Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Is American Christianity Dying?

If you read the headlines, you would think, that American Christianity is in a death spiral. Jon Meacham's cover article of Newsweek from last week declares the "end of Christian America." The recent ARIS survey says that the number of "no religion" has doubled in the last 20 years, while the percentage of self-identified Christians has dropped from 86 to 76 percent. In the 1950s Will Herberg could speak of America's religious life as Protestant, Catholic, and Jew. That would be more difficult to say today -- for many reasons. We can debate over whether this is a Christian nation or a Judeo-Christian nation -- the reality is, we are a predominantly Christian nation, where Roman Catholics form the largest denomination within the Christian community. Christian ideas and values influence American life in as much as Christianity has for the past 1500 years or so influenced the direction and development of Western Society. Since the majority of Americans hail from Europe, it's not surprising that Christian ideas and values have stood with us.

But, the question remains, is Christianity dying in America? Are we about to capitulate to secularism? While secularism is on the rise (whatever secularism means), I'm of the opinion that E.J. Dionne is correct, Christianity is pretty resilient.

I do think that younger people are walking away from coercive and exclusivist forms of religion (yes conservative churches are growing among younger people, but the ones with the most success are adapting their message). I do think younger people are fed up with politicized religion (which is a message to Progressives as well as Conservatives) -- and for the past quarter century Christianity has been identified in the minds of many with conservative politics and politicians. They are looking for a faith that makes sense of their lives and encourages love of neighbor.

Dionne writes:

Religion is always corrupted when it gets too close to political power. It's possible to win a precinct caucus and lose your soul, to mistake political victory for salvation itself.

It is this approach to Christianity that is decidedly in decline, thank God, in part because conservative Christians themselves are rediscovering the church's mission to the poor, the sick, the strangers and the outcasts. This augurs new life, not decay.

So, should we mourn the decline of American Christianity as we've known it recently, or should we rejoice that Christianity may see itself resurrected into something new and closer to the founding vision? Remember when Christianity was a proscribed and persecuted religion? It didn't die, instead it thrived by serving and loving their neighbors. So, no, Christians probably won't be able to control the agenda on controversial social issues, simply by saying that it goes against the Bible. Is that a bad thing?


Anonymous said...

"Religion is always corrupted when it gets too close to political power".

I totally agree.

If I were a "professional" Christian, I would make this a mantra- love all parties' pointy little heads but ally with none.

Separation is best for all.

nuf' said.

David Mc

Kelli Anne Busey said...

"...because conservative Christians themselves are rediscovering the church's mission to the poor, the sick, the strangers and the outcasts...What? Which 'conservative' religion are you speaking of? Not Catholics, Baptist or Muslim and if so Show me the proof. Where and When have these religions had a 'conservative' group from within on it's own volition changed it's Church laws to become more inclusive. That is Why christianity is in decline. The people who deceive themselves that by damning people and then throwing them a scrap of hope are leading the way.

Anonymous said...


I think it's because there are more poor, sick, strangers and outcasts... maybe the slow ecomomy'll help with inclusion since the boat is bigger?

David Mc