It is a popular claim by atheists that eventually science will somehow eliminate the need for religion. Many even argue that in our present age of exponentially advancing technology, we are already beginning to see the numerical decline of religious persons in the United States. This, they claim, is manifest by such studies as the Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape Study. I disagree with such assertions. What we are actually seeing isn’t the initial stages of the demise of Christianity. Instead, what we are witnessing is the reoccurring periodic rise of societal arrogance and immaturity.
American Christians seem to be baffled as to how “Nones”–those persons who identify as religiously unaffiliated atheists, agnostics, or “nothing in particular”–have grown in number so rapidly in the United States. We are quick to blame politicians, celebrities, technology, or even other Christians with whom we disagree theologically for this increasing trend. But as I see it, the problem resides not with the “Nones,” but with the Church universal’s growing lack of religious formational training and nurture.
At a very rudimentary level, we as Christians seem to be growing increasingly dismissive of our children’s religious developmental needs. It might serve us well to remember that babies are not born atheists. Furthermore, if we push the point, there really is no such thing as an atheist, because technically, everyone has a god.
While this may seem an unfamiliar concept to some, by definition, a god is just “a person or thing that is excessively worshiped and admired; an all absorbing passion, pursuit, or hobby; something idolized.” Since an excess of anything is simply “an amount or quality greater than is necessary,” and worship, in its most basic form, means “to have an ardent devotion, or adoration for something,” one must simply have actual or substantial concern for a passion, pursuit, or hobby that is slightly more than ordinate for it to be considered a god. It thus quickly becomes evident that, although it may not be personified, everyone has a god.
This fact that people aren’t born atheists matters when we consider our religious development because it suggests that we are biologically oriented toward embracing religious training and nurture. When babies are born, they understandably worship the source of their basic needs, such things as their mother’s milk, their parents, or a maybe even a favorite toy. But as a child grows older and develops as a human being, their needs evolve and expand, and their focus of worship then changes. Whether or not a child matures into understanding that it is more logical to worship a God who champions love, peace, compassion and justice as opposed to a deficient idol usually has less to do with the child and more to do with how those who are caring for the child model behavior for them.
Of course, capital “A” Atheists–those who lack belief in a supernatural or personified God or who, more likely, have critiques of the misappropriations of organized religion–do exist. But, divergent from popular opinion, their critiques of the Church are not what ultimately convince persons to leave organized religion. To the contrary, it is our failure as Christians to humbly hear and respond to constructive criticism that demonstrates to the younger generation that we aren’t really willing to work for Christ’s redemptive purposes. And often times, instead of repenting from our failure to guide our children into religious maturity as human beings, we shift the blame to others for our irresponsibility and arrogance.
Put succinctly, it isn’t science or technology that is dissuading persons away from God. Nor is it politicians, celebrities, Atheists, or persons who hold fringe religious positions. It is each of us who confesses Jesus with our words and then denies him with our lifestyles. Our large-scale idolatry of self-absorption and religious immaturity is growing the population of “Nones” whose primary hope is simply that there is a better way of living than what we are modeling. Fortunately for them, and us, there is a better way. It is in and through the person of Jesus Christ.
Reality Changing Observations:
1. What behaviors do you believe that self-proclaimed Christians must exemplify to better exalt and exude Christ?
2. Given the above definition of worship, what are some things that you worship in life aside from God?
3. How might you focus your worship more intently on God in ways that you haven’t in the past?