According to a September 2014 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 72% of respondents believe that religion’s influence in America is waning. For those who attend or minister at church services, this is no surprise. With the Christmas season behind us, special arrangements (e.g., additional seating, simultaneous services in the church and gymnasium, etc.) to accommodate those who attend services on Christmas and Easter have been set aside. And with this complete, churches revert to the reality of ministering to smaller congregations.
Each Christmas and Easter, my questions to others are always the same: What if churches were packed like this every week? Would our families be stronger? Would our interaction with others be different? Would our politics look the same? Truly, such questions could go on indefinitely.
Now for those with a negative outlook regarding such things, the Pew study is evidence that a new secular house is being built. A new reality is being constructed. All that is left is to close down the remaining remnants from the past. The churches, that is.
This is the very topic of an article by Naftali Bendavid in the January 4, 2015 edition of the Wall Street Journal. In Europe’s Empty Churches Go on Sale, the author notes the plight of Christian Europe: “The closing of Europe’s churches reflects the rapid weakening of the faith in Europe, a phenomenon that is painful to both worshipers and others who see religion as a unifying factor in a disparate society.” The statistics are grim. Each year, the Church of England has been closing about 20 churches and in Germany alone, the Catholic Church has shuttered more than 500 churches in the past decade. The problem is worst in the Netherlands. That nation’s Catholic bishops now concede that just one-third of the 1,600 churches now operating will do so within ten years. According to one activist who seeks to maintain the religious heritage of Europe present within its buildings: “The numbers are so huge that the whole society will be confronted with it. Everyone will be confronted with big empty buildings in their neighborhoods.”
With secular values now filling the vacuum formerly filled by the practice of religion, what will become of our world? In a December 29, 2014 Huffington Post essay entitled The State of Secular America, Pitzer College Professor Phil Zuckerman excitedly points out that among 18-29 year olds, 33% now claim to be non-religious. “These are, quite simply, the highest rates of secularity the nation has ever seen…In truth, secular life in America is coalescing and congealing like never before. There is a growing articulation of the basic values and virtues underlying secular culture, and a stronger recognition of the principles and precepts that fortify and sustain daily life lived without God or congregation.” In touting the secularist mantra of questioning everything, the professor leads us to the promised land of anything goes. And in case you haven’t perused recent cultural statistics provided by the Heritage Foundation, I invite you to do so. In the land of anything goes, how are things going?
To recall the late Beatles great John Lennon’s lyrics, And no religion, too, we have slowly trod to a new reality where God is increasingly nowhere to be found. In our schools. In our public life. In our families and homes. But at least we are now free of commandments, restraints, and ways-of-living imposed upon us by our Creator.
Haven’t we tried this before?