Does God Have a Future? Part II…The Conundrum Between Spirituality, Religion, and God

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This is article #2 in a 10 part series that will appear each Sunday: Does God Have a Future?

Digest of past articles…

Link to article #1 hereDoes God Have a Future? Part I…An Introduction

Overall, a diverse body of data shows that spirituality is up everywhere including the U.S., while church attendance and alliance to religion is on the decline. Does this mean that more people simply do not believe in God or does it mean that the way society views the traditional idea of God is changing?

Dr. Ralph Winter of the U.S. Center for World Mission, reports that there is a worldwide movement afoot that is indisputable. Biblical faith is growing to all corners of the earth at an unprecedented pace. “One in every ten people on the planet is of the bible reading, bible-believing stream of Christianity,” says Winter. The report goes on to say that, “The Protestant growth rate in Latin America is three times the biological birth rate, Protestants in China have gone from 1 million to 80 million in fifty years, and believers in “mission field countries” are sending their own missionaries back to their former colonial sponsors.”

Download full report here…

It is generally believed that in the face of such flourishing belief in God, that church attendance is also climbing. However this is not the case.

It is true that many Americans still attend church in the U.S., however, church attendance is trending downward. The Barna Research Group reported in 2005 that, “47% of American adults said they attend church in a given weekend, not including a special event such as wedding or a funeral.” This number is down from 51% in 1991 and many studies and polls have the number as of 2006 as low as 40%.

And even within these numbers there are some interesting variables…

Various studies in recent years have cast doubt on the generally accepted 40% value. For instance, public opinion polls do not report real events, only what they are told by pollees. Pollees often answer the way they think they should answer, especially when it comes to church. For example, when asked how much money they give to church every week, 17% of those polled said they give 10% to 13% of their income, when in reality only 3% do.

Other reports put church attendance in Ohio at 20% for Protestants and only 28% for Catholics (.M. Chaves, K. Hadaway & P. Marler, “What the Polls Don’t Show: A Closer Look at U.S. Church Attendance,” American Sociological Review, 1993).

When these same Catholic parishes were polled later regarding attendance, 51% said they attended regularly, however the actual numbers only reflect 24%. Most were simply lying. To validate the research, Chaves, Hadaway, and Marler conducted additional research in 1998 and again in 2004. They were quoted as saying:

“We believe that too much trust has been placed in survey data and not enough attention given to membership records, patterns of giving, and even the incredulity of local church pastors when they hear that 40 percent of Americans attend church during an average week (M. Chaves, K. Hadaway & P. Marler, “”Overreporting Church Attendance in America: Evidence that Demands the Same Verdict,” American Sociological Review, 1998-FEB)”.

The 50% to 51% figure also appears to apply in the UK. Author Monica Furlong commented on the Church of England data:

people questioned about how much they go to church, give figures which, if true, would add up to twice those given by the churches (Monica Furlong, “C of E: The State It’s in,” Hodder & Stroughton, (2002), Page 216).”

Hadaway and Marler noted that when Gallup asked people in Great Britain what they did during the previous weekend, and presents a list of likely activities, they found that 14% said they went to church. But when the question that Gallup asks in the US (“Did you, yourself, happen to attend church or synagogue in the last seven days?”) is asked in Great Britain, the weekly attendance rate miraculously rises to 21%. They state that:

“… figures from the 1989 English Church Census and additional attendance data from the 1996-97 UK Christian Handbook indicate that only around 10 percent attend worship services each week.”

There was a surge in church attendance after the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington on September 11th, 2001.

Some religious leaders predicted that the phenomenon would be short lived. Others saw it as the start of a major revival in the U.S. According to the New York Times, Franklin Graham, son of the well known Christian evangelist, Rev. Billy Graham, hailed it as an enduring turn toward God. On November 20th, Christian fundamentalist Pat Robertson said that the attack was “bringing about one of the greatest spiritual revivals in the history of America…People are turning to God. The churches are full.” It appears that, with the exception of the New York City area, the increase lasted only about two months.

By November 26th, 2001, attendance had returned to normal. The New York Times cites data from the Gallup Organization, which shows that religious attendance rose from 41% in May 2001, to 47% by September 2001. By early November, attendance had sunk back to 42%. The director of the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University, Robert Wuthnow, said that the terrorists’ attacks have not changed the basic makeup of the U.S. :

“We are in some ways a very religious country, especially compared to Western Europe. But, we’re of two minds, and the other mind is that we are really pretty secular. We are very much a country of consumers and shoppers, and we’re quite materialistic. And as long as we can paste together a sense of control through our ordinary work and our ordinary purchases, we’re pretty happy to do that.”

Some other interesting stats:

In 2001 more than 29.4 million Americans said they have no religion, up from 12 million in 1990. Today that number reflects 3% of all people in some states to as high as 25% in others.

A USA Today/Gallop Poll in 2002 showed that 50% of Americans call themselves religious, down from 54% in 1999. Also, 33% called themselves spiritual rather than religious, up from 30% over that same time period. And these trends are continuing in 2007.

So what does it all mean?

Is the age of the church and organized religion encountering it’s end days? Could it be that an idea of something parallel to God is taking over our collective consciousness, and that parallel idea of God is embodied less and less in religion and church? Is church and religion as a social construct coming to an end? All one needs to do is pick up a newspaper, if you are Catholic, to track the latest parish closings.

Maybe the decline of church and religion is a good thing.

I believe we can live in a culture where people can simply be followers of Jesus or whatever spiritual ideal they identify with, without the need for organized religious constructs. Whether many of us care to believe it or not, we are socialized into Christian ideals at a very early age and live our entire lives not knowing why we believe or even if we should. More often than not, we believe because we must, or simply because we cannot cannot critically analyze why we shouldn’t.

The central issue here is that religion, as a social construct based on the belief in God, is declining. But more importantly, that very religion which has been used to, in essence, sell God to modern society, may very well take God down along with it.

One can easily make the argument that the modern church is an exercise in futility as it exists in the modern consumerist capitalistic state, and that the need for organized religion has fufilled it’s role as an explanation to the unknown, and seen it’s best days as it continues into the neo-modern era. Maybe secular humanism is the cleansing-by-fire that is needed for what many see as a corrupt Christianity, that is based on exploitation and fear.

In the end, that very secularization that Christians, in particular fundamental Christians, rally against, is what may ultimately lead to a more convenient “religion-less” and ultimately “God-less” form of spirituality that more and more people seem to be heading toward.

I am one of them.

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Posted on December 9, 2007, in Culture, Politics, Religion and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. Hi friend, I add you in the blogroll, and I give you my e-mail, so we can speak easily.
    Kassandra Project is preparing something that could be interesting for you and for everyone who wants to try to change the world..

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    I hope to read you soon. Regards

  2. The past two essay`s have been brilliant. Keep up the good work I look forward to next sunday and part three.

  3. Great article…your research is nicely done, as well.

    For much of my youth I grappled with this concept of church vs. religion vs. spirituality. Depite being raised Presbyterian, I feel no real connection to a church now that I am living my own life. I seek my spirituality in other venues. Am I part of a trend among people my age (late 20s)? I don’t know, but I know the church does not fulfill my needs.

  4. I do not have statistics for this claim, but it is also worth noting that while church attendance is down, hundreds of new religious organizations have been created in the last several decades. Of course, many of these have been somewhat outré or millenarian, and there are probably countless other groups and individuals participating in “non-religious” ritualizing behavior, but there does seem to be some sort of modern need for the structuring of spiritual belief.

  5. A “conundrum” is a riddle or a puzzle, perhaps even an insoluble problem. But the way you’ve used “conundrum” in your title makes no sense at all. It’s like saying “the puzzle between chocolate ice cream, pumpkin pie, and strawberry shortcake.” (?!)

    If you don’t have an adequate grasp of language, you can’t have an adequate grasp of logic, which means we ought not waste our time trying to follow your thinking, you see?

  6. Lao Ren Cha,

    No, I’m afraid I don’t “see.” I suggest you visit http://www.m-w.com for the correct definition of ‘conundrum’…2 a: a question or problem having only a conjectural answer b: an intricate and difficult problem.

    Are you suggesting that the dynamic that exists between God, religion and spirituality is not an “intricate” or “difficult” problem for society?

    If you are going to insult someone, you should really have your facts straight. My grasp of the English language is perfectly adequate.

    Your future comments will not be approved on this blog.

  7. MJ "revoltingpawn"

    Lao Ren Cha…

    Are we really discussing the definition of a word in the title of the post?

    I don’t have degree in English studies but how does “an intricate and difficult problem” mean the same as “insoluble problem”? Umm.. Most words do have more then one meaning.

    If you can’t make a comment that does not insult or add to the discussion of the post itself it will NOT be approved in the future!

    You are wasting our time…

  8. Tait McKenzie,

    I believe that it is the very lack of structure when dealing with the question of spirituality (i.e no one telling you what to think or do spiritually…) that attracts more people to that, as you put it, “non-religious” behavior. Wouldn’t you agree?

  9. Ben,
    I’ve latched onto you. I think I’ve got a good understanding of how your feeling. I think I’ve got some good instruction for you that will get you off to a good start in life. But, You’ve got to take me seriously.

    Ben, as you’re reading this, I want you to walk away from your computer. I want you to drop down on the floor and do 40 push ups.

    Now, I want you to do 40 squats.

    Now, I want you to Jog, or run in place for about 5 minutes.

    Now, you should notice a considerable difference in how you feel.

    Ben, I want you to set new exercise goals for yourself every day from now on. As you do so, I’m confident that you’ll make a change in your life that will be so noticeable to YOU.

    You’ll feel better. You’re mood will change. You’re body will change. As you exercise more, all of the females who know you will notice the change in your physical appearance as well as your mood, your attitude, your emotional stability, etc. You’ll feel better about yourself as you notice how much the females around you are responding to you in a favorable manner.

    Exercise, exercise, exercise!! Stay away from junk food. Exercise. Stay away from junk food. Don’t smoke (very important!). Girls don’t like the smell of smoke on your lips.

    As your physical body becomes more healthy and vibrant, the females around you will respond in a more favorable way and they’ll MAKE you FEEL like the man that you’re suppose to be.

    When a man ACTS like a man, you motivate WOMEN to treat you like you’re a man.

  10. It means that the way society views the traditional idea of God is changing which is a good thing and not the fact that people are moving towards “atheism”. Atheism is a religion in and of itself if you define a religion as an unwavering belief in certain set of principles about God, life and the universe.

    Specifically, society is questioning the current religious constructs of the divine which state that God is a vengeful, wrathful, insecure deity that will punish you for eternity if you happen to have the “wrong” beliefs about it. Its about time people question that.
    People are moving away from religious dogma and towards spirituality. A spirituality that says God is everywhere and everything and not some deity “over there” with a long grey beard ready to smite you down. This can be evidenced by the worldwide popularity of the “conversations with God” series of books by Neale Donald Walsch. Evidence exists for reincarnation and strong evidence exists for an afterlife as evidenced by many peoples Near Death Experiences.
    People fall into one of 4 categories
    1) Religious – i.e. believe everything that their particular brand of faith tells them about the nature of God, Earth and the Universe
    2) Non Religious – Believes in God but confused by insane religious constructs of the Divine and prefers to live life not thinking about it one way or the other except maybe during Christmas. May or may not go to church and if so, only during the major religious holidays. Will pray to God during times of personal crisis.
    3) Agnostic/Atheist
    4) Spiritual – an evolutionary belief in the divine that transcends current religious constucts

    As evidenced by polls, the least amount of people fall into category 3. Category 4 has the most growth potential and most of its growth will come from category 2. If religion doesnt evolve its beliefs. It will be left in the dust as evidenced by declining church attendance rates

  11. MJ "revoltingpawn"

    G…

    A good comment but have to disagree on some points you presented. I am tired of people saying atheism/agnosticism is a religion. You may call it a philosophy but not a religion. I don’t know if you are religious but “the atheism is a religion” statement generally comes from that crowd. It’s a defense when religion is attacked by the atheism/agnosticism crowd because it’s like saying you are really just like us. The God/religion debate and if interchangeable come up in the first post. Religion is man-made to explain God’s purpose for us and does not in fit in with atheism.

    I would not put to much faith in those polls since a lot of people will list themselves as Christian/religious when really are not. Most people feel the need to identify with the dominant group in the community. So many people are active with and go to Church but don’t really believe. I have always felt the religious category was inflated in those polls.

  12. MJ
    For the record, I am “spiritual”. I agree that atheism is not a religion in the “traditional sense” that most people think of religion. Iam also sure your observations about “religious” attacks on atheism and the motivations of those religious individuals are correct and your frustations with it are real, however I must fundamentally disagree with you and still hold that atheism is a religion.

    Religion is defined as follows by dictionary.com: a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency…

    This definition does not preclude atheism. The keyword here in this definition is “beliefs”. Atheists have a definitive, unwavering “belief” that there is no such thing as God, a creator, a divine intelligence that encompasses everything or whatever you wish to call it. They also have a definitive unwavering “belief” that human beings totally cease to exist upon their physical death and that there is no conscious part of them (soul or whatever) that continues to exist after physical death. The thing is that atheists cant prove these “beliefs” to be definitively true which definitely make these assertions “beliefs” instead of “facts” and hence a “religion”.

    It is definitely not a philosophy i.e. a rational investigation of truths and principles of being, knowlegde or conduct. How could it be when its 2 core beliefs refuses to consider evidence to the contrary such as Near Death Experience research, reincarnation research and the unified field theory of physics as a model for the alpha and omega. Agnosticism is more along the lines of a philosophy because it neither accepts nor denies until experienced.

    As for your final assertion, I highly doubt that people who list themselves as “christian/religious” are closet atheists who go to church just to fit in. True atheists are hardcore and certain of their beliefs. Most of these other people, while they are definitely not religious, are mostly confused and dont know what to believe and prefer to focus on their lives instead of these matters which does not make them atheists.

    On a final note, I wish to state that I do have respect for atheists and what they choose to believe and that they are a highly intelligent set that sees the folly and danger of certain dogmatic religious beliefs. Atheists place a high value on peace and intelligence which is something this world sorely needs.

    Peace
    G

  13. MJ "revoltingpawn"

    G…

    Sorry guess we will have to agree to disagree on atheism as a religion.

    You are trying to define atheism in the context of religion. Some references on what atheism is for you…

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atheism

    http://alexandertheatheist.blogspot.com/2007/10/define-atheist.html

    As far as you saying… “atheists cant prove these “beliefs” to be definitively true which definitely make these assertions “beliefs” instead of “facts” and hence a “religion””. Since God, life after death, and the “soul”, are not observed in our existence the burden of proof is with religious people not atheists. There is no difference between believing in the God from the bible or we were created from the snort of really large purple elephants. Both exist outside of our reality and atheism is just based on our reality. Understand I am not atheist but agnostic so just explaining that viewpoint.

    I never said people who list themselves as Christian/religious are closet atheists. Non-religious people I would think is really the biggest part of the pie. Sorry true atheists do not have to be hardcore like any other beliefs held by people. You know alot of people just don’t think to hard about God, life and the universe like maybe you and me.

    Thanks for adding to the discussion…

  1. Pingback: Does God Have a Future? Part II: The Conundrum Between Spirituality, Religion, and God | Disinformation

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