Thursday, April 16, 2009

Less or More Religious?

Recently a study was released on the "spiritual" climate in America. Actually, it was a survey of religious preferences. Although the study seems on the surface to be relatively non-specific, there are some interesting insights to be gleaned.

First of all, the study found that the number of people in the USA who identify themselves as Christians has declined more than 11 percent in the last 18 years. This is a significant drop in a country that occasionally likes to emphasize its spiritual, religious, even Christian heritage. 

Another seemingly important part of the study is the finding that the number of people who claim no religious affiliation in the US has almost doubled in the same time period, from 8 percent to 15 percent.

Additionally, people who claim a particular Christian denomination or sect have also declined. There are a couple of exceptions, but for the most part it appears that Christianity, even God, is on the way out in our culture.

The most obvious surface conclusion here is that Christianity in general, and the church specifically are all dying. It is time to call the preacher and plan the funeral. At the current rate of decline I may be around to witness the end. But I believe this to be only a surface finding. I do not believe that we can draw those assumptions, or that the end is near. In fact, I do not necessarily believe that there has been a decline in these years.

There have always been, at least as long as I have been alive, a large number/percentage of people who claim to be Christian, but in reality are not. These individuals do not hold to the beliefs of Christianity. They do not attend worship services or other religious activities. Their lifestyles are not marked by the distinctive characteristics of "Christian" morality. 

To cite just one example of this, we have been told for many years that around half of all Americans attend church. Usually, that means that half of the people go to church on a special occasion, like Easter. In the typical Christian church, attendance on Easter Sunday can be double the normal weekly attendance. If we deduct the Easter attenders, we can quickly realize that about one fourth of Americans attend church in a normal week.

This all means that we are not as Christian as we think, or as we have always thought, assumed and taught. Our Christianity has been an illusion in many cases.

I do not believe that we are less Christian, or less religious than we were 18 years ago. I believe that we are now recognizing what has always been true. People are being more honest in responding to these surveys simply because there is less of a cultural stigma associated with irreligiousness today.

What you will find in churches, synagogues and mosques all over this country is that the people who are in them are just as committed as ever.

For more information on the American Religious Interest Survey: 

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