Faith is not dead, nor does it sleep

Faith, I am told, is on the outs in The West.

Teens, young adults, and boomers alike are falling away at a record pace. The only demographic that’s shown no net loss in church attendance are senior citizens, whose only disfellowship seems to come at the cost of their lives.

In the place of this country’s former religious majority, a new demographic has started to assert itself statistically: the “none of the aboves.”

Atheists and skeptics champion these findings, whether by Barna, Gallup, or the New York Times, and declare a victory for the secularism that is so obviously sweeping the nation.

Well, I don’t know about that. I think there’s more to this than a wholesale repudiation of religion across the board. Let tragedy fall and watch the even the most nominally-spiritual pour out support in the language of the most devout adherent.

“Praying for y’all!” or “God will bring you though it!” or “This too shall pass!” are common refrains. I’ve never heard of someone tell a person who’s just lost everything they own in a house fire: “It doesn’t matter because we’re just highly-evolved mammals in an obscure corner of a vast empty universe. Have a nice day!”

Nevertheless “none” is the fastest growing category in any poll or demographic study and these adherents of the unaffiliated are landing heavy blows to the heavyweights of mainstream religion in the United States, with Christendom taking the biggest fall.

Since 1969 (the year was not chosen at random I assure you) “mainline” denominations (Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and the like) have lost more than a third of their active members.

Evangelicals in general have weathered the attrition, thanks in no small part to an aggressive lurch toward non-denominationalism in the last 20 years, but Southern Baptists are closing more church doors than they’re opening for the first time in their 167-year history.

Depending on whose numbers you trust (if any), about 75 percent of Americans between the ages of 18-29 (the demographic most representative of metric growth) now consider themselves “spiritual but not religious” as though one need be one or the other.

Resources from Lifeway head number cruncher Ed Stetzer show that not only is church attendance down overall but, even among active churchgoers, the various accouterments of Christianity‘s culture are fading into historical footnote. Many churches have already dispensed with “Sunday School” in favor of “small groups” and prayer among regularly-attending congregants is more of an afterthought than a direct line to the Almighty, statistically-speaking of course.

Again, while secularists would love to crow about the inevitability of religion’s demise, I think they’d better hold off judgment until all the facts are in.

I live in Overton, home of the empty pew and the packed ballpark. Tell me religion is dying and I’ll tell you how the bleachers shake when momma’s little angel sends a line-drive screaming past the shortstop. The faithful arise and shout, with arms held aloft in rapture and jubilation. I doubt much is different in Henderson, Kilgore, or any other youth sports facility in Suburbia, U.S.A.

No, religion is not going anywhere. People do not prefer a vague “spiritualism” to a staid cliché of “religion” anymore than Pepsi drinkers are switching en masse to Coke. It’s all the same sugar water.

What we’re seeing, rather, is a dispensing with the formalities. For whatever reason people are no longer pretending. Okay, let’s just say they’re pretending differently now.

Standard business attire fifty years ago was formal, suit and ties for men with the hems of women’s dresses reaching no shorter than the knee. That was the rule and fashion of the day. But just as sure as you’ll see flip-flops and t-shirts around the office, you’ll see other changing forms of our culture.

Faith is no more on the wane for human beings than is clothing, but the style and form it takes is changing much faster than many of us can understand. Its fabric and garnish laid aside, it remains true through this Age and into the next.

Christianity has never been all about the numbers anyway. Short of the massive kickstart on Pentecost circa 33 anno Domini, our faith is one of the underdog.

Frankly, I’m relieved by this particular “pruning” of The Church.

If someone doesn’t want to be in church on Sunday morning, I’m not wishing that the pressures of the culture force them to do so. That sort of arm-twisting I’d just as soon leave to the Holy Spirit. He’s much better at that sort of thing anyway, I speak from experience.

But faith, like hope and love (and The Dude himself) will abide. It will remain a large part of humanity for as long as there is a humanity of which to be a part.

Faith is the foundation upon which all law and order rests, what separates a civilized soul from sheer savagery. Faith is the vast empty space between the nucleus and electrons of the atom. Faith is what keeps the knees from buckling when the diagnosis is grave. Faith is the bee gathering pollen and the countless flowers pollinated. Faith is the unending paved highway and the steel-belted radial.

An attempt to douse faith is akin to smothering a bonfire with kindling, as absurd in the saying as much as it is in the doing.

But “choose this day whom you will serve,” is what Joshua asked his people so many years ago, and it is the same invitation I would offer to any you still reading this meandering discourse of mine.

Let your faith be made manifest in your actions, lest they be shown to be of false pretense.


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