I just finished reading The Fall of the Evangelical Nation: The Surprising Crisis Inside the Church by Christine Wicker. I highly recommend this book, especially for those atheists who never had a “born-again” experience. Wicker does an excellent job showing the appeal and strength the evangelical faith has for many. It may sound foreign to you, but it’s very real to those that have experienced it. I was able to relate to those experiences as well as the reasons why many are leaving the evangelical-fold. She points out that impressions are not always reality. The view that Right-wing, evangelical Christians are a powerful force in society and the majority of Christians are in sync with them is essentially a myth. Their power is based on a very strong marketing campaign and shrewd manipulation and use of the media.
The number floating around is that 25 percent of the population is supposed to be in the strong evangelical camp. Politicians fear and cater to this group, yet this group doesn’t exist anywhere near the 25 percent mark. Using numbers from various Christian organizations, Wicker shows that, at best, this number is 7 percent and is likely to be much lower. Furthermore, this number is falling and has been falling for decades. Evangelistic efforts are stagnating and churches are losing the younger generation in droves. This makes non-theists a larger group than the one many politicians are afraid of crossing!
The reasons for this decline are numerous and, for me, encouraging, but they all boil down to this one simple exchange between Wicker and two of her friends:
Not long ago, coming back from dinner, I said to two of my Methodist friends, in defense of the über-evangelicals who sometimes seem to be invading our families and neighborhoods, “What could be better than serving the God of the universe? Is it better just to schlub along, going to work, making a buck, ferrying your children around, having no great purpose, no great assurance of anything but death? Serving almighty God in almighty ways is the evangelical way, and what’s not good about that?” (Kindle Edition, Loc. 2258-62)
The response gives insight into the depth of the evangelical problem:
“Sounds like a great deal,” replied my Midwestern mother-of-four friend tartly, “except you have to give up your brain for it. Not something I’m ready to do.” (Kindle Edition, Loc. 2262-65)
Wicker and a growing number of “Christians” are leaving the evangelical faith for a kinder, gentler type of “Christianity”. She says:
“If evangelicals give up the idea that only they are saved and that hell doesn’t await everyone who disagrees with them, they will be a very different faith group. It will be a struggle to keep religious passion high without the threat of hell to spark it, a struggle to keep devotion steady without the allure of being the only ones whom God favors. But some of these new-style followers of Jesus believe they have something to offer that transcends such doctrine, something that has changed them, something that is with them still, something that can change the earth. Him.” (Loc. 2781-86, emphasis mine)
Here, I disagree with Ms. Wicker. Yes, it will be a very different faith but it will also be a very different god. This “Him” will be nothing more than a warm-fuzzy feeling made up of how the individual views “Him”. With no authority, no doctrine, no reward, no punishment, no central organization, and only feelings and impressions, each individual will have a slightly different “warm-fuzzy” kind of “Him”. This kind of god is only a heart-beat away from Deism and a short hop to no god at all.