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« Re: Myth of Dialogue | Main | Cheaters* »

September 26, 2007

How Christianity Is Viewed

The latest Barna Update has some sobering findings, including:

  • "a decade ago the vast majority of Americans outside the Christian faith, including young people, felt favorably toward Christianity’s role in society. Currently, however, just 16% of non-Christians in their late teens and twenties said they have a 'good impression' of Christianity.”
  • only 3% of 16- to 29-year-old non-Christians express favorable views of evangelicals.

Then there’s this:

Half of young churchgoers said they perceive Christianity to be judgmental, hypocritical, and too political. One-third said it was old-fashioned and out of touch with reality.

And this:

When young people were asked to identify their impressions of Christianity, one of the common themes was "Christianity is changed from what it used to be" and "Christianity in today’s society no longer looks like Jesus." These comments were the most frequent unprompted images that young people called to mind.

Finally, in remarking on the growing portion of young people who are non-Christian, Barna concludes,

This is not a passing fad wherein young people will become "more Christian" as they grow up. While Christianity remains the typical experience and most common faith in America, a fundamental recalibration is occurring within the spiritual allegiance of America’s upcoming generations.

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Comments

labrialumn

The NEA is being very effective.

Skew how something is discussed in texts, and make its expression illegal, and you cause students to think it is as taught to them, and that it must be bad, since it is treated like other bad behavior.

Patricia

True Christianity is not judgmental unless these people are talking about the judgment of God. Christ is not a hypocrit so they must be talking about the preachers or pastors. What they don't understand is that we are all sinners and do not deserve God's grace but he gives us grace because he loves us. Go to church or praise him for what he is, not what happens in the gatherings of Christians. Know God's heart and his love for you.

jason taylor


Isn't Christianity supposed to be old-fashioned and out of touch with reality? A church(or a person) that changes to much, to suit the times is being cowardly. And is "reality" a thing the church should be in touch with?
Obviously this is rhetorical-the church should be able to be prudent and discerning and have the ability to understand the difference between strange new customs and sin. But a church that isn't being called old-fashioned probably isn't doing it's job.

Brian

Yup.

It saddens me that so much of the Gospel message is not only be lost, but ignored and even gone against, by those most vocally proclaiming Christanity as their religion. And they do it all in His name too.

Anna

So what's our course of actions as Christians?

Mike Perry

There's no surprise about this. There are two primary causes for this change.

1. Those dreadful people on religious TV channels. Who in their right mind would want to be like such people? Shallow, vain, hysterical, materialistic, and (in the audience) easily conned. No thanks! It may not be nice to say, but Hell would be spending eternity with such people.

2. Those who promote bigotry are usually successful, at least for a time. Today's overt, politically correct bigotry is religious rather than racial. Understand that, and you understand the roots of many of our political debates. Christianity is now under attack from two overlapping sources, sources that, oddly enough, rarely criticize the really dangerous elements of Islam.

a. One bigotry is roughly 90 years old. Liberals and progressives in this country have long hated Catholicism because it opposed their eugenic birth control agenda, directed at the "unfit"--typically immigrants, many of them Catholic, from Southern and Eastern Europe. For that, see my book, based on a book by Margaret Sanger: The Pivot of Civilization in Historical Perspective. The modern equivalent of the eugenic agenda is legalized abortion. One liberal English professor pointed at a young, nearby black man and whispered to me, "That's why we need abortion." That's why liberals defend Roe v. Wade. It has nothing to do with rights for women. Abortion legalization was promoted during a manufactured scare about a population explosion that clearly did not want reproduction to be free.

b. The other bigotry flows out of the group that's historically been the nation's #1 promoters of bigotry, the Democratic party. Bigotry is how it blinds people to its corruption and incompetence. I grew up with the party in the old, segregated South and what I heard then from politicians is still alive today. The same claim that "they" (black people then, religious conservatives now) are dangerous and should be controlled. Of course neither group was or is harmful. They're simply in the way of the party's agenda, which is usually money.

****

Of course, no problem should be reduced to what others are doing to you. "Victim" is just another word for loser. Problems also exist because of what you're doing in response.

Number 1 is a problem because Christians are not cleaning house, denouncing in some effective way the buffoons and scoundrels who fill the airwaves and claim to speak in the name of Jesus. And that's because for all too many Evangelical leaders numbers are all that matters. Integrity doesn't run a poor second, it's not in the top ten.

Number 2 is a problem because Evangelicals simply do not know how to think about the world around them. Instead, they're retreat to shallow platitudes, feel-good nostrums, and irrelevant doctrines. For proof, visit any Evangelical bookstore.

A couple of years ago I was researching a book that led me to look at back issues of the largest circulation paper in the Midwest in the 1870s, the Chicago Times. I was impressed with how well the paper's editors and writers were at linking the Christian beliefs they held to contemporary issues. "What happened to them?" I thought.

Then I realized that these people were members of once orthodox mainstream denominations that were decimated by the liberal theologies and Higher Criticism of the late 19th century. Evangelicalism roots unfortunately lie in rural, Midwestern churches. (The real Bible belt stretches from Grand Rapids, through Wheaton to Dallas). There one found a pastor, who might have a sixth-grade education, presiding over a barely literate congregation. Today's congregations and pastors are much better educated, but the scope of their faith is still that of the late-nineteenth century rural Midwest--narrow, unthinking, emotional and focused on the self and immediate needs. Jesus will tell you what car to buy, but he's apparently clueless about any global issue from war to global warming.

More recently, I've been writing another book, the soon-out Chesterton on War. While I was researching it, I was struck by the skill and intelligence with which Chesterton extended his faith to all areas of life, including issues of war and foreign policy. He not only debated H. G. Wells and Bernard Shaw on those topics, his ideas have stood the test of time far better than theirs.

Keep in mind that the people we like, such as C. S. Lewis, became believers because of the broadly relevant, lively, intellectual faith they saw in Chesterton. Lewis doesn't quite equal Chesterton is the broadness of his ideas. His specialization in literature did not leave time for that, but his was still a thinking faith. But the Chesterton/Lewis effect is fading and almost gone, buried under the buffoons. Like begets like. Chesterton attracted thinkers, as did Lewis. Today's Evangelicalism, dominated by TV preachers and clueless mega-church pastors obsessed with numbers, attracts self-obsessed twits.

In today's Evangelicalism, all too many believers seem to be focused excessively on themselves, their petty needs and their even pettier sins. Evangelicals may have knee-jerk reactions for or against the Iraq War, but they have no thought-out views on what is a just war or what we should do about Islamic terrorism. Nor do they know anything--anything at all--about the long series of clashes between Islam and European Christianity. If the typical Evangelical physician or lawyer practiced his profession as shallowly as he practiced his faith, he'd be out of work in a matter of months and probably sued for incompetence.

There's not enough space to go into all that's wrong here. Just keep in mind that the problem is deeply structural. There are not only problems, there are deeply embedded reasons why those problems aren't being addressed, why many will see the solution to this growing bigotry to be hunkering down and burying oneself in yet more pieties and platitudes.

--Michael W. Perry, Seattle
http://www.InklingBooks.com/

Raymond Takashi Swenson

I was fascinated by Mike Perry's comments on the need for more people who are actively and intellectually engaged with the issues facing the world from a Christian perspective. He notes that many influential people in all walks of life were members of mainline Christian denominations back when that meant something other than being politically correct.

When my wife is perusing antique stores, I gravitate toward the old copies of Life magazine from the 1950s and 1960s that are always stacked up in a corner. They are windows into the thinking of the past, and it is surprising sometimes to see the politically correct views of today already being trumpeted in national magazines of the Eisenhower era. Marriage and sexual restraint were already under attack back then. The foundations for hippies and the drug culture and sexual revolution were already being laid by the folks in New York who were opinion leaders, just as they were fashion leaders.

Thinking poorly of Christians today is the path of least resistance for anyone who doesn't read books. Christianity in popular entertainment (movies and TV), outside materials targeted to church-going folk, is blatantly ridiculed for its opposition to the unrestrained, pleasure seeking life touted by media of entertainment whose lifeblood is consumption driven by associating sex with acquisition, whether of the right drugs, the right clothing, the right car, the right alcoholic beverage, the right entertainment, even the right plastic surgery. The epitome of this worship of sex and materialism is the use of botox injections to simulate youthful appearance, injecting yourself with a deadly toxin at a time when the merest hint that some other toxic substance (radiation from a nuclear power plant or residues of a pesticide in food) might be present at a few parts per billion in our food, water or air is denounced as if it were attempted murder. Clearly, sex and the beauty needed to get it are valued much more highly than life itself.

So it is a necessary part of modern sex/material culture that Christianity, and any other religion that says there are more important things than sex and money, is viewed as the enemy of modern culture and its economic engines.

With respect to the Christian response to this obsession with sex and money, I think the key is not so much having culture leaders with the vision of Chesterton, but rather developing Christians who are serious about their religious beliefs and thjink seriously about applying their commitments to Christ in their professions and other activities.

I would suggest that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) are an example of how that can be done. Since Mormons have no professional clergy, the people who have the volunteer leadership and teaching positions in LDS congregations are professionally engaged in the normal variety of careers. Their significant church work (often 10 to 20 hours a week)forces them to think about the application of their beliefs to the workplace. In the best case, this can produce a sanctification of professions, with emphasis on honesty, integrity, service, kindness, and self-sacrifice, as well as reflection on professional standards that includes these Christian perspectives.

This is not to say that such deep involvement in one's church while engaged in a secular profession is not possible in other denominations. I only suggest that the institutional structure of the LDS Church produces this as a natural outgrowth, while other denominations may need to create structures to promote a similar result.

Sy Hoekstra

Jason, I think you have a mixed-up definition of reality. The church is supposed to be in touch with the deepest, most profound reality. Biblically, it is the culture that is out of touch with reality. And no, the church shouldn't be old fashioned. It should be relevant. That doesn't mean wishy washy music or super liberal theology. It means relevant in that the Biblical story of creation, fall, and redemption is still going on today. It is the ultimate human story that never changes, and is never irrelevant.

jason taylor


"Jason, I think you have a mixed-up definition of reality. The church is supposed to be in touch with the deepest, most profound reality. Biblically, it is the culture that is out of touch with reality. And no, the church shouldn't be old fashioned. It should be relevant. That doesn't mean wishy washy music or super liberal theology. It means relevant in that the Biblical story of creation, fall, and redemption is still going on today. It is the ultimate human story that never changes, and is never irrelevant."

Fair enough-perhaps I should have put quotes around "reality".
However I still say the church should in some ways be "old-fashioned", meaning "immutable". Those who worry about being relavant are often perpetually irrelevant.
Remember those old 60's folk-songs? The best ones aren't the political ones which always become dated(except for "MTA", which is about a political issue so obscure that paradoxically it reminds one of politics as part of the general American experience). The best ones speak of love, work, parting, tragedy, things that can be shared from generation to generation.

labrialumn

Mike Perry,

The 19th century Midwest saw an explosion of new colleges established by evangelicals. Most of those colleges have long ago left historic Christianity, but they are still there. An educated clergy was a must. Remember that the Kensington Runestone was rejected as a fake because it was thought that your average Norwegian Lutheran immigrant farmer was well-enough educated to know the medieval Bohuslansk dialect and the particular runes used in that era, as opposed to the myriad other dialects and development of runes over time.

You are tarring falsely, sir.

Tess L

I think that alot of the posts are right, there are many hypocritical or ill informed Christians. However, I believe that even Christians who are intelligent, sensitive and do their best to live their faith will come across alot of opposition and negativity. Many people do not like Christianity because it calls them to a higher standard, one that they don't want to live up to. Accepting Christianity as good, would lead to the question of believing in it and that would neccessitate a huge lifestyle shift or hypocricy, neither of which is acceptable to many people. Christianity makes people feel guilty which can lead to acceptance and change or rejection and dislike. Christians have a responsability to be kind, gentle, well informed and authentic. But don't be surprised if people still reject you and your message. Christ himself warned that his followers wouldn't be winning any popularity contests.

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