In the April issue of The Atlantic, Peter Beinart looks at recent polling data on the role of religion in America and notes, as everyone else, that it is lessening, Then develops correlations between that fact and various trends for the worse on both sides of the political spectrum. It is well worth reading but requires patience as by the time Beinart gets to his critique of the Left most conservatives will have tuned out as he first completely excoriates the Right. Would that he had written the piece alternating paragraphs between the Left and Right.
Regardless it is an important piece, but like most statistical work it notes trends but never gets into the reasons behind the trends or the mechanisms of the trend. It paints a clear picture – a picture wherein as religion subsides, politics begins to take on religious significance, but why is that happening? How have we come to be in this state of affairs? Those question would, of course, require book length answers, and the answers would be multiple. No single factor or even small set of factors can account for this trend. One of the more disturbing trends noted is that church is largely becoming a white-collar thing, on either side of the aisle. That is a good jumping off point to comment on a couple of possible factors contributing to this trend.
Christianity in America has become in many instances, and quite prevalently, therapeutic. That is to say rather than deal in facts on heaven and earth, religion anymore tries to address how we “feel” about things. Rather than sin and redemption it is about love and acceptance. (As if redemption is not the ultimate expression of love and acceptance, but that is an argument for a different time.) No longer does religion seek to fix things, it just seeks to help us feel good about them. Yes, we feed the poor, but so often those efforts seem like efforts for us to feel good about our helping them than to actually help them.
Most blue collar people I know have no time for such. They have to, by reason of their circumstance, deal with things very real. They have no time to worry about if they feel good about their circumstances, they just have to do what has to be done to get through the day. Do they feel? Of course they feel, deeply and passionately, but they set those feelings aside in order to concentrate on the task at hand. I can’t blame them for having no truck with a faith that is all warmth and light and no nose to the grindstone.
Secondly, in becoming therapeutic in this fashion, Christianity in America has essentially blended into the woodwork. It has become an alternative to psychotherapy, or Addiction du jour Anonymous, as opposed to an expert concerning things above this earth and a moral authority on it. Church has become one more activity to choose from rather than God’s agent in a community. As a part of the woodwork church has become, rather than the place where Left and Right meet and agree on things higher, a place that chooses to affiliate with Left or Right and there is no higher.
The picture Beinart paints is more bleak than the one I would, but it is essentially correct. He looks at the landscape on a cloudy, rainy day and I would choose to look at it on a sunny, bright day, but we most definitely look at the same landscape. It is a landscape that makes me weep for what church has become. God has pulled His church back from the brink of the abyss many times throughout history and I have no doubt He will this time as well. I just weep for the fact that we keep approaching that brink.