There are more and more writers trying to explain why church attendance is falling. Today I read a complex essay that used a popular statistical technique, regression analysis. With more and more data available all the time, and cheap computers to compare pieces of data, people have noticed relationships between church attendance and divorce, TV watching, premarital sex and income distribution.
While all of this is interesting, it is more insightful to look for cause and effect issues. I think there is a relationship between economics and the perception people have of their faith.
It has to do with class mobility and, what we might call, the answer to our prayers. Until the last 20 to 30 years, there was more upward mobility in the U. S. than there has been recently. Decades earlier people were more active in churches.
When families went to church and moved up economically, it was easy to attach a cause and effect relationship. That is, I went to church and prayed I would advance economically. God answered my prayers. When this mobility mostly came to a halt, the logical question to ask was why bother with the either the prayer or church.
In this way, the reason for a fall in church attendance among low income people is a theological one. When people were taught to pray and to expect a reward, the false expectation was set up. The truth is, the relationship never existed.
Instead of lamenting why church membership is falling, it might be better to investigate why it ever was so high.
[An essay discussing this issue can be found by clinking on the link in comments.]
I dare say most Catholic Universities do things that must make the previous Pope, Pope Benedict, mad. Loyola University in Chicago, for example, has a Pagan student organization.
It began when some Pagan students asked to be recognized as another of dozens of student groups. Loyola knew it could not turn down the group without being portrayed in the press as prejudiced and narrow minded. So, those officials who work with students approved the Loyola Student Pagan Alliance. Shortly after approval, however, higher Loyola officials changed the name to Indigenous Faith Tradition Alliance. Who says religion cannot be entertaining.
Loyola officials say the group is in keeping with seeking God in his many forms. The link below, written by a Catholic, says heathen groups like this must be banned from Catholic universities. If universities refuse, he writes, the Vatican must step in and kick out Pagans.
I looked for diversity in prominent Catholic universities. Notre Dame, and I’m sure all others, has a program to support gay, bi and trans students. The Notre Dame administration explains the university adheres completely to Catholic teaching about sex outside of marriage. I read the entire statement and did not find the word sin. Catholic administrators must write a lot of wink-wink.
Large Catholic universities are in the jet age of social change. Large portions of Catholic lay people, clergy and the Vatican are still in the horse-n-buggy days.
Catholic universities were started to indoctrinate the young. Time has turned the tables.
[To read another view on this topic, click on the link in the discussion page.]
Hell is thought of as a literal place by perhaps the majority of Christians. Literal hell is not taught by several mainline seminaries and chuckled at by nonbelievers. The literal hell is a recent innovation within Christianity. It is a product of recent cultures.
According to what I read today, the Hebrew Bible is not that specific about a physical hell. The hell concept was used to whip people into shape in communities back then, it’s location and torture were not stressed. It’s purpose was control.
The literal hell with its torture and fire came along later. It is a difficult concept to swallow when the god is promoted as “loving” and “forgiving.” .
Hell still serves a purpose for the branch of the faith that revels in revenge. It provides a feeling of superiority that many need.
No matter how attractive the literal hell is to some believers, it does not seem to be delivering converts the way it is supposed to. Even one on Ronald Reagan’s sons laughed off the prospect of hell recently.
Because of this blog, a cousin I lost contact with 60 years ago found me to say he, too, is a nonbeliever. It occurred to me eternity in hell will pass by rapidly with the million jokes he seems to know.
So long as some people need the literal hell, it will continue to exist in their minds. The rest of us need not worry it is one of the innovations that came along over time.
[An link discussing hell can be found in the discussion page.]
The Bible leaves so much up in the air there will never be agreement.
To insiders of Bible arguments like magazine editors and college professors in departments of religion interpretation fine points must seem important. To an outsider like me, they seem like arguing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.
One I came across today is about whether someone who has never heard about Christianity can get into heaven. This comes up often on internet sites so I gather it is considered an important question to some people.
The site I read went into a long discourse which said essentially, people who have never heard of Christianity nevertheless have a natural inclination to determine right from wrong. Even the worst of nonChristians, pagans, have exhibited this ability. On top of that, the original sin taught humans forever about right and wrong.
This is amusing on several levels. First, nonbelievers have said that thousands of years before Christianity humans figured out what rules worked and what did not by which groups survived. Societies without workable rules long ago vanished.
It is amusing also because it starts with imaginary places, heaven and hell. Then it adds an imaginary history, the original sin, to provide background for the imaginary places.
Add to all that, the extraordinary fact that there are people who shell out hard-earned money to pay others to think and write about all the things they imagine.
As Russian comedian Yakov Smirnoff says, “What a country!”
[For a link that discusses this topic, click on my comment in the comment section.]
The wealthy U. S. families of 1800’s and early 1900’s, the “Gilded Age”, had wealth comparable to today’s Bill Gates and Warren Buffets. They were what we refer to today as the “one percent.” Those wealthy families hung out together at their summer homes in the Cape every year.
From what we know left by their writings and those of others, they spent a lot of time discussing what we call today, “values.” They were concerned the values of the country were declining and moving toward ideas different from their own. Their own values, they thought, were the ones which should prevail forever.
They were worried about labor unions, anti trust laws, race and that ordinary working stiffs would get the upper hand. The social Darwinism of capitalism demonstrated to them they were a superior group of people. The country needed to keep them and their families in power. If they had written a religious tome, we can assume it would have advocated their values.
It’s easy to see that the same thing was going on at the time the Bible was written. The Bible’s authors the “one percent” of that time.
Only the super rich of that time knew how to read and write. They had learned they could put words in the mouth of a popular character like Jesus to speak for them.
I think it would be wise for everyone who reads the Bible to keep in mind it was written for the purpose of gaining power over people during ancient times..
Sometimes the question comes up as to what atheists talk about when they socialize with each other.
Perhaps I’m over generalizing but I think the majority of time is spent talking about family relationships. In particular, of course, relationships that are strained because of lost religion.
One place this comes up is between husbands and wives, they sometimes are ex husbands and wives over the issue of religion. I know of several split couples who have to negotiate the raising of children in two separate households where one has religion and the other doesn’t. The agreement is often the child attends church at one parent’s place and not the other, but neither parent is to push their child for a commitment one way or another.
The other is adult children who must tell their parents about the loss of faith. No matter how many stories I hear about this, everyone is a little different. Once the adult child has come out, there is often a temptation in their parents to put religious pressure on grandchildren. An agreement has to be reached on this.
The link today is about a Catholic couple who lost their faith and the difficulties of navigating a relationship with the husband’s devout parents. Some bitterness remains about a Grandmother’s remark, “How will they (grandchildren) be guided toward good morals?”
Nothing is more ridiculous than the odd notion religion leads to better morals than nonreligion. Dealing with such ridiculousness in close family members is something atheists talk about.
[A link discussing this topic can be found on my “comment”]
It is common among Christians to say God is responsible for the rise and triumph of Christianity. It is uncommon to attribute its success to sociological variables.
Yet, the cultural settings where Christianity took hold and how it emerges today are so obvious no rational person can deny their role in the faith’s history or how it is practices today. One only need look and the four parts of the United States, east coast, west coast and northern and southern states. Each of these areas has a different history of Christianity and patterns today which reflect differences.
When we first moved to Fargo, ND in 1968, a nice preacher from a Southern Baptist church a couple of blocks away came calling. We, of course, were not interested but I asked the preacher how a Southern Baptist Church would be in Fargo. Instead of saying, “God put us here,” he gave a rational sociological explanation. Military families were transferred to North Dakota for many decades and brought with them the Southern Baptist Church.
In the U. S., there have been southern branches of most main stream denominations, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, etc. These branches had split away from there original ones in New England.
The cultural origins of these denominations themselves is interesting. For example, 80% of the New England Episcopalians sided with England before the Revolutionary War.
Cultural variables were just as influential in the Middle East two thousand years ago as they have been in the past few hundred years in the U. S.
[In the comments is a link which discusses this issue.]
Every once in a while, a practicing Protestant preacher admits he does not believe in a sovereign god. There were several articles a year ago about such a preacher in England.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has a website for practicing preachers who have lost their ability to believe in the traditional concept of God but want or need to stay in the profession. I know a retired preacher who helped set up the site. He told me recently there are between 200 and 300 subscribers.
The link was written by a Presbyterian minister who has declared publically he does not believer there is a sovereign god. He believes God is a product of the human mind. When referring to God in rituals and sermons, he thinks of the word as metaphor for many wonderful thing embodied in nature and in humans. He does not subscribe to super natural events.
Christianity itself, he believes, is a culture with its own values and rituals. These, he believes, are important to maintain because they give people a sense of order and purpose.
While he has had some hostility to publically expressing himself in this way, there have also been some pleasant surprises. One is his confirmation student. Only after reading his expression about not believing in a god did she join his church. He seems like a preacher my grandchildren would like.
I see hope for Protestant churches if they are able to accommodate God as a human construct and miracles as folklore.
[To read more about this topic, click on the link in my comment page.]
The evangelist, Creflo Dollar, once was arrested to assaulting his teenage daughter because she was seeing a boy he did not like. Dollar is worth a reported $27 million. Recently he announced he wanted fans to donate $67 million for a new biz jet.
He continues his lucrative ways using the oldest money making scheme in Christianity. In fact, it comes right out of the Old Testament. The scheme is to tell people there is an imaginary place where they will all suffer after death. Then, offer people a deal to escape this suffering. Give me your money and devotion and I can arrange a pass for you, is the deal.
While the majority of Christians, I’m sure, distance themselves from a slimy gold digger like Creflo Dollar, the heart of his message is the heart of most of theirs. Readers of my discussion page know I am regularly threatened with eternity in hell. The message of the Bible from Old Testament days right up to the present is that you are a sinner, there is a hell and signing on to the faith is your only hope. Seen in this way, Creflo Dollar’s message is only marginally worse than the mainstream message of the faith.
Creflo is called a prosperity gospel preacher. But, he is different than some others like Joel Osteen. Osteen does not mention hell.
The solution to the Creflo Dollars is for the entire faith to leave behind imaginary places and imaginary punishments.
[Clink on my link in the discussion section for more on this topic.]
This bit of scripture, which tells believers that if they indoctrinate their children in the faith the children will follow the faith in adulthood, does not seem to be keeping young people in the church. Statistics tell us the majority of young people are leaving the church. Of those that stay in Christianity, a very large proportion leave the branch followed by their parents and worship elsewhere.
The article in the link tells us believers often read this passage out of context. Instead of predicting children will follow the faith of their parents, the scripture is about parenting. That is, it is about disciplining children and not the children’s salvation. The author, who seems to consider himself and expert at deciphering what scripture “really means” goes on the explain the difference between scripture that is about living and that about salvation.
I would agree Proverbs is about some issue the author was addressing at the time it was written and has no message for us in our time. The entire Bible was written for audiences of that time.
Christian denominations spend a huge amount of money of programs to train up their youth in hopes they will remain. When one sees the success rates, it questions the wisdom of the expenditure.
I think denominations would be better off spending their resources on studying contemporary cultural values and working to alien with these values. While Christianity has been successful in this in the past, it seems to be losing ground.
Proverbs 22:6 is best ignored.
[see “comments” for a link discussing this topic.]