April 3, 2017 - Why is Religious Affiliation Declining?
Even though the rate of affiliation with organized religion is dropping fast, people still believe in the existence of God by an overwhelming majority. In fact, a mere three percent of Americans identify as “atheist.” But if you believe in God, shouldn’t that fact be reflected in the way you live your life? I think most would say that it should, and that belief in God requires you to live a particularly moral life. In other words, if you are a ‘good person,’ you have met the principal requirement of being a Christian. Affiliation has nothing to do with it.
However, many of these same people chaff at the thought that belief is necessary to be good. Others recognize that most values – to avoid violence, to be kind and charitable, to be humble, to develop your talents – are pursued by both religious and fully secular people. Atheists and agnostics seem to be just as interested in these values as religious people. The only values that seem unique to religion - sexual mores – tend to be make religious values look stuffy and intolerant.
It is this morass that causes people to fall away from affiliation while remaining believers. If Christianity is principally a value system, and the value system it espouses is universal, then why be a practicing Christian?
In my book, Faith on a Stone Foundation: Free Will, Morality and the God of Abraham, I argue what may be an extremely provocative point: that Christianity is not a value system. Judeo-Christianity seems to support both sides of every moral quandary because it is not a method to distinguish right from wrong or even an exhortation to do right rather than wrong. Christianity is a belief system. Its prerequisites include belief in the existence of God and belief that Christ is our Savior and Redeemer. That last part is a hard pill to swallow. It seems like antiquated mumbo-jumbo. We’d rather believe that Jesus is a road map to self-redemption and an example of what we need to do to achieve self-salvation – one more moral example in the same category as Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King and Mahatma Ghandi. But Christianity includes the challenge to make sense of that status and not dismiss it. Together, in community, and in affiliation with a faith tradition, is fertile ground for that exploration and the encounter it implies.