As the energies rise, I think that people are less and less satisfied with doctrines, dogma, ritual, and gestures.
And as people awaken, I think they are less likely to tolerate missteps by religious leaders.
A point may well be reached where the way they feel is so expansive that going to a setting where mechanical sermons are given becomes a downer rather than an upper. At that point, I think parishioners will leave in droves – from mosques, synagogues, temples, shrines, as well as churches.
Exodus: Is the Christian church losing critical mass?
By Rakesh Krishnan Simha
August 14, 2010
Is Christianity facing an exodus of, well, Biblical proportions?
There are clear signs that the passion of Jesus’s followers is ebbing and the congregation is losing critical mass.
On July 28, in a spectacular renunciation of her faith, celebrated Christian author Anne Rice announced on Facebook that she was quitting the Roman Catholic Church.
Rice wrote: “For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being ‘Christian’ or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.”
She also pointed to recent statements from several radical Christian groups that have threatened the lives of gay citizens. “In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life,” she added.
In yet another celebrated case, in August, 42-year-old Hollywood actress Julia Roberts declared she, her husband and their three children were practising Hindus. Roberts, who was born to Baptist and Catholic parents in Bible belt Georgia, is thought to have made the religious conversion while in India where she was shooting her new film, Eat, Pray, Love, in which she plays a woman hoping to find herself through Hindu spirituality.
While these high-profile exits, coming shortly after the damaging exposes of rampant pedophilia in Christian churches worldwide, have no doubt caused disquiet in the over 2000-year-old faith, it is the less publicized but inexorable exit of once staunch members that is a pointer to the real crisis.
According to the 2009 American Religious Identification Survey, the number of Americans who claim no religious affiliation has nearly doubled since 1990, rising from 8 to 15 percent. Overall, the percentage of self-identified Christians has fallen 10 percentage points since 1990, from 86 to 76 percent.
The proportion of Americans who think religion “can answer all or most of today’s problems” is now at a historic low of 48 percent. Meanwhile, the number of people willing to describe themselves as atheist or agnostic has increased nearly fourfold from 1990 to 2009, from 1 million to about 3.6 million.
Worse, the biggest decline in US church affiliation was concentrated in the north-east, America’s Christian heartland. This massive decline in the Mayflower sector, where Christians first settled has caused acute anguish among conservative Christian leaders who fear America will soon become a post-Christian country.
Of course, there is denial. Christian commentators like to talk about revolving door membership, that people quitting the traditional churches are signing up at Born Again denominations. Sure, more than 34 percent of adult church goers today consider themselves Born Again or Evangelical Christians, but as the surveys says, “The challenge to Christianity in the US does not come from other religions but rather from a rejection of all forms of organized religion.”
Indeed, 27 percent of Americans do not expect a religious funeral at their death, indicating that they dismiss Christianity’s zero-sum offer of heaven or hell.
Across the Atlantic, Northern Europe is a virtual graveyard of abandoned churches. Further south, in predominantly Catholic Italy, over 60 percent of Italians have stopped attending confession. An entire generation of European Catholics has become indifferent — or openly hostile — to the church,mainly because of the sexual abuse of young children by priests.
In fact, there is a rapidly growing movement that seeks to rediscover the original and vibrant fertility religions of pre-Christian Europe, Wicca being the most well known. Incidentally Wicca practitioners, or witches and warlocks, were Europe’s medicine people. Falsely accused of black deeds, millions of them were burned at the stake by the church.
Born Again Arrogance
Born Again Christians have long lived under the delusion that their storm troopers, a new breed of uncompromisingly fundamentalist pastors, are ready to kick in the doors and spread the Lord’s faith worldwide. They also believe their moral compass is perfectly tuned towards god. According to them, they are simply better human beings with special suites reserved for them in heaven.
But surveys have repeatedly proved there’s little measurable difference between the moral behavior of churchgoers and the rest. Evangelist George Barna, the founder of The Barna Group, a market research firm specializing in studying the religious beliefs and behavior of Americans, has found that born-again Christians are more likely to divorce than atheists and agnostics, and are more likely to be racist than others.
And while evangelical adolescents overwhelmingly say they believe in abstaining from premarital sex, they are more likely to be sexually active — and at an earlier age — than peers who are mainline Protestants, Mormons or Jews, says University of Texas researcher Mark Regnerus.
Christian activist Ronald J. Sider writes in his book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience: “By their daily activity, most Christians regularly commit treason. With their mouths they claim that Jesus is their Lord, but with their actions they demonstrate their allegiance to money, sex, and personal self-fulfillment.”
Counter Attack and Reform
However, the Christian church is not giving up without a fight. In a debate last year on “The Uniqueness of Christ in Multi-Faith Britain”, Nezlin Sterling, general secretary of the New Testament Assembly, a black majority church, told the Church of England’s governing body, the General Synod: “There is no room for complacency, no room to procrastinate or retreat but like a mighty army of the church we Christians must go forward, spread the Gospel and the good news of salvation. Every person in my mind is a potential convert.”
While missionaries such as Sterling want to revert to their lapel grabbing mode, others have tried more creative methods. A pastor in New Zealand, hoping to arrest falling church attendance, delivers his Sunday sermon in rap form. However, it’s the Catholic Church’s charade of modernization that is most comical. In March 2008, the Pope, playing God, announced seven new sins to be placed alongside the Biblical seven deadly sins.
To add onto Envy, Pride, Gluttony, Greed, Lust, Hate, and Sloth, the seven “mortal” ones are: Environmental Pollution, Genetic Manipulation, Excessive Wealth, Inflicting Poverty, Drug Trafficking and Consumption, Morally Debatable Experiments, and the Violation of Human Rights.
Observe that pedophilia has been conveniently left out.
Instead of being obsessed with the harvest of souls, the church needs to build a new order that values spirituality, which millions of former Christians have found in, for instance, Hinduism and its associated faiths. It is indeed ironic that while the flock is seeking spirituality in the East, the church is seeking adherents in the same catchment area. Or is the church abandoning the questioning West and seeking converts in countries where people are (as yet) unaware of its human rights record?
As Anne Rice summed up, “People despise us, Christians, and think we are an ignorant and violent lot. I don’t blame them. This kind of thing makes me weep. Maybe commitment to Christ means not being a Christian.”
If that isn’t a wakeup call for the church, what is?
Author’s Bio: Rakesh Krishnan Simha is a features writer at Fairfax New Zealand.