Wednesday, April 8, 2009

God is Back?

Given our great discussion on the possibility of a post-Christian America, I thought it timely and fortuitous to find this NPR interview/article excerpting a new book, God is Back, by Economist's editors John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge. NPR's money quote:
From Christians in Shanghai to Muslim televangelists in Cairo, they conclude we're in the middle of a global faith revival. They report compelling evidence of a religion boom. For example, they say China will be the world's biggest Christian country by 2050 — at the latest — and already the country has more churchgoers than members of the Communist party.

Micklethwait and Wooldridge also report religious people are healthier, wealthier and happier than the non-religious. On a less rosy note, they also cite faith as being at the heart of the world's worst flashpoints of violence.

The article then gives an excerpt of God is Back. A cool read, although heavy with examples of the growing potentiality of religious violence.

How does this article jive with the post-Christian America article? Who knows. It will take several decades or more, I'd imagine, to make more accurate claims about the trending religiosity of the American public. But, if you wanted to put the articles in dialogue, you could possibly make a couple claims. First, that America is becoming post-Christian, while the rest of the world is witnessing a religious surge. The examples in the God is Back article for America are only citations of the religiosity of the candidates for our highest offices, one could argue, hardly representative of the American public as a whole. Religion in America is losing public influence, yet within the world at large, religion is gaining in influence. Or second, one could claim that there is a strengthening of secularism in America, and the power of religion over public life is waning. On the other hand, there is an equal and opposite reaction, a hardening and amplification of religiosity in the public sphere, despite dwindling numbers. So while America is becoming post-Christian, a movement to preserve and conserve Christian values will remain loud and reactive, even in light of the shrinking influence of religion within the country as a whole.

Another alternative must be noted, where the articles are not in dialogue: it could just be that we are in either a post-Christian America or that God is back.



J.Rat. said...

Personally, I think that Christian-Orthodoxy is waning, while spirituality/religiosity, in general, is waxing. Part of this could be based upon the ever increasing intellectualism of our society. (Used to a Bachelor's degree set you apart from the crowd, now MBA's are a dime a dozen, etc....) Our ever increasing influx of knowledge and rationalism conflicts with the irrationality of faith. It's faith, not science. Another part of the potential trend toward a post-Christian America could be the result of "hybrid" religions: Buddhist-Christians, Taoist-Muslims, etc.... In the strictest sense, this does not jive with the orthodox claims of Jesus being the one true way, however, the positive aspects of Christianity and personal experiences amongst the populace indicate that mixing religious rituals and thoughts feels "right."

matt said...

i agree with j.rat that christianity-orthodoxy is declining in america, as there are a zillion articles, polls, laws, etc. pointing to that. the "why" is the more interesting part to me.

i submit there are two forces at work here: the increase in the pseudo-intellectualism, not the other way around, of our society and the decrease in the number of people living in the traditional family unit. i'll explain each and then try to tie them together the best i can.

high schools, colleges, and even graduate programs, from my observations, are turning out less and less educated students, esp. in terms of having any common sense. j. rat's right, mba's are a dime a dozen, and no offense to any out there cuz i know you're all geniuses, but holy jeez i've met some dumb ones. but i digress...suffice it to say i think there is one part of the population that thinks they are getting smarter but are really not.

as far as the family unit goes, more and more people are single at later and later stages in their lives. not that there is anything wrong with that, just stating a fact. more people are having fewer kids, and when they do, are doing so later in life. and to top it off, once people do get married and do have those kids, less than half actually stay together.

so what the heck do these to things have to do with religion? j.rat nailed it, kind of - "Our ever increasing influx of knowledge and rationalism conflicts with the irrationality of faith. It's faith, not science." only, we're not smarter and we're not more knowledgeable, at least relative to previous generations. true, we have much more *material* knowledge in the sciences, manufacturing processes, etc., but those do not speak to the fundamental issue that religion, esp. Christianity addresses - were did we come from and how? as an aside, this mostly stems from the evolution/creation debate, one i'd love to have here someday.

so we think we can rationalize away certain tenets of faith, because we have all these degrees, but we really have no new skill set that sets this generation apart from others, save for our unwavering arrogance that we think we can answer these questions and others with a telescope, some computer models we invented, and a "sense" that it just feels right.

regarding the family experience and it's affect on faith - i can only say that, with all the cheesiness it entails, the true love for a spouse and the incredible, life altering feeling of loving your children leaves one "knowing" that there is a force out there that is directing this crazy place as the only possible explanation for how you can feel that way.

and if this feeling is coming to the average person later in life, if at all, and after perhaps they've already "rationalized away" certain aspects of their faith, maybe they don't go back.

ps - that was not a defense of Christianity as the "right" faith, just perhaps how it's decline in America is occurring.

matt said...

darn it, drew, i was hoping to get to work and read your response! :)

Drew said...

Sorry, matt. Have a long day of work ahead of me today. If I can get back to your thoughts, and I have some brewing, then it won't be until very late tonight. unless i can sneak a response earlier (like i am doing now). argh. sorry about that.

Drew said...

J.Rat., I think you have nailed part of the equation, like Pat Carr on the post-Christian thread. People are becoming more educated and that education does not jive with certain theological tenets. Still hungry for a relationship with the divine, we seek answers in our faith, but some find those answers incomplete. So, they are moving to a new grey area, spiritualism, trying to find make sense the Great Mysterious Other. So, I don't think it is a complete rejection of God, but a search for new ways to understand God, as older ways seem inadequate and need re-visioning. I do think that you have hit the nail on the head here.

matt, I am hesitant to call it "psuedo-intellecutalism." We, as a whole, are more advanced and have a greater understanding about our relationship in the world and the universe. Yes, our college degrees are the new threshold to enter into the workplace, and increasingly a master's degree is becoming crucial, important, and normative. But, regardless of an individual's native intelligence, we, as a whole, are more educated and better suited to understand the world.

I'm unsure how you think that the change in our understandings of the nuclear family have hurt religion. I know that conservatives yearn for a strong nuclear family ... and believe it or not, progressives agree with you here. But, we argue over tangential and peripheral issues in this regard. I am unsure, however, in how you think the decline of the nuclear family is affecting our understanding of Christianity and God. Intuitively, I think these are two seperate issues. Can you clarify here?

Matt F. said...

"regarding the family experience and it's affect on faith - i can only say that, with all the cheesiness it entails, the true love for a spouse and the incredible, life altering feeling of loving your children leaves one "knowing" that there is a force out there that is directing this crazy place as the only possible explanation for how you can feel that way."

Sorry, matt, I had to refute this point. I realize that it is tempting to generalize from your own experiences, but love for your spouse and your children in no way requires a belief in a supernatural force or creator. I can say this personally since I am married, tangentially since my brother is married with children and also not a believer, and generally since there are of course many atheists who love their wives and children very much. There are also just as obviously a great deal of single mothers who are very religious, regardless of the lack of a nuclear family. I respect the fact that you feel that your love for your family is tied up to your belief in God, but it certainly does not mean that everyone who loves their spouse or children feels they must justify that with a religious belief.

matt said...

first of all, you guys are way better writers than i am; tangential is a math term to me :)

drew - can you give some some examples of how higher education conflicts with religion and also why the higher educated person finds fatih's answers to questions (which ones by the way?) incomplete? maybe it's because i don't have a masters degree (but probably not), but i am unaware of any new scientific or philosophical breakthroughs that have occurred in our lifetime that contradict certain tenants of faith, specifically, Christianity. not saying there aren't, just saying that i don't know of any.

what i think it is is that the higher educated people need answers, and they need answers they can touch, feel, and experience. anything less than that does not satisfy those senses and is therefore discarded. keep in mind that i am an engineer and used to be the poster boy for that kind of thinking. perhaps, though, there are some questions that are not for us to understand. i know there is a quote in the old testament that kinda speaks about that, but i can't remember where it is. Daniel, maybe?

matt f - you are speaking of your specific experience, as was i, however, i was proposing that because that happened to me, and it was a result of my marriage and children being born, that perhaps those types of feelings occur to other people too. and if they are not experiencing that, then maybe they're "losing their religion".

of course i would not project my experience onto every other person, so i'm not saying that everyone would have an epiphany like that, as clearly evidenced by your and your brother's experiences. however, i think that empirically, more people feel the way i do. that's tough to prove of course, but i don't think there is any doubt that a strong sense of family and a strong sense of faith have walked hand in hand for a very long time.

i'd also like to add to the equation the pervasive sense in today's america that one should do what's right for one's self, regardless of others, cost, or long term effects, and it's direct contradiction to nearly all faith's major tenants. the deterioration of marriage in this country speaks strongly to that point.

in other words, we're the "me" generation.