Tuesday, March 10, 2009

America is Less Christian: Does that Mean Me?

Last night before I went to bed (really it was the wee hours of the morning), I saw a news story that says fewer Americans identify themselves as Christians. Immediately I thought it's probably because the faith has been hijacked by the Christian Political Right. I have no proof of that, but I've long believed the Christian Right with its dominion theology and its push to remake the nation in its own image is driving people away from belief in Jesus as Lord.

Pure opinion on my part. However, since the Christian Right focuses on forcing people to follow rules before the accept Jesus--thou shalt not have abortions, thou shalt not be gay, thou shalt not disagree with our political agenda--I think they deserve some responsibility in why so many people run from Jesus before they have a chance to consider a personal relationship with him.
(CNN) -- America is a less Christian nation than it was 20 years ago, and Christianity is not losing out to other religions, but primarily to a rejection of religion altogether, a survey published Monday found.

Seventy-five percent of Americans call themselves Christian, according to the American Religious Identification Survey from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. In 1990, the figure was 86 percent.

William Donohue, president of the Catholic League said he thinks a radical shift towards individualism over the last quarter-century has a lot to do it.

"The three most dreaded words are thou shalt not," he told Lou Dobbs. "Notice they are not atheists -- they are saying I don't want to be told what to do with my life."(CNN)
And yet, the article says "The survey also found that "born-again" or "evangelical" Christianity is on the rise, while the percentage who belong to "mainline" congregations such as the Episcopal or Lutheran churches has fallen." So maybe people need more structure, a defined course because evangelical Christianity demands commitment.

It's my belief that people should be drawn to the Jesus in you by how you live your own life and how you show love and compassion not by how you tell them they should live their lives. In fact the Apostle Peter told early Christians to not be busybodies, meaning don't run and tell the pagans how to live or try to force a Christian lifestyle on them. They were to show and preach faith in Jesus first.

Repeatedly we see in the New Testament that belief in Jesus must come before living a "moral life." The faith moves you to works not the works move you to faith.

I suspect people who are drawn to evangelical Christians and "born again" believers are drawn because they are seeing a conviction and yes, even light. When you meet a group of these type of believers who are more focused on following Jesus than on forcing America to bow to Christian doctrine, you see people showing a willingness to help others and living balanced lives. Balance is appealing. We crave balance, and let's lets face it, structure and balance simplifies our lives, reduces stress.

No, I'm not a Christian preacher. If you're enduring this post from me today, then blame it on Rachelle Mee-Chapman at BlogHer. Today I saw her post Lenten Thoughts: Why I Stick with Jesus Even When I Don't Believe." That combined with the report that America is becoming less Christian brought on this fit of spiritual examination.

Like Rachelle, I have had some struggles staying at the hem of the Savior's garment, but I think it's because I've stopped indoctrinating myself. I haven't joined a church since I moved back home, pick up the Bible only occasionally when I used to read it daily, pray now in slips of tongue as "Oh, Lord, help me" when I'm weary with life. It's hard to hold onto faith if you don't make a commitment to immerse yourself in scripture, surround yourself with other believers, and stay on your knees speaking to the Invisible. But then I ask myself why must I practice daily self-brainwashing to maintain my faith?

The answer comes back clearly that it's the love of God that drives you to immerse yourself in God, and like any other relationship if you don't nurture communication, it withers. It's the seed of faith that keeps God there when you ignore the Spirit. It's fear and stubbornness that keep you running in the opposite direction. Some of that fear is fear of looking like a fool for believing wrongly, which is why I think the Apostle Paul spoke of being "a fool for Christ."

If you read Paul's writings, you see that he was a brilliant logical thinker. If you're logical, then it will occur to you occasionally that perhaps you missed something; perhaps you're insane. Your logical mind challenges your irrational beliefs, and in this age of high tech and science that consistently throws religion under the bus, the battle for your faithful heart is waged moment to moment.

For instance, what do we Christians, who are taught only Jesus brings peace of mind, do with this kind of information published by a neurologist after research:
Based on new evidence culled from their brain-scan studies on memory patients and meditators, their Web-based survey of people's religious and spiritual experiences, and their analyses of adult drawings of God, neuroscientist Andrew Newberg, therapist Mark Robert Waldman, and their research team have concluded that active and positive spiritual belief changes the human brain for the better. What's more, actual faith isn't always necessary: atheists who meditate on positive imagery can obtain similar neurological benefits. (Andrew Newberg's site)
Do we dismiss it assuming Newberg has an anti-Christian agenda and so his science must be flawed? Do we say, "Ahh, but that's only further proof that a Creator has equipped us to believe in God even when we don't want to?"

In addition, a study of ancient archetypes may cause us to doubt, as Rachelle speaks of John Campbell's assertion of truth bearing myths. I saw the movie Watchmen over the weekend, for instance, and was reminded that the ancient Egyptian pharaohs believed in a final resurrection. That threw me for a second because that belief is also part of Christian doctrine, and it would be easy to hear that and think Christianity is just an amalgamation of ancient beliefs that powerful leaders know are effective for controlling the masses.

Yet, if I believe that, how can I explain some personal, very real experiences I've had with the presence of God. Do I walk away and say I imagined it all? If I accept that, then am I saying I was nuts? The mind is a tricky thing and why we believe whatever we believe may be rooted in our brain chemistry, but is it possible a higher power is behind that brain chemistry?

I know there are people who would disagree with what I've said or anything that appears to support faith in anything much less faith in Jesus as Messiah because they don't believe in anything they can't see and they see myriad details daily that they believe points elsewhere. It's also hard for people who've been completely immersed in beliefs different from belief in Jesus to do anything other than dismiss what I'm saying. Their brains are screaming, "Oh, listen to her. That's crazy talk! She's uninformed."

I told Rachelle in comments that ultimately we believe what we want to believe, and it occurs to me that perhaps we also beleive what's convenient for us to believe. The number of proofs that support our faith or proofs that don't support it matter less than we think. Case in point, I read Josh McDowell's book Evidence that Demands a Verdict, and it made sense to me. But I can also see holes in what he says because my mind's wheels are always spinning. Is this why we have to let go and surrender to the mystery of God because it takes a power beyond us to stop our spinning?

McDowell's updated his book and much of what he says still makes sense from what I see in his lecture on video. Perhaps I'll pick up the latest copy, open my Bible, pray for more than 30 seconds and brainwash myself in the power of God. If it gives me peace of mind, ain't nobody's business but my own.

Part Two   ||  Part Three

1 comment:

Zane Wetzel said...

I find it interesting where you say
"It's hard to hold onto faith if you don't make a commitment to immerse yourself in scripture, surround yourself with other believers, and stay on your knees speaking to the Invisible. But then I ask myself why must I practice daily self-brainwashing to maintain my faith?"

I know of a lot of believers in this exact predicament. It is not easy to do all this and really search hard enough to truly know God. You said that it is the love of God that drives you to know Him, however I know many people don't feel any love from God. maybe they just dont understand His love, but they often blame Him for bad things that happen. You hear it all the time when someone says "How could God let this happen?". I think there must be more of a reason to really search to Know God. I have been studying with some friends and we believe that times are coming in this world where it's going to be very vital to know Him and why he is doing what he is doing.

I have a great desire to help bring this country back to God. oh by the way, do you know any true Prophets?