A study recently published by JAMA (Religious Coping and Use of Intensive Life-Prolonging Care Near Death in Patients with Advanced Cancer. The Journal of the American Medical
Association 2009, 301(11): 1140-1147
) looked at how religious faith impacted whether near death cancer patients wanted life-prolonging care even when such care did not offer any cure. A total of 345 patients with advanced cancer were followed until death and were interviewed to determine their religious coping mechanisms. Life prolonging procedures were defined as receiving mechanical ventilation or resuscitation in the last week of life.

You would think that a person who believed in a wonderful afterlife where there is no sorrow or tears (Rev 21:4) and a place where they will live in everlasting bliss would look forward to such an encounter. On the other hand, you would think that an atheist who has no belief in an afterlife would hang on to life until the bitter end. If you think this, you would be wrong. This study showed that those people with high religious coping mechanismsare approximately 3x as likely to request life prolonging care even when it isclear that such care will not result in a cure but rather only prolong life for a brief period of time. While the overall numbers of patients seeking these life-prolonging measures are not great (10 – 18%), the differences between the 2 groups are significant. The obvious question one has to ask is why the difference, especially when it is opposite of what you would normally think.

One group made the following comment: “These are important observations and point out the need for physicians to understand patients’ spiritual needs. The reasons that religious
patients want to prolong life as long as possible even if the quality of life is poor are poorly understood. Possibly, there is a greater belief in divine intervention than is generally thought. Clearly, the belief in a heavenly afterlife carries very little weight in a patient’s decision making about prolonging life on earth
.” (CancerConsultants.Com) But it should, shouldn’t it?

Why do those with religious coping mechanisms have a higher desire to prolong-life?

1. Maybe they feel they would be letting god down if they gave up?

2. Maybe they believe that by “buying” time, it gives god more time to miraculously heal them?

3. Maybe they need more time for prayers to be answered?

4. Maybe they really don’t believe in the wonderful afterlife they have been promised?

5. Maybe they believe that their sins can’t be forgiven and they are going to hell?

6. Maybe they aren’t real believers (a common Christian out)?

7. Maybe they are more tied to this world than the one to come (a no, no for Christians)?

8. Maybe they aren’t so sure about their “salvation”?

9. Maybe those who use “religious” coping mechanisms aren’t as religious as they would like others to believe?

9. Maybe atheists are just realists are believers are just used to having their heads in the clouds?

In any case, it would appear that for some religious people there is a huge disconnect between what they say they believe and how they act, especially when death is imminent.

14. April 2009 · Write a comment · Categories: News

A picture of Pulsar B1509 taken by NASA’s Chandra X-Ray observatory. This “hand-like” shape spans 150 light years but it is caused by a neutron star that has a 12 mile diameter. Amazing.

Yet, what is even more amazing is that 5% of people (at one time it was as high as 43%) think it shows that hand of god (Daily News). Sigh. We definitely need more science education.

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.

Michael Spencer recently published an article in the Christian Science Monitor entitled: The coming Evangelical Collapse (March 10, 2009). In it he gives 7 reasons why he sees this collapse coming within 10 years and “Within two generations, evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its occupants“. Let’s look at each of those reasons:

1. Public leaders will consider us bad for America, bad for education, bad for children, and bad for society….We fell for the trap of believing in a cause more than a faith.” While I understand Spencer’s concern here, I’m not sure all of it is valid. If Christianity is to be vibrant and relative it must engage all aspects of a believers life and this engagement must include “moral, social and political issues”. When I was a Christian, I never understood the concept that your religion is private and shouldn’t impact your public life. If religion has any power at all it demands your public and private life. The problem here, as I see it, is not that Christians are engaging in causes; rather, the vast majority of those who claim Christ are keeping their religion a private matter. If you believe something deeply it must infuse your entire life, whether you are a believer or non-believer. Unfortunately, those believers that were the most visible were also extreme in their beliefs and these extreme policies are having a negative impact. In addition holding onto “truths” that no longer have a scientific or even moral basis makes their movement increasingly obsolete. You may believe the world is flat but don’t expect your beliefs to be taken seriously. I don’t see an out for evangelical Christianity here. They must engage the world but doing so with untrue Biblical “truths” is bad for society and bad for their movement.

2. “We Evangelicals have failed to pass on to our young people an orthodox form of faith that can take root and survive the secular onslaught… (we have) produced a culture of young Christians who know next to nothing about their own faith except how they feel about it. Absolutely. The church has reached out to younger people by substituting entertainment for doctrine. Churches have trained their congregations to seek after and value the church that has the best entertainment, the best singers, the best plays, and the most dynamic, showy sermons.

3. “There are three kinds of evangelical churches today: consumer-driven megachurches, dying churches, and new churches whose future is fragile.” Here Spencer forgets a growing movement of churches that are rejecting consumer-driven megachurches and are focusing on serious worship and a solid doctrinal foundation. The Reformed Baptist movement is one of these; however, these groups are small and rigidly control their congregations. In this sense, they are fragile and will probably not last past a few generations.

4. “Christian education has not produced a product that can withstand the rising tide of secularism.” Of course it can’t since it has no doctrinal basis and often contradicts social and societal norms, not to mention scientific facts. It’s only defense is the “bible says so”, which is increasingly losing the power and force it once had. Such reasons sound shallow and trite in today’s world.

5. “Look for ministries to take on a less and less distinctively Christian face in order to survive.” Could this be because a religion based on 2000+ year old values, morals and superstitions is becoming increasingly irrelevant in this technologically advanced society? At one time, the church could force it’s view on it’s congregation and they would believe it, but now a simple Internet search on any subject will show wide ranges of belief even within the Christian fold. It’s becoming harder and harder to become dogmatic.

6. “We will find a great inability to pass on to our children a vital evangelical confidence in the Bible and the importance of the faith.” It gets harder and harder to pass on such “truths” without withdrawing from society, because you have to bury your head in the sand to seriously say the Bible is the inerrant, inspired word of God. Recent best sellers are pressing home the facts of serious biblical scholarship to an ever widening circle of churched people. This scholarship is in direct conflict with the cherished doctrines of many believers.

7. “The money will dry up.” When a religion becomes entertainment driven and an increasingly irrelevant force in society, people find better things to do with their money.

The Evangelical church has painted itself into a corner that is becoming increasingly difficult to escape from. On one hand they want to affirm the inerrancy and inspiration of the Bible. On the other hand science is confronting the church with facts that undermine the authority of the Bible. As the church pushes back they are increasingly seen as backward, obstructionist, head in the stand ostriches that oppose scientific truths and societal norms. The harder they push the more public leaders will consider us bad for America, bad for education, bad for children, and bad for society.” Yet if they don’t push back their message blends with that of society and they become a mere fixture of the past and nothing more than a social organization of like-minded individuals.

If they accept the inconsistencies and errors in the Bible they hold so dear and use it as a guide picking and choosing what is relevant, their solid moral compass becomes less and less absolute and more and more situational, something they hate. Yet, they don’t understand that they do pick and chose what they want from the Bible all they while maintaining they don’t. As Dr. Ehrman said:
Some people may think that it is a dangerous attitude to take toward the Bible, to pick and choose what you want to accept and throw everything else out. My view is that everyone already picks and chooses what they want to accept in the Bible.” (Jesus Interrupted, Kindle Edition 4333-36) No one kills their child for disobedience or kills someone for breaking the Sabbath. Most churches don’t even honor the Sabbath and have made a whole lists of excuses why that particular commandment is not valid for today.

I don’t see the evangelical church going away anytime soon, as they love to play the martyr game, but I do see them becoming increasingly irrelevant and marginalized in society similar to how the Amish are viewed today.