America Come of Age

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I will get back to the part II of "Can the Resurrection be Historical?" I have been aware of this Barna study on the image of Christianity in America since it came out a few weeks ago, and have been waiting until I had time to do something on it.

New study findings for the Barna group indicate ill portents. Is this a real paradigm shift in culture or hope to sell a book?

A New Generation Expresses its Skepticism and Frustration with Christianity
The Barna Group (website),September 24, 2007

(Ventura, CA) - As the nation’s culture changes in diverse ways, one of the most significant shifts is the declining reputation of Christianity, especially among young Americans. A new study by The Barna Group conducted among 16- to 29-year-olds shows that a new generation is more skeptical of and resistant to Christianity than were people of the same age just a decade ago.
The study of Christianity’s slipping image is explored in a new book, entitled unChristian, by David Kinnaman, the president of The Barna Group. The study is a result of collaboration between Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons of the Fermi Project.
Rising Reactions

The study shows that 16- to 29-year-olds exhibit a greater degree of criticism toward Christianity than did previous generations when they were at the same stage of life. In fact, in just a decade, many of the Barna measures of the Christian image have shifted substantially downward, fueled in part by a growing sense of disengagement and disillusionment among young people. For instance, 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.
One of the groups hit hardest by the criticism is evangelicals. Such believers have always been viewed with skepticism in the broader culture. However, those negative views are crystallizing and intensifying among young non-Christians. The new study shows that only 3% of 16 - to 29-year-old non-Christians express favorable views of evangelicals. This means that today’s young non-Christians are eight times less likely to experience positive associations toward evangelicals than were non-Christians of the Boomer generation (25%).

The research shows that many Christians are innately aware of this shift in people’s perceptions of Christianity: 91% of the nation’s evangelicals believe that "Americans are becoming more hostile and negative toward Christianity." Among senior pastors, half contend that "ministry is more difficult than ever before because people are increasingly hostile and negative toward Christianity."

This is a very alarming finding. It really bodes ill as a major cultural shift away form a positive image for Christianity can only be a prelude to the decline of Christianity as a major cultural force. Christianity as a "cultural force" was a tenuous propagation at best anyway. We never did actually live up to the teachings of Jesus, now Jesus is perceived less as a positive cultural icon.

I had a professor at Perkins who used to say that Christianity is just 'something to leave the grand kids" meaning he had written off his own children as former believers. He felt that the faith would have to skip a generation. This was more than a decade ago. But the thing is, if it skips a generation, how can it even be available to the grandkids?

Least we think our efforts at apologetics are colossal failures, this stuff has nothing to do with message boards or the issues we argue on them.It is not the victory fo the atheists and has nothing to do with the "new atheists" or the Dawkinisians. We Christians can take comfort in the fact that we shot ourselves in the foot.

The Set of Perceptions

While Christianity has typically generated an uneven reputation, the research shows that many of the most common critiques are becoming more concentrated. The study explored twenty specific images related to Christianity, including ten favorable and ten unfavorable perceptions. Among young non-Christians, nine out of the top 12 perceptions were negative. Common negative perceptions include that present-day Christianity is judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%), old-fashioned (78%), and too involved in politics (75%) - representing large proportions of young outsiders who attach these negative labels to Christians. The most common favorable perceptions were that Christianity teaches the same basic ideas as other religions (82%), has good values and principles (76%), is friendly (71%), and is a faith they respect (55%).
Even among young Christians, many of the negative images generated significant traction. 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.

One surprise in the data is the direction taken by positive perception of gays and how that plays out against Christianity:

Interestingly, the study discovered a new image that has steadily grown in prominence over the last decade. Today, the most common perception is that present-day Christianity is "anti-homosexual." Overall, 91% of young non-Christians and 80% of young churchgoers say this phrase describes Christianity. As the research probed this perception, non-Christians and Christians explained that beyond their recognition that Christians oppose homosexuality, they believe that Christians show excessive contempt and unloving attitudes towards gays and lesbians. One of the most frequent criticisms of young Christians was that they believe the church has made homosexuality a "bigger sin" than anything else. Moreover, they claim that the church has not helped them apply the biblical teaching on homosexuality to their friendships with gays and lesbians.

this would never have happened in the America of my childhood. In those days you could on bigotry. It is a shock to me that this has happened.I would never have thought that gayness would be accepted to such an extent that to counter it would be such a huge negative that it would poison the image of even fundamental social institution as Christianity. This causes me to question "is Christianity still a social institution in America?" If not I think I have some surprising analysis as to why it is not. But I will save that of the piece. just suffice to say or now th ti sis indeed an ill portent for an old sociology major.

While the majority of young people still identify Jesus as a positive figure (although I am shocked by what little esteem he is held among atheist ranks) there is less connection with the Church or with Christians as upholders of Jesus' values:

The ‘UnChristian’ Label
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, mentioned by one-quarter of both young non-Christians (23%) and born again Christians (22%).
Kinnaman explained, "That’s where the term 'unChristian' came from. Young people are very candid. In our interviews, we kept encountering young people - both those inside the church and outside of it - who said that something was broken in the present-day expression of Christianity. Their perceptions about Christianity were not always accurate, but what surprised me was not only the severity of their frustration with Christians, but also how frequently young born again Christians expressed some of the very same comments as young non-Christians."

yet the most significant finding in the study is demographic. It illustrates clearly that Christianity is over in America. While it will still be around in major strength throughout the next few presidential elections, it will decline more an more until the grand kids of generation y wont even know what it was:

Changing Allegiances

One reason that Christianity’s image is changing is due to the shifting faith allegiances of Americans. Simply put, each new generation has a larger share of people who are not Christians (that is, atheists, agnostics, people associated with another faith, or those who have essentially no faith orientation). The new book refers to this group as "outsiders" because they are describing what Christianity looks like from an outsider’s perspective. Among adults over the age of 40, only about one-quarter qualify as outsiders, while among the 16 to 29 segment, two-fifths are outsiders. This represents a significant migration away from the dominant role that Christianity has had in America.

The Proportion of those "Outside"
Christianity is Growing with Each Generation

Source: The Barna Group, Ltd. 2007

As pointed out in the Barna Update related to atheists and agnostics, 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.
Yet, the research shows that millions of young outsiders have significant experience with Christians and Christian churches. The typical young outsider says they have five friends who are Christians; more than four out of five have attended a Christian church for a period of at least six months in the past; and half have previously considered becoming a Christian.
"Older generations more easily dismiss the criticism of those who are outsiders," Kinnaman said. "But we discovered that young leaders and young Christians are more aware of and concerned about the views of outsiders, because they are more likely to interact closely with such people. Their life is more deeply affected by the negative image of Christianity. For them, what Christianity looks like from an outsider’s perspective has greater relevance, because outsiders are more likely to be schoolmates, colleagues, and friends."

Kinnaman makes his own observations:

Responding to the Research

David Kinnaman, who is a 12-year-veteran of the Barna team, pointed out some of the unexpected findings of the research. "Going into this three-year project, I assumed that people’s perceptions were generally soft, based on misinformation, and would gradually morph into more traditional views. But then, as we probed why young people had come to such conclusions, I was surprised how much their perceptions were rooted in specific stories and personal interactions with Christians and in churches. When they labeled Christians as judgmental this was not merely spiritual defensiveness. It was frequently the result of truly ‘unChristian’ experiences. We discovered that the descriptions that young people offered of Christianity were more thoughtful, nuanced, and experiential than expected."

"Some Christians fear the changing reputation of Christianity and it certainly represents an uncomfortable future. Yet, rather than being defensive or dismissive, we should learn from critics, especially those young Christians who are expressing consternation about the state of faith in America. Jesus told us to expect hostility and negative reactions. That is certainly nothing new. But the issue is what we do with it. Is it a chance to defend yourself and demand your rights? Or is it an opportunity to show people grace and truth? Common ground is becoming more difficult to find between Christians and those outside the faith. When the Apostle Paul advises believers to 'live wisely among those who are not Christians' and to 'let your conversation be gracious and effective,' (Colossians 4:5-6, NLT) he could be writing no better advice to committed Christians in America." The book also includes exclusive perspective from 30 Christian leaders, including Mark Batterson, Chuck Colson, Louie Giglio, Dan Kimball, Brian McLaren, Kevin Palau, John Stott, and Rick Warren. Kinnaman described their contribution as an effort "to make sense of the complex and challenging project - both why the problems exist as well as what Christians ought to do in response to the information. We looked for the biblical space in order to respond to the sharpest criticism. Beyond simply reporting the problems that we discovered among a skeptical generation, my partner Gabe Lyons and I want the book to help Christians find a way forward, to read positive examples and find hope that their life can provide a clearer picture of Jesus to skeptical people around them."

We we should fear the results it' sa total disaster, I am not surprised, however, this shift has been in the making for over a decade. I first realized it would come in the late 80s when reading Bonehoffer's letters and papers from prison. Bonehoeffer says that the attempts of fundamentalists to turn back the clock merely seeded it up. The logic there is the attempt to go back bring to a head conflicts brewing between traditionalists and those of a nostalgic bent, with those who are caught in the train of new styles and fashions. If the conflict occurs too early, before the traditionalists factions are able to deal with the necessary compromises and if the forces of change have gathered momentum, the changes will come and the clock will speed up. I realized this would happen as a result of the Reagan era. Sure enough we had the postmodern boom of the first part of the 90s and the gay lib movement that succeeded to such wild degree that they got 90% of non gays to push their line. It has something to do with treating people fairly or something I don't understand it (yes, atheists that is that "sarcasm stuff").

As the research indicates, this is not the result of political pressure or advertising it has to do with the insular subculture of fundamentalism. If Evangelicals do not learn this now we are doomed. Rather a lot of people are doomed who would otherwise find Jesus, and we will have a much harder time of it in the apologetics racket. We, American evangelicals, because a subculture that was so arrogant and contemptuous of the rest of society that we alienated everyone else and failed to grasp the changes as the happened. I'm extrapolating fr

There are some other trends that I believe have added to the reaction. In Eastern Europe we saw that after the cold war and the fall of communism major trends of secularism set in. Why? People hung on to faith all those years that they were under the gun and when they are free to seek God, they give up and seek consumer goods and discos instead.It's because there is something very alluring about modern autonomy. When they no longer needed faith as a social cohesion to stand oppression, they are free to seek modern autonomy. This exacerbates the trend because no one is more into modern autonomy than Americans. As long as it was confined to consumer products that was ok, America remained predominately Christian, but Christians sought wealth and spent opulently and allowed themselves to become vapid and uneducated. Part of that consumer society came to reflect the idea of sexual preference. People began to understand themselves as "sensual beings" and what had previously been understood as "dark forces of libido" became a basic human right. One that happened you really can't go back. you can't put that back in the bottle and return to the simple days of "the old time Gospel hour." Once you realize that you are sexual being and you have a "preference" and it's your right to explore what that is, you cannot return to the good old days of innocent virtue. This changes the way people see themselves and the way they understand how to be in the world, as long as we haven't grasped that we can't relate to them. The two groups are alien creatures to each other.

In summation it is really Bonehoeffer who proves to be the prophetic force here, and who may be our guide. His idea that modern man had come of age scandalized the Evangelical world. Bonehoeffer said this while in prison waiting to be executed for taking part in the plot to kill Hitler. Many wondered how the heck could he say that this insane frenzied Nazi culture had "come of age?" Because he didn't say it grew up to be a "splendid young person" only that it was old to be kept under the tutor. No German society had grown up dysfunctional but it was still too old for knee paints. This is what has happened in America. We are not the fine young adults we wish we were, he have issues. We have problems, but we are grown. We are no longer willing to be kept under the tutelage of the Church. We are now independent, bearers fo modern autonomy and we are going make our own mistakes.

That is just what we are going to do.


Leslie said…
When nations leave religion, they always come back to it. They have leaders who say "get rid of it and things will be better." But things don't get better. They get worse and worse until the entire nation is in despair. And then someone finally says, "we need to do something about this." And they do, and they find that it works amazingly. Usually, it is Christians who are the first into these places to offer them the hope they have been denied. If this country shifts from Christianity to skepticism, doubt and all that, it's of great concern for souls, but little concern for the future of Christianity. Their lack of hope will shine through in the end, no matter how much or how strongly they proclaim the contrary. Then God will once again be glorified, and all the more so. The fact is, no matter how much they try to sugar coat it, atheism offers no objective hope, and that will forever haunt their worldview.

On the other hand, I think there is still time to turn all this around, and I hold out hope for the future. We serve a powerful God, after all.
Anonymous said…
J.L. Hinman,

What do you think is the media's role in this?

Looking from the outside, it looks like when ever Ann Coulter, late Jerry Farwell or Westboro Babtist do/say something they are in the news and the moderates do not get much airtime. It gives an expression that the moderates silently agree. Catholic priest pedophile cases gives also plenty of bad press and I tend to get an impression other denominations don't want to make a big deal about it paying a small publicity price for that.

On the other hand Internet is a great source to find like minded people and non-mainstream information, so minorities like atheists and wicca can get organised easier and get a voice.

Northern Europe has already moved to post-Christianity. Do you think that is how the US will end up being in 20 years time?

Anonymous said…

They have leaders who say "get rid of it and things will be better." But things don't get better. They get worse and worse until the entire nation is in despair.

In Scandinavia countries have state churches and compulsory religion teaching in the school. The leaders advocate Christianity, but the people are moving away from it. And the times are better that ever. How do you explain that?

I think there is still time to turn all this around
What do you think would work to turn this around?

That's ridiculous to try and draw conclusions from Eastern (what is really "central") Europe yet. It's too recently freed from the soviet paradigm and they are still dealing with the one dimensional man thing.They are not leaving christianity because they suddenly discovered it is not true. It's because suddenly they can go to the beach and get laid.
"Northern Europe has already moved to post-Christianity. Do you think that is how the US will end up being in 20 years time??"

No, 10

Europe is a lot more religious than the figures show. Did you see on PBS about a year ago there was a show about how the new age occult sort of stuff has shot way up in Sweden and Scandinavia? It's the real wacy stuff like faeries.

God is in our brains and wont go away. Ok I should save this for a blog
jack perry said…
I'll risk some controversy and argue that a much higher proportion of those who remain nominal Christians really do have faith, whereas many of the nominal Christians of the past merely drifted along with the cultural tides. After all, it is 20th century Christianity that led us into the current mire of consumerism, self-centeredness, and lust, so that Christian faith is largely missing from mass media in this country. (Compare to "secular" countries like Italy, where RAI regularly broadcasts programs related to faith, along with the usual garbage.) A large number of so-called Christians now have no idea that there is a living Christian culture that is beautiful, self-giving, and simple. They are ignorant of their own faith. Loving one's enemies, giving to the poor, living chastely, avoiding vices like greed, envy, and lust, are foreign concepts.

Moreover, the decent majority of Christians have been lulled into complacency. They are silent, largely absent from the cultural sphere—a hypocrite attracts more attention than a hard-working, dedicated volunteer—and often uninterested in spreading the Good News. At many public universities there are preachers funded by... someone, not sure who, and these men (they're always men) preach hellfire and damnation bereft of Christ's love. At the university where I work, the preacher condemns women for attending college, and men for wearing sandals. Amazingly, he would have condemned our Lord and the apostles...

This is the only image many college students will ever have of Christianity: some half-witted bigot spewing hate. Sure, some students have support structures for their faith, but as for the rest... Many of these students are out in the world for the first time away from their parents' supervision, and their parents are not usually models of faith either, truth be told. These students wrongly see this man as a representative of enthusiastic Christians faith. Never mind the foreign exchange students and the non-Christians students. I'd develop a negative view of Christianity, too, if that's what I saw primarily.

We need to change radically our approach to evangelization. People don't want to hear convincing intellectual arguments against the neo-atheists. They want Christians to put up or shut up, with lives that are really focused on the thing they claim they believe is most important. A good career and a high salary cannot be our priorities if Christ is at the center of our life.

These trends won't reverse for a long, long time, and will require a renewal of Christianity before they do.

Apologies for the long comment; it's meant for me as much as for anyone else who reads it.
BK said…
My father-in-law used to say something to the effect of, "the biggest reason people don't become Christians is other Christians." Yes, Christians have, by and large, been very poor ambassadors for Christ. Yes, the decline in Christianity is being brought about in part -- maybe even in large part -- by the bigotry, malevolence, malfeasance and rudeness of people wearing the mantle of Christians. In part (and this will probably get me in trouble with some fellow Christians), I think that the loss of faith in Christianity is brought about by parents who try to sheild their kids from the society at large by homeschooling them, and when these kids are then released as young adults into the world they find that they are unprepared to respond to the many differing ideas that confront them.

Two things, however: first, I wholeheartedly agree that this decline is not due to some overwhelming evidence that Christianity is untrue. The attacks that have intensified on the intellectual level have been responded to quite ably by Christians. This downturn is not a failing of "truth" in Christianty, but rather a failing of "perception" about Christianity.

Second, I am not particularly concerned about these numbers. God's church will not ever leave this earth. There may be a pruning back of the branches that are unfruitful, but the church can and will survive. In fact, I believe that at some point God will once again bring renewal to the church and that will work to transform society.
Ron said…
As a young Christian attending college I definitely see these trends play out on my campus. For us it is the "Preachers with Signs" who come every year holding large signs condemning gay people and others to hell. They stand in the quad and shout out to passing students that they'll burn forever if they don't listen to them. We have Christian groups a'plenty at our campus but since they don't evangelize at all, non-Christian students only here these preacher guys.

The Christian groups are attached to churches in the community and are fed by incoming students who've attended affliated churches in their own home communities. Those outside are simply neglected as the current system is built on perpetuating itself through itself and by itself. Only those that seek out faith through investigation into apologetics come in from outside. But that is rare.

The real problem I think is an outmoded worship structure in these college groups that doesn't connect with people. These group meetings run like a church service with a sermon that we're all supposed to go and carry out after listening to it. Sure, there are Bible studies but these only dispense the same teachings of the large groups and church rather then really disciple people.

I've had personal experience with this throughout my college years. Bible study is more about getting everyone to agree with the 'right' (meaning whatever the church says) interpretation of scripture. That agreement is far more important then people actually living like Christians.
Leslie said…

I think pulling out Scandinavia is kind of grasping for a point. Besides that though, a group moving away from Christianity and/or religion in general is not the issue, but it's what comes after that. If they try to run a society without God, it simply will not work. As J.L. put it, God isn't going away. In other words, what I make of it is that if they keep going in that direction, their society will fail in profound ways. Interestingly, this trend is already showing itself here in America.

What do I think would work to turn this around? Well, as others have mentioned, Christians need to start acting like Christians. We've got fundy nuts out there who protest at the funerals of soldiers saying they deserved it, and then we've got liberal sell-outs who aren't willing to stand up for what is obviously truth. And for many of the people who are in between, they've simply become comatose spiritually. They won't evangelize, but are content to sit in the pew and listen to the preacher.

I think we can change this, but it's going to take some serious efforts. Thankfully, I see many people out there making those efforts. I see a Christian community who is filled with people who have faith in the power and hope of Christ. Preachers and teachers who are willing to stand for the truth without going psychotic on people. People from all walks of life who are capable of making a difference.

But in the end, God brings judgment upon whom he wills, and it may be time for this nation to fold under its own pride. Honestly, I would not be surprised if Christianity moved to the far-east. In China, Christianity is already starting to make a huge impact, and in Russia I've heard similar stories. But we shall see. I'd like to leave the next generations hope for a good future.
Jason Pratt said…
Great comments guys. (Even Peter, in a way. {s})

And a good challenging article, Joe. Thanks for putting it up.

(I'd add more, but I'm very much under the weather right now. Good thread so far, though.)

Yes I appreciate these comments. They are all good. Ron. Leslie, BK, Jack. I think the one thing we all agree upon, even though we may not always fully know what it means, Christians need to start acting like Christians!
Anonymous said…

I think pulling out Scandinavia is kind of grasping for a point.
Hmmm... Scandinavian countries have been and are a head of the curve in the development of the Western countries. If you look at women's rights, gay rights, standard of living of the poorest quarter, personal freedom, etc. If you observe what has happened there, you'll notice they are 10-20 years ahead of other western countries. It is great opportunity for US Christians to study and learn...

I think we can change this, but it's going to take some serious efforts.
If I read your answer correctly, you are preaching the same old message from which the people are walking away. To change the trend the Christians need to come up with something new and better. What it is, I don't know. Maybe Hillsong knows something...

God brings judgment upon whom he wills, and it may be time for this nation to fold under its own pride
I don't think the scare tactics and vague prophesies works that well any more in highly educated countries...

The Church (also in Scandinavia) is precieved (true or not) having moral/value issues.

They preach tolerance, but don't tolerate gays. They preach equality, but don't give women the same opportunities. They preach chastity, but priest can be divorced and not following the standard. Every denomination claims to have "the truth" like all the other religions.
The Church is precieved anti-science fighting evolution and how the world was created. Anglican Church just appologised their involvement in the slavery and the previous Pope applogised about what they did to Galileo. This gives an image that the Church is at least one century behind the modern realities.

The Christians need to move on to the 21st century and lead the development of the society or they might become a fringe group quite soon.

Anonymous said…
J.L. Hinman,

Europe is a lot more religious than the figures show
After living there in several European countries for 30 years, I have to disagree with you. Young people just dont go to the Church like 20-30 years ago. Australia is now sending missionaries to France! I also agree that it is too early to draw conclusion about the Eastern Europe countries. Sorry, I did not see the document; What was the title of the document?

God is in our brains and wont go away. Ok I should save this for a blog
Before you do that, please check the BBC Horizon document call "God on the Brain".

Leslie said…
Scandinavian countries have been and are a head of the curve in the development of the Western countries.

Even if this is the case (and I'm not sure it is), it doesn't matter much. As I already said, what they are currently doing is not the question, rather it's where they are going. Without God, they won't go anywhere for long. The world has proven this time and time again. are preaching the same old message from which the people are walking away

I'm not sure what you think I'm preaching, but either way, people are not walking away from it all over the world. Only in places where pride has become the norm. And as a minister, I can attest to the fact that Christ is working in lives of plenty of people.

I don't think the scare tactics and vague prophesies works that well any more in highly educated countries...

It's not a scare tactic or a prophecy. Firstly, why would I use a scare tactic on a blog comment section? Secondly, I don't believe I can prophesy. It was a prediction of possibility based off of history and personal beliefs. If God is in control and doesn't like pride, and this nation is becoming exceedingly prideful, then the logical conclusion is that God won't tolerate it forever. Pretty simple.

..highly educated countries

This strikes me as ethnocentric and arrogant. In the West, we love to boast in what we think we know, and yet we are constantly finding how little we actually do know. It's little wonder so much of the world hates us.

They preach tolerance...equality...chastity

Not everyone who says they are a humanist goes along with humanist ideals. Not everyone who says they're a Christian goes along with Christian ideals. Even Jesus recognized not everyone who claimed his name truly followed him: Matt. 7:21 - "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven." When people encounter true Christianity, they can tell. This whole thing is not an argument against Christianity though, it is an argument against humans who call themselves Christians.

Some of this however, is simply a lack of knowledge concerning the Bible and proper exegetical procedure on the part of skeptics. Like Dawkins, they love to attack the Bible/Christianity while remaining profoundly ignorant of both (and Dawkins has actually admitted he is ingorant - and what's more, doesn't care). Some of them, of course, mistake knowing a little about it for knowing a whole lot about it.

Incidentally, I think it's funny that atheists should point out moral/value issues, as if they have any objective grounds to make condemnation.

...they might become a fringe group quite soon.

If this does happen, it will be sad, but such is how it goes. Even Jesus said in Luke 18:8, "Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?" No big surprise if the world rejects him.
Christians need to move on to the 21st century and lead the development of the society or they might become a fringe group quite soon.

ahahahahaaah, yea we better hurry up uor 79% is wayingin and their little 3% is really growing. They doubled in the last 15 years! If wearen't careful by the end of the next century there might be enough atheists to win an election somewhere.
jack perry said…

I don't think that attitude is helpful, but hey, it ain't my blog. In any case, the exponential growth of religious movements, as documented by Stark, may well extend also to irreligious movements. If they double every 10-15 years, depending on the attractiveness of the idea in the culture—and the idea does seem quite attractive—religious people could be outnumbered within a little more than half a century.
Anonymous said…

Even if this is the case (and I'm not sure it is), it doesn't matter much.
I tried to point out that it is worth studing if you are arguing about it. You seem to indicate that you are not sure about your facts and don't care about it...

"highly educated countries" This strikes me as ethnocentric and arrogant.
I did not mean to be arrogant. I was referring to litteracy rates and post high school level education. Studies have shown that especially the higher education of women leads to a wealthier and more stable societies.

And as a minister, I can attest to the fact that Christ is working in lives of plenty of people.
I agree with you here. At the same time my Muslim friend told me how Islam has help so many people to change their life for the better and my Buddist friend has felt a lot better since she started to go to the Temple more regularly.

When people encounter true Christianity, they can tell.
Well, please tell us which Christian denomination you belong to, so we know what the true Christian teaching tells us? No need to hide the truth.

Incidentally, I think it's funny that atheists should point out moral/value issues, as if they have any objective grounds to make condemnation.
You keep on repeading this point, but you don't seem to back up your claims. Just couple days ago I challenged you to make your case.
I wrote: "please refute my example I gave you about morality based on UN human right declaration. If you are right you will have not problem proving me wrong. Otherwise please stop repeating your claim." One can also claim that atheist Buddhist who follow Buddhist teachings can have objective morals. So please put your wisdom where you keyboards is ;-) and respond with your refutal.

- Peter
Anonymous said…
J.L. Hinman,

If wearen't careful by the end of the next century there might be enough atheists to win an election somewhere.
According to reports there are about 6 countries in the world where Atheist/Agnostic/Nonbeliever form over 50% of the population. Election are won and lost based on social/political/leadership issues and Christianity or any other faith has become irrelevant. Who knows what will happen in the US, but Christians need not to be worried about if atheists win the election.

BK said…
I personally think that America is several decades from electing an atheist as a president, but that's not to say that it couldn't happen. Certainly, as long as people who are (at least) agnostic continue to control most of the popular media and as long as the mainline Christian denominations continue to abandon God's Word in favor of popular culture, the slide will continue.
Leslie said…
You seem to indicate that you are not sure about your facts and don't care about it...

It's not that I don't care about the facts, it's that the fact of that particular matter was irrelevant to my point.

I did not mean to be arrogant...

It seemed to me like you were implying that supernatural belief was something mostly for the uneducated. I apologize if I misunderstood.

At the same time my Muslim friend told me how Islam has help so many people...

The interesting thing about truth is that you don't always need to have the whole truth to gain benefits from it. Buddhism and Islam both have facets of truth within them that do indeed help people out. However, they also have noticeable sections of falsehood that present themselves in a host of problems. I know of a missionary couple in China, for example, where the man was asked why he loved his wife so much. This failure of men to love their wives is a huge problem in the east. In Japan, it is almost a given that the man will have a mistress. I have seen the gospel go to these places and make major changes in things like that; something Buddhism would not do, and something Islam certainly is not going to do. Concerning Islam, I find that the Islam in some forms today (particularly in the somewhat pop-culture form that has developed here in the U.S.) borrows a lot from Christianity in ways that are thoroughly inconsistent with the Quran. For instance, it is often said that Islam is a peaceful religion, but having looked through the Quran for myself, I know for certain that is not what it teaches. Still, it has traces of truth within it that can offer hope to people. This of course involves a much larger discussion, but whether you agree or disagree, you at least can see my point.

No need to hide the truth.

I can't tell you what denomination I am a part of because I am not a part of a denomination. The church I attend is by its very nature non-denominational. Now, I will not pretend that there are not people in it who act denominational, but either way, we do not have a central HQ, or things of that nature. Each congregation is autonomous. We have our own set of elders and deacons, and our ministers are chosen and paid by the individual congregations. I am simply a member of the Lord's church. Anyway, true Christian teaching is simple: Gal. 3:26-29, 5:16-26; James 1:27, etc. Well, simple to express, not necessarily simple to perform. :) Either way, I think when someone sees a man/woman who treats their spouse well, raises their children with care, doesn't get drunk, controls their temper, controls their sexual desires, helps out others, etc., their first inclination is that there is something different about the person, and I'm gonna guess that most people don't think, "hey - I bet that person's an atheist/buddhist/muslim!" When people encounter true Christianity, they can tell.
JSM said…
I get so sick of hearing about enlightened Europeans. Did you know that ~ 70 of Britians believe in ghosts. Over 50% of Europeans believe that astrology is "rather scientific." Are these enlightened comments. The media tells us that todays youth are rational. How rational is the following comments by Barna: Barna report revealed that 73 percent of America's youth have engaged in at least one type of psychic or witchcraft-related activity beyond media exposure or horoscope usage. Moreover, 30 percent of all teens claimed they had supernatural encounters. That point cliche is true. When you stop believing in God, you believe in anything and everything. Anti-God belief is not scientific. It is connected to the narcisstic behavior we witness in our culture.
BK said…

Interesting take. I addressed the issue of astrology in Europe here.
Leslie said…
Just couple days ago I challenged you to make your case...

Well ... I actually did lay out a pretty detailed argument. And then I got messed up by that random letter spam-blocking thing, and it all disappeared, and I didn't get around to redoing it. :( So, yeah, sorry about that. So here I go, once again.

Firstly, what does objective mean? Objective, in the sense I am thinking of it anyway, means that it is unchangeable. It is something that exists in itself, and could not be different. For instance, in all possible universes, 1+1=2. There could not exist a universe in which 1+1=59 or something like that. I could say, "I don't want one plus one to equal two", but it would not matter whether I liked the statement or not, because it would still be objectively true. In fact, if I tried to build a house on the assumption that 1+1=59, I'd probably have a pretty crappy house.

So taking this over into morality, when I'm thinking "objective," I'm thinking something which humanity has no control over. In fact, let's say we found Planet X millions of light years away with intelligent, sentient life on it - for morality to be objective, it would have to be true for those lifeforms as well. Life in general has no say in the matter.

So going to the UN human rights stuff - that cannot be objective. Why should I care what the UN says? If they say that raping 5 year old girls is wrong, why should I care? What makes that morality objective? What makes them right about it? Well, you could say "they'll kill you if you disobey" but that does not make it objective. If they said "1+1=59" and I had better follow that or they'll kill me, it would not make 1+1=59. If the rules are made up by humanity, they are inherently subjective.

Taking this back into the atheism thing, the problem is this - without something unchanging, you cannot have objectivity. The only thing I can think of that is unchanging is God. You bring up atheistic Buddhists. First of all, they still believe, if I am correct, in something beyond the physical, more or less. So they are not atheistic in the sense we are thinking of here in the West. Still, I do not think they have objective morality, because it seems that with Buddhism, morality is just a brute fact. It's there, and that's all there is to it. They don't really have a source of those morals. Their non-natural morals kind of co-exist with the natural world. Buddhism is mystical in a lot of ways, and that lack of concreteness really leaves objective morality lacking as well.
Anonymous said…

ok, let's call Objective ~ unchangeable. Sometimes objective acts are defined as right or wrong, independent of decision maker's opinion. Let's call morality = correct code of conduct. Christians claim that their morality is unchangeable (objective), but in the Bible we can read how god constantly changed the rules. One day there were no killing rules, then Moses gave divine rule "thou shall not kill", next day god ordered people to go kill other people. God changed rules. God used covenants to change the rules many time, like initially blood sacrifice of the circumcision was not need, then it was, and now it is not. God changed the correct code of conduct couple of time. Jesus' fulfilled the old law and old sacrificial laws are not applicable any more. Christians laws are subjective to god's mood swings. You can not claim that Jesus fulfilled the old law and the morality of Christian god is unchangeable (~objective).

Planet X millions of light years away with intelligent, sentient life on it - for morality to be objective, it would have to be true for those lifeforms as well.
If you claim this is true, then you must accept that god must have made several simultaneous covenant and distributed the same Bible in all the planets with sentient life. We can also be sure that they have similar male reproductive organs like humans, that needed trimming 3500-2000 years ago, but not any more. You must claim that lambs exist in all those planets as wool is mentioned in the bible. Your idea opens many new alien science and biology claims. When Jesus fulfilled some laws on the earth, he fulfilled (died and resurrected?) simultaneously in every planet. But again for an individual to live with correct code of conduct, (s)he must now which covenant is applicable at the time and if has Jesus yet fulfilled the law or not. You can not be both objective and following the Bible and saying that a law is applicable expect when the god tells you it is not.

The only thing I can think of that is unchanging is God.
You can read from the Bible how he has change the laws many times.

They [Buddhism] don't really have a source of those morals.
Where do you think they get their code of conduct? Is that a different source that yours? Are you saying that if a Buddhist lives next door to you his/her whole life his morality comes from the different source as yours and his behavior in the society is different?

Why should I care what the UN says?... What makes that morality objective?
If you follow the UN human rights declaration's 30 article as a principle for all human interaction and eliminate the subjective judgment, you have objective morality. If you follow Buddhist teachings and fly to the planet X and import/use those instructions there you are still following objective moral laws as you have eliminated your subjective decision makings.

Anonymous said…

The interesting thing about truth is that you don't always need to have the whole truth to gain benefits from it.
Can you please tell us what you mean by "the whole truth"?

I think when someone sees a man/woman who treats their spouse well, raises their children with care, doesn't get drunk, controls their temper, controls their sexual desires, helps out others, etc., their first inclination is that there is something different about the person, and I'm gonna guess that most people don't think, "hey - I bet that person's an atheist/buddhist/muslim!"
Spoken like a true Christian in a Christian country with a Christian bias. I wonder what atheist/buddhist/muslim would say in Iceland/Thailand/Saudi-Arabia. Your stereotyping the Christians as morally better people don't seem to supported the global crime statistics.

Leslie said…

Throughout your response, you seem to make an assumption about my thought process which is false. That is, you assume that I am saying the Bible is what gives us objective morality. That is not what I said. I said that God gives us objective morality. There are indeed things in the Bible that are subjective, but they are based off of objective principles. In other words, some of the laws/codes in the Bible are applications of a greater law. That greater law is what I am talking about here. The greater law is that which is part of the very nature of God. Of course, I believe the Bible can and does shed light on that moral law, and that these subjective laws were and are important, but that's another topic altogether.

Anyway, this is why your U.N. thing still fails. I can follow the UN human rights declaration all I want, but that does not make it right. Answer me this: if the UN humans rights declaration said that it was okay to rape and kill 3 year old girls, would that make it objectively okay? Would that be an objective source of morals that someone could legitimately follow? The answer should be self-explanatory. The fact is, doing such a thing is wrong no matter what any human says. That is because morality exists as something above and beyond humanity. The only reasonable explanation for the source of such morality is God.

This is what I was saying about Buddhists. Of course I do not think the Buddhists get their source of morality from somewhere other than me - they get it from God as well, just as all humans do, in that this moral law is something innate within all humanity. But if the atheistic Buddhist were correct and there were no God, then we would be brought back to the fact that morality is subjective. They would have no source for their morality, if they were correct. In that case, none of us would have an objective source of morality.

Morality must be timeless (=unchangeable), just like logic must be timeless, or else it is not objective. We know that no universe could exist in which 1+1=59. This is because logic (i.e. the principle behind it) is timeless. Any universe that were to exist would be required to follow that logic, therefore that logic must have existed prior to the universe. This is the same with morality. No universe could exist in which the rape and murder of 3 year old girls was morally right, therefore there must be a principle behind it which is timeless. Yet, how can a principle exist self-sufficiently? It cannot, and that is why the only explanation of these principles is a timeless mind (i.e. God).
Leslie said…
...whole truth...

The truth about morality, about the meaning of life, and things like that.

Spoken like a true Christian...

I never said every person who wears the name "Christian" is a morally better person. I said that true Christianity - the person who honestly strives to make their lives imitate Christ and follow his teachings - that person will be different from the rest of the world in extreme ways. Ways that the atheist/buddhist/muslim simply will not be. These belief systems might could show some great things in a variety of areas, but the teachings of these systems will never offer a complete picture. I'm a pretty well-traveled, cultured person. I'm not ignorant of the way the world is. Rather, I recognize this as true due to the very experiences I have had.
Anonymous said…
Hi, leslie

Thanks for your answers.

I said that God gives us objective morality.
If we can not read this in the Bible, where can we find it? How do I know it? Bible tells us that rules have changed, so you seem to contradict the Bible. Even Christians can not agree about abortion or euthanasia, so how do we know what is right? Is this just a figment of our imagination?

That greater law is what I am talking about here.
What is this "greater law" that everybody can objectively know? You tell us about "greater law" and "the whole truth" ("The truth about morality, about the meaning of life, and things like that") but do tell us what these really are?

I can follow the UN human rights declaration all I want, but that does not make it right.
You are right, but you might be confusing objective moral system and what makes a moral system "right". You can follow "wrong" objective moral system. Objective morally system is easy to spot, but who can define a "right" moral system? You argued that atheist can not have objective moral system, I think we have now agreed that they can. (right?) Now we can move to your next claim; what the "right" moral system is. If you can answer the previous questions we can talk about it.

The fact is, doing such a thing [rape and kill 3 year old girls] is wrong no matter what any human says
I agree, it is so wrong and bad that not even god can make it right, which indicates that there is a moral system higher that any god. (Or are you saying that your god, who lets rape and kill 3 year old girls, is doing a morally right thing?). But then again, some animals might actually do that, making it "not timeless" like you claim...

That is because morality exists as something above and beyond humanity. The only reasonable explanation for the source of such morality is God.
What is the human morality that exists above and beyond humanity? Give an example that what universally accepted human moral code, which extends everywhere beyond humanity. As a counter argument, some humans have considered occasionally to be morally ok to kill their kids during the time of limited resources.

Morality must be timeless (=unchangeable), just like logic must be timeless, or else it is not objective.
Again describe some of these "timeless" laws, I have no idea, sorry, what you define as timeless morality laws/code? Logic systems are defined by people by observing the nature. Some laws of logic are mutually exclusive thus not absolute everywhere. I hear apologist arguing about absolute logic (some kind of TAG argument), but most of them don't know logic.

Leslie said…

I'm feeling like we're going in circles here, and more particularly that I have to play semantics to get anywhere. In other words, unless I say everything 100% correctly, it seems like you're going to take it and twist it into something that benefits your argument. I'm not upset and I don't want to seem mean, but I just am getting tired of going through all these responses for nothing. I will try to offer some answers here, and feel free to reply, but after that I feel I must take my leave of this discussion.

The Bible tells us the rules have changed, but this is not talking about the moral law, it's talking about the application of the moral law, as I said. And the Bible does point out this moral code existing outside of its own text. Romans 2:14-15 (NIV) - "Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves ... since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them."

This moral code is not something a person has to find. It is something "written on our hearts" as it were. The whole of humanity attests to this fact. Are there details here and there that are different? Sure. Are there some people who have ignored this moral law. Certainly. But in the end, all people do agree on some basic moral truths. It is not because all agree that makes them true, it is because they are true that makes all agree. If all agreed that 1+1=59, it would not be true, because whether humanity exists or not, that still cannot be the case. It is the same with the higher moral law we are discussing.

What I was saying with the atheists is that, if they are correct they can have no objective moral system; indeed, no one can. They are not correct, so yes, they can have a moral system.

You mention the moral system being higher than God, but this is to mischaracterize what is going on. God does not follow a moral code, he is the very source of the code. The moral code is part of his very nature. This is what I mean, btw, when I say morality is beyond humanity. I don't mean it's "everywhere" or something. I just mean it is not determined by humans. It something beyond humanity that says "this is true." I'm not going to get into your accusation of God going for rape and murder of 3 year old girls. I have my answer no matter what way you're going with it, and I am quite content knowing you will likely disagree regardless.

You keep acting as though I am saying that the applications are the laws themselves. The applications are just that - applications. Just like 1+1=2 is an application of logic, not logic itself, so killing, etc. are applications.

The fact is this, Peter: If morality can only exist so long as some sentient beings exist, then morality is not objective. If morality is dependent upon humans, then they could go either way with things. We could decide that morally, it is okay to stab retarded children in their eyes for the sheer fun of watching them scream, and that would make it okay. But we know that regardless of what we think, such action would be horribly evil. That is because goodness is something that exists outside of humanity. Goodness exists outside of humanity. Goodness did not dependent on humanity anymore than logic. These laws of logic were there for us to discover, and we have the capability of discovering them because God gave us something that the animals do not have. It is the same with morality.

One final thing:

Give an example...

Anonymous said…
Hi leslie,

You are right, we have digressed. We better move on to the next topic...

I also feel that I provided examples of objective morals, yet you have not even addressed why those are not objective. You also seem to indicate that objective moral system must be "right", which I tried to refute.

I keep hearing the claims that there is unchangable "moral law" "written on our hearts", but your writings do not explain what it is and if we dont know the application of it how can it be objective? That claim sounds like wishful thinking without explanation.

Also your example "love" doesnt seem to be objective. Humans protect their children out of love and are also know to kill out of love some of their ofsprings during hard times to save the rest of the family. Also people in love dont treat all people objective.

Anyway, thanks for you comments. I hope we'll exchange opinions also in the future.

Anonymous said…
About Scandinavia. I have heard that many economists are very concerned that their welfare system is in serious trouble, and so things may not be "better than ever" for much longer. That could be a rumor. For all I know, the welfare system could be doing better than ever. However, if it is true, then an impending financial crisis probably has about as much to do with increasing secularism as the way things have come so far. That is: Absolutely Nothing.

On that same note. That G. Paul study (which has been debunked) states that in more religious areas there are more societal ills. There are other studies that show that in "red" states (I hate red/blue anyway) are more charitable. To what, I ask you, does this all amount? The same thing as last paragratph: Absolutely Nothing.
Leslie said…

I was thinking about this today and wanted to apologize for the comment about twisting arguments. I do feel like I'm playing semantics sometimes, but I should not have judged your motives there - it may just be that the comments section of a blog is not the best place for deep theological discussions. :-/ Anyway, sorry for that. Thanks for the discussion.


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