The American Religious Identification Survey released yesterday by Trinity College has found that (brace yourselves) “secularity continues to grow in strength in all regions of the country.”
Did we really need a report to figure that out? I could have just turned on my television—if it weren’t permanently set to the 700 Club—to reach the same conclusion. I mean think of all that time and money we could have used to find out something important, like, as Christopher Hitchens argues, studying the mutation patterns of fruit flies or “setting up barbed-wire, hair-snagging stations” to get a count on the number of grizzly bears.
(I guess that’s so Stephen Colbert, notorious for his hatred of bears*--and his devastating good looks--will know just how many more he needs to kill. *Note: If you follow the link, you will find an entire web page devoted to Stephen’s Teddy Ruxpin phobio. And, I thought that I had cornered the “How to Waste Your Time on the Internet Without Really Trying” market.)
But this post is supposed to be about religion, not bears or fruit flies, which we all know are decidedly un-Christian. God tells us the only animals that will be in heaven are (1) the lion laying down with the lamb and (2) my goldfish Silver. (I was color-blind as a child. Or, it could have been that “Goldie” had already been taken by my sister’s fish. We were creative like that.)
Still, I must say that the fact that America is becoming more secular doesn’t really worry me. I’m relocating to the French Riviera once this blog skyrockets me into fame, fortune, and utter narcissism. What worries me is that "secularity continues to grow in strength" could just as easily be said about America's churches. "My brothers and sisters, this should not be."
As William Donohue, president of the Catholic League, told Lou Dobbs, "The three most dreaded words are 'thou shalt not.'” He goes on to say it’s not that these people (who claim not to be religious in the survey) are atheists, it’s just that they don’t want to be told what to do with their lives. Newsflash: you can’t have your cake and eat it, too. Anyone who wants to “believe in God” without accepting that there are some “shall” and “shall nots” that go along with the territory is like a person who knows he has a million dollars in the bank but refuses to use it because he doesn’t want his life to change for the better.
In too many churches, people (undoubtedly some of the 75 percent who identified themselves as religious on the survey) can walk into a service having just partied like it was Saturday night(because it was) with no sense of irony or conviction. Now, I’m not going to say I haven’t done it myself, but I felt bad as hell when I did. Why? My church wasn’t afraid to tell people “thou shalt not.” It wasn’t worried about maintaining attendance. It was worried about maintaining souls.
And, to anticipate the charge that I’m preaching fire, brimstone, and judgment, let me insert disclaimer here: I believe anyone who walks into a church should feel welcomed and loved no matter what they may have done the night before. They shouldn’t feel condemned, but they shouldn’t feel comfortable either. Somewhere along the way, they need to hear a “thou shalt not.”
I daresay if churches would begin to work a little more “thou shalt not” into their Sunday morning sessions, there would be a night and day (or would it be heaven and hell?) difference in our churches. More importantly, once those 75 percent share love--and then some "thou shalt nots"--with the other 25 percent, the country's secular landscape might begin to change.
UPDATE: Although evangelicalism was the only sect that did not show a decline in numbers in the American Religious Identification Survey, Michael Spencer thinks the writing is on the wall. He offers this chilling (yet hopeful) assessment of the future of the evangelical world.
"We need new evangelicalism that learns from the past and listens more carefully to what God says about being His people in the midst of a powerful, idolatrous culture."
Undoubtedly, to be successful, this "new evangelicalism" must take a firm stance on some of those old "thou shalt nots."