at all, when the (real) John the Baptist is quoted as being far more the spokesman you want than this strange combination of :End Times crank’ and student of Hillel.

    And your argument that ‘they were picking the best people possible to copy from’ is, I’m afraid, nonsense. Hillel was one of the great thinkers and teachers, yes, but NOT for their purposes. (In fact, their mindset was such that they probably would have been more likely to quote from Shammai, Hillel’s opponent and — in the Talmud — his ‘foil,’ since, at that time, it was not known that, in the long run, Hillel’s position would be the one preferred.)

    Jim, I think you’ve only knocked about 35% of the ;plaster’ off the figure of this real man, and still fail to see him as an interesting, complex, contradictory, flawed, highly flawed, but still important and extraordinary man. You see the plaster you’ve left, and it seems to enrage you, thinking it is permanent, not simply more detritus to remove.

    And to the rest of you, sorry for the length and somewhat off-topic discussion, but we two Jims have been leading up to this for a while, and I needed to get it out of my system. (And yes, as always, my images are somewhat fanciful, but I like to think worth figuring out.)

  • RMJ,

    Note that “awakening” is a cleverly chosen term of art, an example of the propagandist’s trick of choosing vocabulary for its built-in bias.

    If you’ve “awakened,” well then “I once was blind but now I see.” The possibility that you just ought a three cornered dog from a silver tongued lout on a buckboard, or a hairspray goddess on TV, is excluded. From the start. By the words used.

    Cheers,

    -dlj.

  • jimbentn@verizon.net' Jim 'Prup' Benton says:

    Isn’t it more likely that Jesus saw himself as the (also expected) ‘rabbinic verifier’ who would testify that the particular candidate was indeed the Messiah, the ‘New David”? Perhaps that was why he went to Jerusalem.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    Why invent a God who was wrong in so many ways? Maybe it was the best they could do. They were building a church designed to be a global church and fill a power vacuum.

  • No, Jim.

    You pick your predictions after the fact, and bend your selection of old documents to match the events you want to play up.

    Nobody ever makes predictions other than the vaguest. “The wages of sin is death” is permissible, but every good churchgoer knows that “the end is nigh” is a bit on the flaky side. Much too specific.

    -dlj.

  • Frank,

    The Southern Baptist Convention is the major church with the largest decline in membership.
    The Bible-thumping Mars Hill is typical of your “biblically based” Christianity struggling to pay its legal bills and quiet money to the “retiring” staff.

    “Bible based” is in any event a ridiculous name for any brand of Christianity, since Christianity pre-dates the assembly of the currently used Bibles by at least three hundred years. They a church-selected Bibles, with different selections for different churches.

    The church existed first, before the crucifixion, before the Bibles, before the teacher was turned into an anointed, a Christ, and before the invention of all that redeemer stuff.

    You’ve simply got your objectively identifiable church history backwards.

    -dlj.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    Paul went to Jerusalem. Everything written after Paul was fiction.

  • Whisky,

    That’s cheap, easy, and false.

    The fact is that since the Enlightenment it has been the religious pushing science as the way of figgering out just what it is that God has left us with. It was the mosque, modelled on the Jewish _shul_ that kept ancient science alive through Europe’s Dark Ages, and the only glimmer of light through that darkness was a few monks in Ireland (!), and eventually the University of Paris, where the Catholics brought the Arab learning to Europe.

    From Newton through Einstein scientific speculation has always been expressed in religious terns, e.g. “What hath God wrought?” Indeed the core of Western science, the notion that the Whole Thing makes sense, as opposed to being wired together ad hoc by a bunch of little sprits and genii, is the monotheism of Abraham, Adonai ehad.

    On the dopey side, the prophecies of Doom have not stopped. This is unsurprising since we have now mastered a number of different technologies which make a planetary suicide possible.

    In its Republican Party version this takes the form of “We don’t need to worry about the environment, since The Rapture is near.”

    -dlj.

  • uner1972@einrot.com' Frank says:

    Sadly you have no idea what are talking about. The numbers don’t lie. Progressive churches are dying out quickly while bible believing churches all over the world are growing and growing.

  • flame@yourlink.ca' lorasinger says:

    Consider the conditions at the time with Rome occupying the country. A messiah (believed by Jews to be fully human) was to come along, just as David and Solomon did, and toss them out, rebuild the temple if it need to be, bring back the diaspora and bring world peace during his lifetime. If a messianic candidate could not do that, he was deemed a false messiah.
    .
    Remember that the gospels were written by anonymous gentile converts generations later. Who knows why they wrote up that scenario. They often used old predictions or twisted those predictions to “prophecy” for Jesus. To those Jews who know how to correctly understand the OT, this is nonsense and mistakes in interpretation are easily caught.
    .
    For instance in Isaiah 7:14. Christians have interpreted “a young woman IS with child” to be “a virgin WILL BE with child” and entirely forget two verses down that reads along the lines of “before the child knows bad from good, the two kings that you abhor will be gone”. It isn’t about Jesus.

  • flame@yourlink.ca' lorasinger says:

    Not only that but the nature of the god changed too. To the Jews, he is eternal, without form, INDIVISIBLE with no kids. To the Christians, he is a conglomerate of father, son and holy spirit. Not the same god certainly but that is glossed over and Christians will tell you they worship the god of Abraham.

  • flame@yourlink.ca' lorasinger says:

    The church that existed before the crucifixion was a sub sect of Judaism. They were all practicing Jews who believed that Jesus was the fully human messiah of Jewish prophecy. They didn’t believe in a man god. That concept comes from Rome, not from Judaism.

  • flame@yourlink.ca' lorasinger says:

    They are losing people too, Frank, just at not so great a rate. The biggest gains are with the “no religion” people who double in number every ten years, outnumbering even the numbers of Catholics.

  • flame@yourlink.ca' lorasinger says:

    There is also the ages of the congregations which are older and many are dying out.

  • uner1972@einrot.com' Frank says:

    The nones are not understood fully and if you actually investigate you will see it’s not what either side is making it out to be.

    What the numbers tell us is that progressive Christianity is dying and biblically based Christianity is flourishing.

  • tojby_2000@yahoo.com' apotropoxy says:

    True that

  • Frank,

    Well-financed American-based American extremist cults are taking root here and there in the Third World. That’s all. Pat Robertson spending some of the profits from his Congolese diamond mines at work.

    The rest of your post is pure imagining, Frank.

    The slick Crystal Cathedrals, the Tulsa TV empires, your wired-up Mars Hill-type cults, your phoney-baloney TV operations, and quite specifically the grand-daddy of ’em all, the centralized, authoritarian, staff operated Southern Baptists are all staggering, falling in the gutter and puking like the dogma-sickened sickoes they are.

    -dlj.

  • flame@yourlink.ca' lorasinger says:

    Nones are obviously not practicing Christians – non-church going, “don’t think about it” people. They’re all around and most of my friends are those – atheists, agnostics, “don’t care”, “sounds nuts to me” kinds.. Their numbers are doubling quickly and are now at 23%.
    .
    All of Christianity is “biblically based”. I think you mean fundamentalists – they are barely holding their own and in fact, their numbers have gone down too but only by a fraction of a percent.
    .
    Progressive Christianity is just about every moderate denomination there is. The most right wing of those congregations is bleeding out to the fundamentalists/evangelicals and their overwhelming proselytizing efforts. They get pretty much all of the dumbed down portion of the population.

  • uner1972@einrot.com' Frank says:

    You are welcome to see thing through your bias. I’ll look at reality.

  • uner1972@einrot.com' Frank says:

    You are welcome to believe a lie all you want.

  • flame@yourlink.ca' lorasinger says:

    The pendulum will swing back and forth. This summarizes it pretty well:

    For the first three centuries the Church was relatively powerless and did little harm. It taught brotherhood, tolerance, peace, love, justice, mercy, and so on, to the extent of encouraging Christian soldiers to desert the Imperial armies.

    For the next 1,500 years it was extremely powerful and harmful throughout Europe. It caused division, persecution, war, hatred, and injustice, and practiced the most spectacular viciousness and brutality.

    The Church, in its numerous guises, has a less than enviable record on a wide range of social issues. It has befriended and supported totalitarian, authoritarian, and extreme right-wing regimes. It has abused its power and opposed legal, political and educational reform. It has also opposed liberties and human
    rights. It has opposed science and rational medicine and taught a wide range of nonsense, insisting that illness was caused by evil spirits, witchcraft and sin.

    For many centuries the Church maintained its position by a combination of fraud and terror, opposing advances in learning and suppressing the truth.

    Where Christian dogma has been strongest, so has poverty, misery and ignorance. Christian Churches were wholly responsible for the deaths of millions whose only crime was to dissent from their current version of orthodoxy.

    In its heyday the Christian Churches practised routine persecution. They tortured, mutilated, branded, dismembered and killed as a matter of course. They condemned to death any who questioned their dogmas. They burned Jews, heretics, apostates and pagans in large numbers. They imagined enemies everywhere and had them exterminated. Among their countless victims were women whose chief crimes seem to have been living alone, looking old, keeping pets, and knowing something
    about herbs and midwifery. Christians even persecuted their fellow believers.

    It is sobering to reflect that over almost 2000 years Christians have never been persecuted by any of their supposed enemies as viciously as they have been persecuted by fellow Christians.

    Over the last 200 years the Churches have been losing power and have become relatively harmless again in proportion to their
    diminishing influence outside the United States. They have sought to obliterate the evidence of their behaviour, substituting sympathetic histories with their members as heroes. In this they have been largely successful. Most people in the developed world, even non-Christians, have a largely positive view of
    Christianity and its historical record.

    Once again Churches preach brotherhood, tolerance, peace, love, justice and mercy. One is reminded of a dangerous recidivist criminal. When in custody he is mild, reasonable, plausible and friendly. But as soon as he is at liberty he commits
    the same crimes again and again.

    At the moment he is in the custody of secular society, but he is looking forward to his next parole.

    At all times and in all parts of the world, churches have oppressed people exactly to the extent that they have been able to. This pattern could continue in the future. There is no reason to doubt that it will.

    McDonald, James (2009-11-01). Beyond Belief: Two Thousand Years of Bad Faith in the Christian Church

  • flame@yourlink.ca' lorasinger says:

    While you do that, keep in mind that you live in an alternate reality – I think Bill Maher calls it a “bubble”.

  • uner1972@einrot.com' Frank says:

    I live in the only reality that matters.

  • uner1972@einrot.com' Frank says:

    Quoting a fool to support your foolishness is well…. Foolish.

  • Lora,

    Quite right.

    -dlj.

  • flame@yourlink.ca' lorasinger says:

    How do you know he is the fool and not that the fact he knows his history and that YOU are the fool who doesn’t know his?

  • flame@yourlink.ca' lorasinger says:

    All people with delusions live in their own realities, some in hospitals. You are not alone.

  • ebrindamour0@yahoo.ca' rickrod says:

    Very true.

  • Rickrod,

    That cries out for evidence. I’ve seen reliable stuff on inactive Roman Catholics in Latin America becoming at least temporarily active in recently imported missionary-fueled Evangelical cults. What do you make of Mario Rubio’s “faith of many colors”? Do you consider Mormons to be Evangelicals?
    There is a small and interesting tendency for elite blacks to turn up in Seventh Day Adventist churches. In at least some cases these are descendants of pre-Talmudic African Jewish ancestors, and I’m eagerly waiting for DNA evidence one of these years.

    Other than these, I know of no general movement from your “liberal protestant and nominal catholics” to Evangelicals. What do you have in mind?

    Best,

    -dlj.

  • whiskyjack1@gmail.com' Whiskyjack says:

    I disagree with you about the role the Church had in developing science. By and large, when the Church is in ascendancy, its focus is on theological matters and self-aggrandizement, not science or human welfare. In fact, I agree with Thomas Huxley:

    Extinguished theologians lie about the cradle of every science as the strangled snakes beside that of Hercules; and history records that whenever science and orthodoxy have been fairly opposed, the latter has been forced to retire from the lists, bleeding and crushed if not annihilated; scotched, if not slain.

    However, that was not where my remark was aimed. It was directed at those who place any weight whatsoever on scriptures as a source of prophetic wisdom.

  • ebrindamour0@yahoo.ca' rickrod says:

    I am drawing on my own experience as my family converted from Catholicism to evangelical Baptist and I have seen a steady drip of people fed up with liberal churches looking for churches that take a more fundamental line.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    Fundamentalist churches make better promises.

  • Whisky,

    I think the way to reach common ground here is to agree that religion or church are not quark-like indivisibles.

    Actually you _can_ divide quarks. The problem is it takes so much energy to do it that part of the energy turns into other stuff, including quarks. The good old linear accelerator stuff was just like smashing a watch with a sledge-hammer. You got to look at the parts, and tell yourself that now you knew now a watch worked. Sorta. Only it does look a wee bit bent…

    Now when they’ve cranked the energies up to quarky levels, you smash your watch with a sledge-hammer, and you end up with two watches of different brands, an alarm clock, a sun-dial, and a bunch of spare parts. From a 1938 flathead Ford. E = mc^2!

    Yes, the churches are often nothing but authoritarian bureaucracies, spending most of their energy on their own replication. Yes, a good deal of what is taught in religions is full bore malarkey.

    Most wickedly, it seems to me, the neo-Calvinism which is fighting to become America’s generally accepted orthodoxy, and among extremists America’s Established religion, is a simple con job: “You were born full of sin. We can solve that problem. Send money. This is a special limited time offer: do it today and we will make you feel superior to your neighbors. No extra charge”

    As with all con jobs, if you didn’t sign up today there will be a different limited time offer next week.

    Here’s your good news: these churches contain the seeds of their own destruction. This ain’t what their Scriptures actually teach, and some of their members can read. Decent folks very often get around to saying “No, this isn’t my idea of worship. Or gratitude. Or morality. I’m outta here.”

    Often they get around to saying this even before the priests get caught buggering the altar-boys and the Girl Scout leader is seen in Vegas with the pastor’s son and the proceeds of the Lady’s Aid bake sale.*

    Historically, however, many churches and many religious traditions in cultures where they don’t have churches, have done, and are doing good. The Mosque, and following in its footsteps the Church, did keep science alive through the Middle Ages, the time when Europe went dark with the millennium-long collapse of the Roman Empire.

    For very many people today churches and religious traditions continue to give people a structure of morality to live by.

    And Richard Dawkins and his friends playing Smart Kid in Class, making fun of the fact that the Christian kid can’t do math, doesn’t hack it. It’s just cheap fun.

    Cheers,

    -dlj.

    * This does remind me of the definition of a Baptist, “A person who doesn’t recognise another Baptist when they run into each other at the liquor store.” The Pastor’s son gets away with it a lot of the time because whoever saw him in Vegas was there with the lady who leads the choir…

  • whiskyjack1@gmail.com' Whiskyjack says:

    Well said. I cannot disagree.

  • Poxy,

    A common trope, which I rather approve of, is the Jewish notion that “Sure, there’s a Messiah for every generation.”

    This has the advantage of giving one the opportunity to be emollient with Christians and Lubavitchers equally.

    -dlj.

  • Don’t think so, Jim. The reason predictors look so good after the fact is that the people pushing them have picked their candidates from the detritus of history, hundreds or thousands of predictions which went nowhere.

    I’d think that if anything he went up to Jerusalem for the high holidays to show his bunch of guys that he was just teaching sound Jewish teaching, because he was just a regular Jew. A smarter than average one, perhaps, who could cut through all the nice social BS, but still a regular teacher…

    -dlj.

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