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 here…Does 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.”
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.
When is it going to stop? That is to say, when are television and radio outlets going to ban Ann Coulter? Hasn’t the insanity gone far enough and hasn’t this idiot offended enough people? There must be a point where a decision maker somewhere must look at Ann Coulter and realize that the point of diminishing returns has definitely been reached.
This time, Coulter fired at the Jews saying that they should be “perfected” by accepting Jesus and America would be better off if everyone was a Christian.
Perfected in the image of the Christian ideal? Since when are Christians representative of perfection? Most Christians I know are inflexible racists, much like Coulter. They claim they are peaceful and compassionate, yet more have been murdered in the name of Christ than for all other reasons combined through recorded history. In the modern era, Christians have demonstrated their perfection by burning churches, dragging people to death behind pick-up trucks, lynching innocent people simply because their skin color was incorrect, starting wars based on monstrous lies, and murdering abortion doctors. Evidently Coulter is too busy picking out the latest and greatest push-up bra for her next schizophrenic television appearance, rather than engaging in some light historical reading or looking at the paper once in a while.
A national Catholic organization also criticized Coulter’s remarks.
“I’m just dumbfounded that a Christian would even say this in America,” said Chris Korzen, executive director of Catholics United. Korzen also said it was “particularly dangerous” to be mixing religious conversion with discussions of what it means to be an American, and he said Coulter’s comments reminded him of John McCain referring to the US as a “Christian nation.”
This is not what the founding fathers wanted, no matter how many times fundamentalist Christians try to ram it down our throats. Anyone who has read American history knows better. The problem is I think most conservatives don’t read at all.
“I don’t believe I read anything in the constitution about Jesus Christ dying for our sins,” Korzen said, and he is right. Much like other lunatics, including Ron Paul, Coulter believes that this nation is inextricably tied to Christianity and that all other denominations are basically inferior, irrelevant, or criminal in their purpose. These fools have conveniently forgotten that the fundamental reason why this continent was settled by Western Europeans was a direct result of religious persecution in their home countries! These comments by Coulter simply reinforce her ignorance and unbridled hubris.
“We just want Jews to be perfected, as they say,” Coulter said.
Speaking to Donny Deutsch, on the magazine show, The Big Idea, she went on to say, “I don’t want you being offended by this. This is what Christians consider themselves, because our testament is the continuation of your testament. You know that. So we think Jews go to heaven. I mean, Rev. Jerry Falwell himself said that, but you have to follow laws. Ours is ‘Christ died for our sins,'” Coulter said. “We consider ourselves perfected Christians. For me to say that for you to become a Christian is to become a perfected Christian is not offensive at all.”
I’m having trouble just following that statement based on Coulter’s incoherence. Is she saying that Jews must follow Christian doctrine while their alive? She said she believes that Jews go to heaven anyways, so why are they less ‘perfect’ again?
Another Catholic group blasted Coulter’s remarks, saying they “show profound ignorance of both religion and American history.” “Ms. Coulter embarrasses Christians with her arrogance and insensitivity,” said Alexia Kelley, Executive Director of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, and she does not speak for those Christians and Jews who struggle together every day for justice and the common good.”
Ann Coulter’s latest insensitive, ignorant and racist comments are indicative of the latent lack of intelligence that plagues all fundamental Christians. Most thinking people are reasonably familiar with American history as it encompasses politics, science, culture, and war, along with the internal dynamic of tolerance that has kept this country peaceful and free for over 200 years. This continual attack by Coulter and other zealots who anoint themselves as the ‘perfect’ and the righteous, as well as experts in the area of Western Judeo-Christian values, are the very same people who are working to destroy the fabric of tolerance within our culture. Much the same way they accuse liberals of being secular humanists, who try to use the education system and the media to destroy Christian values, Coulter and the Christian posse of the ignorant, have a goal of transforming America through its education system, by taking control of colleges, textbook publishers and the media, with the help of conservative state legislatures and the Bush administration. This is evident in a recent push by some Southern school districts to supplement or replace Darwinian teachings with curriculum referred to as ‘Intelligent Design’, and a vote just days ago by the FCC to further relax restrictions on monopolization of media markets by gigantic conservative corporate interests – many of whom are these same racist Christians.
Christians are deliberately trying to put a strangle hold on our culture by brainwashing youth and destroying their sense of cultural and religious tolerance. They are people who fervently believe, with a religious zeal, in a radically different worldview than the one in which average Americans believe, and one in which this nation was founded and which has underpinned every bit of its moral and economic success.
This is a cultural war between the informed and the ignorant. Coulter’s view is based on faith in a divine creator, and a moral imperative to love and obey Christian doctrine at all costs, even if that means burning the American village to acheive that.
The other view is based on rejection of hatred and ignorance along with tolerance for the views and beliefs of others. People who follow this other world view do not pray on the desperate, not not kill those who disagree with their religious or philosophical views, are not racists, and attempt to advance American culture through mutual understanding, instead of trying to impose the often bizarre and violent teaching of the bible upon us.
In my opinion, Jesus would be embarrassed and appalled by Ann Coulter.