Recently Newseek published the result of its poll on religion in America (One Nation Under God?) and found that “A nation facing problems of biblical proportions appears to be looking less and less to religion for answers.” According to a new NEWSWEEK Poll, “the percentage of Americans who think faith will help answer all or most of the country’s current problems dipped to a historic low of 48 percent, down from 64 percent in 1994.” In addition Jon Meacham published an editorial piece on “The End of Christian America.” Are we in a post-Christian nation?
R. Albert Mohler Jr. President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary said (as quoted by Jon Meacham): “The Northwest was never as religious, never as congregationalized, as the Northeast, which was the foundation, the home base, of American religion. To lose New England struck me as momentous… A remarkable culture-shift has taken place around us. The most basic contours of American culture have been radically altered. The so-called Judeo-Christian consensus of the last millennium has given way to a post-modern, post-Christian, post-Western cultural crisis which threatens the very heart of our culture.” Strong words by someone who is very much affected by the shifting religious landscape.
Maecham comments that “This is not to say that the Christian God is dead, but that he is less of a force in American politics and culture than at any other time in recent memory. To the surprise of liberals who fear the advent of an evangelical theocracy and to the dismay of religious conservatives who long to see their faith more fully expressed in public life, Christians are now making up a declining percentage of the American population.”
As I see it, this is a good thing. America isn’t a Christian nation. We are a melting pot of all types of religions and no religion at all. The strangle hold that fundamentalist Christians seemed to have on the government wasn’t good. It kept us from fully investing in Stem Cell Research, kept our education system in the dark ages by trying to force creationism/Intelligent Design into our classrooms, tried to rob the right of women to chose the outcome of their pregnancy, marginalized gays and lesbians, wanted to put prayer back into our schools where those of different faiths and no faith would be forced to pray to their god, would love the 10 Commandments to be hanging in every courthouse in the land (few among them obey the First tablet of their sacred law), and if given the chance would love us to be ruled by their Bible.
Meacham says it this way: “Evangelical Christians have long believed that the United States should be a nation whose political life is based upon and governed by their interpretation of biblical and theological principles. If the church believes drinking to be a sin, for instance, then the laws of the state should ban the consumption of alcohol. If the church believes the theory of evolution conflicts with a literal reading of the Book of Genesis, then the public schools should tailor their lessons accordingly. If the church believes abortion should be outlawed, then the legislatures and courts of the land should follow suit.” What few evangelicals failed see is that any religion in control means that people of other religions are looked at as heretics. If any one religious group gained control, their doctrine would rule. And if you disagreed? Just look at history to see how religious states dealt with people that disagreed with their favorite doctrines. It isn’t pleasant.
Meacham sees this. He says: “As crucial as religion has been and is to the life of the nation, America’s unifying force has never been a specific faith, but a commitment to freedom—not least freedom of conscience. At our best, we single religion out for neither particular help nor particular harm; we have historically treated faith-based arguments as one element among many in the republican sphere of debate and decision. The decline and fall of the modern” religious right’s notion of a Christian America creates a calmer political environment and, for many believers, may help open the way for a more theologically serious religious life.” But he is also clear, “while the percentage of Christians may be shrinking, rumors of the death of Christianity are greatly exaggerated. Being less Christian does not necessarily mean that America is post-Christian.”
This might be true depending on how you define the term “Christian”. People love that label even when, theologically, there is little to it. Is Christianity a warm-fuzzy feeling about your best friend Jesus with little substance other than what your “heart” tells you? Or do you have to hold to a certain dogma to claim that label? If it is a certain dogma, then which one? There are some 38,000 denominations that claim the Christian title (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Christian_denominations) and many of them think they are the “true” believers. Even those who would use the label “evangelical” do not agree on core doctrines of their faith.
Could it be that we are moving to a post-evangelical Christian world? In that case the evangelicals would see it as a post-Christian world, but those who don’t hold to that label might see it differently. Mohler’s concern is that “the post-Christian narrative is radically different; it offers spirituality, however defined, without binding authority.” This is obviously upsetting to anyone in authority positions within the Christian hierarchy, but in an independent minded America the “Christian” religion might be moving to a more individualized spirituality. Yet don’t be deceived. People also like the black and white view of the world that dogmatic religions can bring. There are still authoritative, rigid, dogmatic Christian churches that are gaining membership precisely because they give security in a time of insecurity. They may grow but hopefully will remain a minority if the current religious polls are any indication.
Personally, I would love to see people come to their senses and realize there is no sky-god to worship, just like there is no Zeus or Thor or Krishna or Santa Claus. Yet, I’ll settle for a “post-Christian”, watered down, personal, inner spiritual Christianity. This kind of Christianity is no threat to anything. It’s a least a step in the right direction.