[This is the “paper” that I delivered to a group of students (from South Georgia State College) and other citizens from the community of Coffee County, Georgia. I did not go into every point in depth (due to time restraints), but hopefully it will encourage readers to think.]
On the topic of the decline of Christianity in America, I must state that it is a truth that cannot be disavowed by those who claim to be adherents of this particular religion. Though it is not necessarily a major jump, there are numbers that show it is in a steady decline, especially for those who are in the millennial generation. If anyone believes that this topic is a falsehood, then you would not have to go far, all you would have to do is go to the vast number of churches in Coffee County, Georgia, and ask them the number of converts that they have seen in the past year. Then, you can ask the Christian groups or clubs on South Georgia State’s campus and see how many students are actively involved with their meetings or group activities. But it is also not just about the numbers; it is not just about the converts, it is also about the way that people are truly living when they claim to be Christian. Therefore, you can ask any number of people about the behavior and actions committed by supposed Christians and see if they cannot immediately tell you about actions that are not in alignment with some of precepts that are stated in Christian beliefs. So, personal anecdotes may give us some insight in the lack of robust Christian influence in the times in which we live, but there has been research done to back this assertion. You can look up information and studies done by Lifeway Research, a branch of the Southern Baptist Convention, or the Pew Research Center, which is a think tank, based in Washington, D.C., that gives statistics on the trends that are shaping the United States and the world. These words were found from a study on the Pew Research Center’s website from November 3, 2015:
The share of U.S. adults who say they believe in God, while still remarkably high by comparison with other advanced industrial countries, has declined modestly, from approximately 92% to 89%, since Pew Research Center conducted its first Landscape Study in 2007. The share of Americans who say they are “absolutely certain” God exists has dropped more sharply, from 71% in 2007 to 63% in 2014. And the percentages who say they pray every day, attend religious services regularly and consider religion to be very important in their lives also have ticked down by small but statistically significant margins.
The falloff in traditional religious beliefs and practices coincides with changes in the religious composition of the U.S. public. A growing share of Americans are religiously unaffiliated, including some who self-identify as atheists or agnostics as well as many who describe their religion as “nothing in particular.” Altogether, the religiously unaffiliated (also called the “nones”) now account for 23% of the adult population, up from 16% in 2007.
Pew Research Center surveys consistently show that not all religious “nones” are nonbelievers. In fact, the majority of Americans without a religious affiliation say they believe in God. As a group, however, the “nones” are far less religiously observant than Americans who identify with a specific faith. And, as the “nones” have grown in size, they also have become even less observant than they were when the original Religious Landscape Study was conducted in 2007. The growth of the “nones” as a share of the population, coupled with their declining levels of religious observance, is tugging down the nation’s overall rates of religious belief and practice. (http://www.pewforum.org/2015/11/03/u-s-public-becoming-less-religious/)
Then, I found an article from the Lifeway Research titled, “American ‘Millenials’ are Spiritually Diverse,” that recorded these words back on April 27, 2010:
Two-thirds of American “Millennials” – those born between 1980 and 1991 – call themselves Christian, but far fewer pray or read the Bible daily, attend weekly worship services, or hold to historical positions on the Bible and its teachings.
These are the findings from a wide-ranging August 2009 LifeWay Research study of 1,200 Millennials in the United States.
The study found that 65 percent of Millennials identify themselves as Christian, while 14 percent say they are atheist or agnostic, 14 percent list no religious preference, and 8 percent claim other religions.
Thirty-one percent of Millennials pray by themselves at least once a day, while 20 percent never pray. Only 8 percent pray with others on a daily basis, compared with 65 percent that rarely or never pray with other people.
In response to the question: “You read the Bible, Torah, Koran, or other sacred writings,” 67 percent of Millennials say they rarely or never do. Only 8 percent read the Bible or other sacred texts on a daily basis, although, in total, 21 percent do so at least once a week, and 34 percent do so at least once a month.
One in four Millennials attends religious worship services once a week or more, but two out of three rarely or never visit a church, synagogue, mosque or temple.
Twenty percent meet with others at least monthly in a small group to study the Bible or other sacred texts, but 80 percent rarely or never do so. A slight majority (53 percent) disagree (strongly or somewhat) that the Bible is the written Word of God and is totally accurate in all it teaches.
“The research shows us that religion and its practices are decreasing and becoming increasingly privatized among the Millennial generation,” said Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources. “With fewer people attending worship services or praying with other faith adherents, it is not surprising that the religious landscape of our culture is changing with the maturation of the Millennials.” (http://www.lifewayresearch.com/2010/04/27/lifeway-research-finds-american-millennials-are-spiritually-diverse/)
So, even the research is showing that there is a clear shift in holding to so-called Christian values.
Now, the reason or reasons for this change, I believe, are many. I do not see one specific factor that is sweeping Christianity under the rug so-to-speak, but many issues, although I will deal with what I believe to be one major cause at length in a moment. One factor that Christianity may be in decline is due to the direction of the culture and many young people being influenced by reality television shows, music, and other celebrities and their many ideologies. Another factor that may be put forth by some irreligious people (and this is just one because there are many atheist thinkers with a wide array of arguments that they believe shakes the foundations of religious institutions) would be that religion’s decline is due to humanity’s evolution. Some may argue that mankind positing belief in a God was a part of mankind’s lack of understanding or gaps in his knowledge of the universe and humanity’s origins. Therefore, they may believe that the more empirical evidence that we have for naturalism, which may be defined as “a philosophical viewpoint according to which everything arises from natural properties and causes, and supernatural or spiritual explanations are excluded or discounted (I got this definition from an Oxford online dictionary),” the less there is a need to posit there being a God when certain data is being interpreted as not affirming any belief in a supernatural Creator.
Now, even with the previous two factors adding some fuel, it is my honest belief that what is causing Christianity to experience some small flames is in some cases its devotees appear to be not completely sold out to what they believe, so they compartmentalize their supposed faith for specific days of the week and not every day of their life; representing it in a way that others may see as hateful (as has been shown in some major historical moments); or the divisions that it seems to cause among so many of its believers. If you take notice to the factors that I am putting out, then you will notice that all of these are relational issues. Now, I hate to sound demeaning to Christianity, but if I may look at it as a “product” for sale for a moment. In order for a salesman to push his product for people to buy, he must make his product sound better than the competitor’s. Also, the salesman must look the part, look good, sound good, and give the feeling that he uses his product himself, so much so, he may claim that he is a new person from having used it. Well, in some ways, the adherent of Christianity, the follower of Christ, should be as committed and as convicted about their faith as the salesman is about his product, and even more so, if the Christian believes that there are eternal implications to accepting their faith as truth. The Christian then cannot go about life and the relationships in some sort of boring routine. If you have read even a bit about Jesus and His life, you will see that He took people very seriously. He loved His disciples. He healed the sick. He blessed prostitutes when others wanted to stone them. So, He truly shows by His actions and His Words that He……valued people. When people think back about the history of Christianity in America, they think about those who claimed Christianity as having backed slavery, they think about those who were said to have been Christians as looking down on women’s rights, denying minorities’ rights, high rates of divorce, hateful speech, molestation cases, among other so-called sins. Now, hypocrisy does not necessarily make a belief system false, but it does cause others to see it as unworthy of their time and invaluable to society’s issues. So, even if Christianity is true, the lives of its believers are what will give it lasting power for generations to come.
I will conclude with a quote from the great Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of the Indian independence movement, who believed in nonviolent civil disobedience and had a huge influence over Dr. Martin Luther King. Gandhi was once to have said: “I like your Christ, but I don’t like your Christian. Your Christian is so unlike your Christ!” This was and is a powerful statement to any person that says that they follow Jesus. Jesus was unlike those around Him, even those who considered themselves to be religious and following God’s Law. Therefore, the Christian ought to be unlike the world around him or her, if he or she is to be truly a follower of this Jesus. So then, maybe, the Christianity that is in decline, will give way to a Christianity that is truly a replica of the Jesus of old and not a man-molded Christianity filled with abhorrent things.