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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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Does God Have a Future? Part I…An Introduction

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(This post is part one of a 10 part series that will appear each Sunday)

The past several years have seen a remarkable turn of events in the socio-political conscious of Americans and indeed people worldwide. The Cold War is fifteen years over, but the prospects of a New World Order, an order designed and manipulated by the power elite in the United States, appears to be quite more ominous than anything we have seen in years past.

The ecology also looms. As a civilization, we are faced with new ‘Super-Viruses’, a resurgence of AIDS world-wide, global climate change, and a planet that will see its population double within the next generation, with not enough food or resources to support it.

Where will God fit in to this dynamic?

Many argue that God is needed in our lives more than ever. But why is he needed? Is he needed for the traditional purposes of control – to explain away unimaginable events?

For thousands of years God was used and adapted by all civilizations to ‘explain the unexplainable’ and comfort those who fear what was ‘unexplained.’ However in our time, the ubiquitous power of the ‘unexplained’ has begun to fade, and the very need for God may very well be fading along with it.

This central question is what these series of posts will attempt to examine. Is God an idea of the past whose time and need is over? American Scholar Peter Berger notes that we often live a double standard when we compare our time with the past (1). But in this case, science and reason seem to be winning the eternal battle between the secular humanists and those who see themselves as believers. The evidence is all around us.

In the United States Catholic churches are emptying, while larger churches that I refer to as “Retail Churches”, are flourishing. Catholics attend to discover faith, the latter seems to attend in order to buy it. In Europe most churches are emptying as well and atheism is no longer a taboo subject not to be discussed in certain company, or among a few fringe scholars. More and more, people seem unaffected by the prospect of a life without God, as religious holidays have de-evolved into orgies of over consumption and vanity, less and less resembling generally accepted traditions rooted in the church we knew as children.

A new world economy is also a factor.

People simply no longer have the time, or quite frankly the energy to attend services, much less volunteer extra time to the poor or to other church activities. On a more academic level, those of us who had an issue with God find it a bit liberating to be rid of a God who only existed to ensure we kept our Sunday and holiday schedule of attending church, less we be damned to the eternal fires of Hell. Parents are all working two jobs or more just to survive, and the very idea of another ‘activity’ added to the weekly run of endless soccer games, boy scouts, cheer-leading and various other after school activities, seems almost too much to take. Something must lose, and more people are choosing to opt out of church.

So this is the background. Given these ideas, I will attempt to support my assertion that God is becoming less relevant and less common. In the end we must all deal with the idea that the sometimes hideous and conspicuously absent deity that we have experienced through religion, and that is accepted as authentic by Christians, Muslims, and Jews, may be nothing more than an unfortunate aberration that has been used by those in positions of power to control populations and cultures in the name of material gain.

We must also face the fact that this same deity may also have run it’s course as a convenient and necessary explanation, that has helped to fill a hole in human consciousness and understanding.

Maybe we have grown up and much like children who shed their belief of Santa, various cultures are shedding the practice of theism.

1. Peter Berger, A Rumor of Angels (London, 1970), p. 58

New Post Series “Does God Have a Future?” to Begin Sunday, December 3rd…

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Starting this Sunday we will publish the first of several articles regarding God’s future in American culture.

Are the secular-humanists winning the battle of God? Is Jesus no more than a marketing scheme? Are churches revenue centers and nothing more? Does American culture still need God or even want him?

The posts will attempt to answer these questions as well as examine the continued relevance and resiliency of mono-theism in the modern era, and what the trends are telling us. This series hopes to engage those interested in religion and those who only wish to learn more about religion and it’s place in American culture, both today and tomorrow.

As usual, your comments are always welcome.

Is Mike Huckabee the GOP’s Best Kept Secret?

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Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, is gathering strong support from Christian conservatives, and has surged past three of his better-known presidential rivals and is now challenging former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney for the lead in the Iowa Republican caucuses, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News Poll.

Huckabee support is up 200% since late July, eclipsing former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, former senator Fred D. Thompson (Tenn.) and Sen. John McCain(Ariz.). Moreover, his support in Iowa appears stronger and more enthusiastic than that of his rivals.

The poll found that overall, 28 percent of likely GOP caucus-goers support Romney, while 24 percent support Huckabee. Thompson ran third in the poll at 15 percent, with Giuliani at about the same level, with 13 percent. McCain, whose Iowa campaign appeared to derail earlier this year over his stance on immigration, had 6 percent and was tied with Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.), who rose from 2 percent in July.

Huckabee’s gains were concentrated among the party’s conservative core, which translated into a 28-percentage-point bounce in support, mainly from Protestants, and a 19-point rise among conservatives. Huckabee also benefited from the decision of Sen. Sam Brownback (Kan.) and others to quit the race. Brownback and Huckabee had been competing for many of the same religious and conservative voters. Moreover, Huckabee’s gain in this poll does not come at the expense of those still running, all of whom are faring about the same as they were in July.

But almost half of Huckabee’s supporters (48 percent) said they would definitely vote for him in January and only a quarter said there was a good chance that they would change their minds before the caucuses. In contrast, just 29 percent of Romney’s backers said they would definitely vote for him, while 42 percent said there was a good chance that they could vote for someone else.

The enthusiasm among Huckabee supporters is interesting, particularly in a year in which Republicans have been considerably dissatisfied with a field of mediocre candidates. Half of those who now back the former Arkansas governor said they are very enthusiastic about him, compared with 28 percent of Romney’s backers.

It is also primarily social issues that galvanize Huckabee’s backers.

More than four in 10 Huckabee voters call abortion or broader moral or values issues the race’s top one or two concerns. That is nearly double the number of Romney supporters to highlight these issues. Overall, three-quarters of likely GOP voters think that abortion should be illegal in most or all cases, and among the 24 percent who want the procedure to be unlawful in every instance, 36 percent support Huckabee and 22 percent Romney.

But, many issues drive likely GOP caucus-goers.

A quarter of those surveyed said immigration is their biggest or second-biggest concern when considering whom to back on Jan. 3. The same percentage, 24 percent, highlighted the war in Iraq, and nearly as many, 21 percent, singled out terrorism and national security.

Ten percent or more cited five other issues: the economy, health care, abortion, taxes, and morals and family values. Overall, eight issues ranked in the double digits, making the discussion in the Republican contest potentially more wide-ranging than that on the Democratic side. Among likely Democratic caucus-goers, only three issues reach 10 percent, and two — Iraq and health care — dominate voters’ concerns.

On immigration, Romney has an edge: 27 percent said the former Massachusetts governor is best on the issue, while Huckabee received 13 percent. No candidate is clearly preferred on the other top issue, Iraq, with Giuliani, McCain and Romney each considered the best by about two in 10. Giuliani doubles up the competition, however, on handling the terrorism fight.

Romney tops the field as the candidate most trusted to handle the economy and the federal budget deficit. He and Huckabee are preferred by about equal percentages on social issues, such as abortion and same-sex civil unions.

About six in 10 likely caucus-goers said they have been called by one of the campaigns. Twenty-nine percent have attended a campaign event, up six percentage points from July, but far less than the percentage of Democrats who have attended an event (52 percent). A third of GOP voters have visited one of the candidates’ Web sites and 29 percent have received e-mail. About one in five has spoken with or shaken hands with one or more of the GOP candidates. Fifteen percent have contributed money.

Romney has an advantage on the question of who has the “best experience to be president,” after a 10-point increase from July, when he was about even with Giuliani and McCain. Romney had held a marginally significant edge on “best understands problems of people like you,” but while he has stayed at 21 percent on this question, Huckabee has soared from 10 percent to 25 percent.

In July, Romney had the lead on “most honest and trustworthy” at 21 percent. He has risen to 25 percent, but Huckabee jumped from 10 percent to 26 percent.

On top of all this, there’s another intangible at work here I believe.

Huckabee seems really intelligent and genuine to me.

I had a chance to watch Huckabee during a recent television interview and I was quite impressed. His answers were well thought out and lucid, he conveyed his ideas and positions with honesty and candor, and he seemed prepared to lead. Unlike Romney, Giuliani, and the others, Huckabee was clear on his positions, never wavering, and never back pedaling.

Moreover, he wasn’t afraid to hide his Chritianity and clearly explained how he would not project his beliefs on others or use it as a political leveraging tool.

I like that.

If Republicans are smart, they’ll keep one eye on this guy. He has Romney’s charm, Giuliani’s grit, McCain’s humor, and Paul’s libertarian ideals, without out all the extra nuttiness and baggage. I will be interesting to see just how far he can go.