My new best blog-friend (Doug Kings at Cyber Spirit Cafe) and I have exchanged posts and comments about the decline of religion, and today he raises the topic again by referencing a recent post of Andrew Sullivan. In the London Sunday Times, Sullivan says:
[R]eligion must absorb and explain the new facts of modernity: the deepening of the Darwinian consensus in the sciences, the irrefutable scriptural scholarship that makes biblical literalism intellectually contemptible, the shifting shape of family life, the new reality of openly gay people, the fact of gender equality in the secular world. It seems to me that American Christianity, despite so many resources, has ignored its intellectual responsibility.
If Sullivan is right, why? Why have religious progressives surrendered the podium to the religious right? Why have we allowed others to claim theirs is the only voice of christendom? Blogger Rich Warden suggests “that the far right has given religion a bad rap, made it untouchable in the progressive community.”
Perhaps the better question is not “why”, but “how”. How do we take it back? How do we put a progressive face on American religion?
UPDATE: In a May 22 post, Soong-Chan Rah, offers an optimistic take. He suggests that Christian immigrants will keep Christianity vital and breakdown Christian “racial and ethnic lines with a shared value system rather than a political agenda.”
When I was a pastor in Boston, I consistently heard the lament over the decline of Christianity in the city of Boston. However, the Boston I knew was filled with vibrant and exciting churches. New churches were being planted throughout the city. Christian programs and ministries were booming in the city. Boston is alive with spiritual revival, particularly among the ethnic minority communities. But very few seem to recognize this reality, even as this trend begins to appear nationally.
UPDATE # 2: Here’s a post that ties together my discussion on the decline of religion with my discussion of Douthat and Dan Brown. The Naked Theologian, references Douthat’s article about Dan Brown:
[R]eligious trends are shifting toward a “generalized ‘religiousness’ detached from the claims of any specific faith tradition.” While a growing numbers of Americans are abandoning organized religion (Douthat bases this claim on recent polling data), they are, by and large, not opting for atheism. The stay-at-home religionists are actively seeking and building their own eclectic and high-personalized theologies “with traditional religion’s dogmas and moral requirements shorn away.”
The Naked Theologian, a UU PHD candidate, makes a Bonhoeffer like charge of “cheap grace” that has diluted American religion.
Another answer: many of us are quasi-universalists–any God worthy of that name loves us and is simply too good to condemn us. We’ve removed God from the judge’s bench in the sky. The all-about-love God, the one to whom we’re willing to pray, no longer sits in judgment of us. God loves us, unconditionally.
And since God loves us, unconditionally, God loves us regardless of how much money we make (how we made it and what we do with it) or how many times we’ve been married (even if our kids end up with exponentially-more-difficult lives).
So, is the unconditional-love God really the kind of God we want?