Religion fading in America? Blame Christians
by Kelvin Wade
A new poll called “The Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism” by the Religion News Service finds that America is becoming less religious. Sixty percent of Americans describe themselves as religious, down from 73 percent just six years ago. The number of Americans defining themselves as atheists increased five-fold in the same time.
This isn’t shocking. Religion is scaring the hell out of people. And I’m going to be talking primarily about Christianity (79 percent) since it is the largest religion in America. But unyielding, fundamentalist religion of any kind turns people off.
I grew up in the Church of Christ. The Church of Christ is a pretty fundamentalist church but I never found it overbearing. Of course, as a child, I loathed having to sit in the auditorium and listen to sermons. What 8-year-old would enjoy that? And I recall being afraid of going to heaven. I viewed heaven as eternal church and the thought of being compelled to listen to eternal sermons seemed like hell to me.
Despite that, when I was a kid, Jesus was a man who hung out with prostitutes and other assorted sinners. In fact, he couldn’t stand well-dressed, well off people who wore their religion on their sleeve trying to show everyone just how religious they were. He’s the guy who said, “He who is without sin cast the first stone.” He’s the one who spoke repeatedly about helping the poor and the sick and heaped scorn and condemnation on the rich, the pretentious and the hypocrites. He’s the one who famously said that it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to ender the Kingdom of God. He said love thy neighbor and turn the other cheek and forgive people over and over again.
Jesus was the Prince of Peace. He was love. Jesus loves the little children. All the children of the world. Jesus and his pop were just so darn lovable.
That was then.
In 2012 America, God hates fags. To hear many Christians tell it these days, Jesus is primarily concerned about homosexuals and abortion. Fornication, which is repeatedly condemned in the Bible, is much more rampant than either gays or abortion, but that doesn’t get a lot of pulpit time.
As for marriage, Biblical marriage often consisted of one man and many wives and concubines. The Apostle Paul goes out of his way to blast marriage. And while Jesus is silent on gay marriage, he did condemn divorce. The Bible lists adultery as the only valid reason for divorce. So how many Christians sitting in pews on Sunday have committed fornication or are divorced? Is there a religious push to end divorce or limit it to only adultery? I didn’t think so.
But there’s a rabid ferocity to oppose gay people. Too many Christians act as if we don’t pass laws reflecting their religious views, God is going to open a can of celestial whoop ass and layeth the smack down on America.
The Jesus I grew up learning about sure seemed to believe in the separation of church and state. Remember “render unto Caesar”? Remember him going all Indiana Jones with a whip, throwing the moneychangers out of the temple?
But Jesus in America in 2012 is all up in politics’ grill. Somewhere along the line many denominations decided that what God wants is for them to create a theocracy, to build a heavenly kingdom on earth. I never learned that.
In fact, it’s why I left the church. In 1983-84, there were flyers in the foyer of my church promoting Ronald Reagan for President. There were other spiritual issues I had a problem with but this was the final straw, and I think this mix of religion and politics have turned off a generation of Americans.
Then we have the dumbing down of America. While every Christmas we have to endure the ridiculous fable of the War on Christmas, the real war is on science. You’d think religious folks would want to preserve God’s green earth but instead too many deny climate change. We have things like the A.C.E. Curriculum, a Christian fundamentalist program for private schools, teaching that the Loch Ness Monster disproves evolution.
Forty-six percent of Americans in a recent Gallup Poll believe God created man in a single day 10,000 years ago. Some preachers preach that man lived alongside dinosaurs. People are free to believe whatever nutty thing they want but we do live in a world where scientific knowledge is important. It’s important in developing technology, creating whole industries, medical breakthroughs and competing with other nations.
Religion is shriveling in America because its extreme elements are making it irrelevant and indefensible for many young people. I’m a believer. My brothers are believers. My younger brother was a minister for 20 years. I believe religion can be a strong champion of the poor. It can and does feed the hungry, heal the sick through networks of hospitals, shelter and clothe the needy, help folks kick drugs, provide counseling during life’s trials and nourish the soul.
Religion has fueled major social change. When a group of ministers led the Civil Rights Movement, they used religion to sustain and fuel people but they weren’t asking government to adopt religion. They were asking America to live up to its own creed. That’s the difference with religious activism today. Religion can provide the basis for a brotherhood of man where we are our brother’s keeper. It can promote tolerance and humility like Jesus taught.
Or it can be divisive. It can be used to hate. The Bible was used to justify slavery and the suppression of women’s rights. Religion can be used to try to control behavior, undermine the First Amendment, deny human rights, and justify intolerance.
And of course I’m not talking about all Christians. But just as moderate Muslims need to lead the charge against radical Islam, it is Christians who need to stand up to the vociferous destructive ones in their midst.
It’s not surprising that religious belief is shrinking while atheism is growing.
Jesus has undergone an Extreme Makeover: Political Edition and sadly, I don’t recognize Him.