18 July 2017

The Decline of Christianity








There is a clear trend in America: religion is on the decline. Go visit just about any church in the United States, and you'll see a lot more retired people than you do college students. This trend shows no signs of reversing. The "unaffiliated" saw a 6.7 point increase from 2007-2014. If you narrow it down to those born in the 1980s, the increase was 9 points in just 7 years. The Catholic church is losing about half of all people who grew up in it.

As a Baha'i, this creates an interesting dynamic. The social forces pushing down Christianity are pushing down religion as a whole, and replacing it with materialism. Baha'is are affected by the same trend, struggling to train youth against powerful social forces that pull them away from religion. So what may at first look like an opportunity to teach, is actually a sad slide into irreligion. It also calls to mind some warnings in Baha'i scripture about what will happen when the light of religion is extinguished:
"The weakening of the pillars of religion hath strengthened the hands of the ignorant and made them bold and arrogant. Verily I say, whatsoever hath lowered the lofty station of religion hath increased the waywardness of the wicked, and the result cannot be but anarchy."
Baha'u'llah. Tablets of Baha'u'llah
“Should the lamp of religion be obscured, chaos and confusion will ensue, and the lights of fairness, of justice, of tranquillity and peace cease to shine.”
Baha'u'llah. Tablets of Baha'ullah
"...when, as a result of human perversity, the light of religion is quenched in men’s hearts... a deplorable decline in the fortunes of humanity immediately sets in, bringing in its wake all the evils which a wayward soul is capable of revealing."
Shoghi Effendi. World Order of Baha'u'llah

Future historians will analyze this decade and describe trends in the context of a long and inevitable decline in Christianity due to the backwardness of its leaders, a decline that swept away what seemed like impenetrable barriers to the promotion of the Faith of Baha'ullah. But the process will also increase the evils of society, as Baha'u'llah described, and Baha'is will spend many more years in an uphill battle to transform an increasingly barren religious landscape.

The reasons for the decline are documented by Pew Research in a survey of why Americans left religion. About half of them left because they stopped believing. They looked at the only religion they knew and decided that it is illogical, against science, and lacks evidence. Others don't like the hierarchy of organized religion, others think religion is too much like a business, and others just simply became inactive because going to church was too much work.


American Christianity is riddled with contradictions and some nonsensical beliefs. Below are some of the strong Christian beliefs that have caused people to leave religion as a whole in America, teachings that have been discarded and resolved in Baha'i teachings.


Creationism

The idea that Genesis is a literal account of historical events is perhaps the greatest contradiction with observable facts and reason. Issues such as evolution, billions of years history of earth, or dinosaurs can't be reconciled with the picture of a young-earth created 6,000 years ago. Young people are not getting answers about scientific issues and told to just have faith and trust in God. Sometimes they are told that the book of Genesis shouldn't be taken literally, but if we can doubt and reinterpret Genesis, what other teachings can we disregard?

`Abdu'l-Baha says that the literal meaning of the story of Adam and Eve cannot be accepted, affirmed or imaged by an intelligent person. He goes on to describe what its symbols mean. The story had a purpose, but it was for a particular time and suited to the capacity of people of about 4000 years ago. It is only through the idea of progressive revelation that the story of Genesis can be reconciled with science. According to Baha'u'llah, the material universe has no beginning or end in time, and humans evolved from a primitive form over millions of years.


Salvation

Another illogical supposition at the core of American Christianity is the idea that all people carry the original sin of Adam, and only faith in Jesus allows us to enter heaven when we die. This is a nice idea to hear from your pastor, but it is easily contradicted by the Gospels of Jesus. I've known many people who have left Christianity over this issue because it condemns innocent people throughout history (not to mention everyone before Jesus) to eternal torture for not really having done anything wrong.

Again, `Abdu'l-Baha says that the idea of original sin and atonement as understood by "the majority of Christians" is "irrational and clearly mistaken". He describes the real meaning behind the sacrifice of Jesus. The outward and apparent meaning is that Jesus brought spiritual teachings that brought spiritual life to mankind. These teachings would certainly be opposed by people in power, and anyone propagating these divine teachings would be killed. Jesus taught the truth regardless of the consequences. The act of bringing teachings from God meant that he was sacrificing Himself. It is not death that brings life, the teachings bring life. The divine teachings have been renewed again, and Christians have clung to the death of Jesus, rather than the message that he brought.


Miracles

“I’m a scientist now, and I don’t believe in miracles” says one Pew Research response to why they left Christianity. I've personally heard Christians say that the miracles of Jesus are the reason why they believe. There are many problems with this view. Nobody can verify that the miracles happened. Even if they did happen, they don't represent proof to someone who didn't witness them. But most of all, miracles are attributed to all kinds of people throughout history. Roman emperors around the time of Jesus were claiming themselves to be sons of gods and capable of miracles. Brahmans from India have claimed supernatural powers throughout their history. So what makes Jesus special? The modern rational world has debunked any and all claims of supernatural powers.

`Abdu'l-Baha says that the Manifestations of God are uniquely capable of "extraordinary feats" and can "influence the world of nature through a power that transcends nature". However, he also says that miracles are of "no importance" and only matter to those present at the time, "not for those who were absent." He says scriptures use a "special terminology". For example Jesus said, "let the dead bury their dead", mixing the terminology of material death and spiritual death. What is the importance of raising a body from the dead unless the person was spiritually dead and given everlasting life? This is the true meaning of the miracles of Jesus. His teachings brought insight to those blind to the spirit. He gave people hearing who had closed their ears to the divine teachings. He brought knowledge to the ignorant.

So why were the gospels written in this coded language? Check out my older post Bible Code for more details.


Lack of Scriptural Authority

Other common complaints relate to the hierarchy of organized religion, the multiplicity of churches and doctrines, and the occasional evangelist who amasses a fortune. Organized religion, some may argue, will inevitably dissolve into contending factions fighting over resources and practices, following pursuits that have deviated from the founder's intent. So why replace Christianity's crumbling institutions with those of the Baha'i Faith? How do they differ from the Papacy and its ecclesiastical orders? How will they avoid the deterioration in character, the breaches of unity, and the loss of influence that have befallen all organized religious hierarchies?

There are two ways to answer. First, every religion has its golden age, where its teachings thoroughly permeate a whole society and produce a great advance in civilization. After the golden age, the religion deteriorates into superstitions and traditions, somewhat void of its original intent and purpose, while the context of its holy book begins to be lost to history. Christianity is a religion past its shelf life, it is a robe that got worn out and was renewed 150 years ago. Spiritual teachings can never exert meaningful influence over time unless they are organized into a structure to resolve disputes, manage resources, and provide guidance. So the renewal of religion brings institutions with it, which will provide the structure needed for the next golden age, which will far surpass the previous.

Second, Jesus did not leave instructions on how to organize the church, so there is no scriptural authority to any organized Christian institution. This is a long quote, but well worth it to make the point:
"...the fundamental reason why the unity of the Church of Christ was irretrievably shattered, and its influence was in the course of time undermined, was that the Edifice which the Fathers of the Church reared after the passing of His First Apostle was an Edifice that rested in nowise upon the explicit directions of Christ Himself. The authority and features of their administration were wholly inferred, and indirectly derived, with more or less justification, from certain vague and fragmentary references which they found scattered amongst His utterances as recorded in the Gospel. Not one of the sacraments of the Church; not one of the rites and ceremonies which the Christian Fathers have elaborately devised and ostentatiously observed; not one of the elements of the severe discipline they rigorously imposed upon the primitive Christians; none of these reposed on the direct authority of Christ, or emanated from His specific utterances. Not one of these did Christ conceive, none did He specifically invest with sufficient authority to either interpret His Word, or to add to what He had not specifically enjoined.
"For this reason, in later generations, voices were raised in protest against the self-appointed Authority which arrogated to itself privileges and powers which did not emanate from the clear text of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and which constituted a grave departure from the spirit which that Gospel did inculcate... Had it been possible for the Church Fathers, whose unwarranted authority was thus fiercely assailed from every side, to refute the denunciations heaped upon them by quoting specific utterances of Christ regarding the future administration of His Church, or the nature of the authority of His Successors, they would surely have been capable of quenching the flame of controversy, and preserving the unity of Christendom. The Gospel, however, the only repository of the utterances of Christ, afforded no such shelter to these harassed leaders of the Church, who found themselves helpless in the face of the pitiless onslaught of their enemy, and who eventually had to submit to the forces of schism which invaded their ranks."
...
"Not so with the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh. Unlike the Dispensation of Christ... the apostles of Bahá’u’lláh in every land, wherever they labor and toil, have before them in clear, in unequivocal and emphatic language, all the laws, the regulations, the principles, the institutions, the guidance, they require for the prosecution and consummation of their task. Both in the administrative provisions of the Bahá’í Dispensation, and in the matter of succession, as embodied in the twin institutions of the House of Justice and of the Guardianship, the followers of Bahá’u’lláh can summon to their aid such irrefutable evidences of Divine Guidance that none can resist, that none can belittle or ignore. Therein lies the distinguishing feature of the Bahá’í Revelation. Therein lies the strength of the unity of the Faith, of the validity of a Revelation that claims not to destroy or belittle previous Revelations, but to connect, unify, and fulfill them..."
Shoghi Effendi. World Order of Baha'u'llah

Unique among the religions of the world, the Baha'i Faith has scriptural authority for its institutions, whose unity will not be broken, and whose leadership will not dissolve into business-like competing factions.

1 comment:

  1. The current percentages of specific religions varies by survey, but Wikipedia's Religion in the United States has:

    Christianity 59.9-70.6%
    Judaism 1.2-2.2%
    Islam 0.6-0.9%
    Abrahamic Subtotal 61.7-73.7%

    Buddhism 0.5-0.9%
    Hinduism 0.4-0.7%
    Dharmic Subtotal 0.9-1.6%

    Unitarian Universalism 0.3%
    Contemporary Modern Neo Paganism 0.1%
    Other Subtotal 0.4%

    All Smaller Other Relgions 1.8%

    Unaffiliated or "None" 15-37.3%

    Not Stated 0.6%

    Note due to ranges all low estates equal 78% and all high ones equal 113%. Also other religion smaller than Paganism weren't mentioned due to being to small to list by religion.

    I like the Pew Research Center and the polls they have published, especially religion related ones. I remember polls mentioning way more than the four reasons you listed as why people doubt, question, and leave religion.


    For example: long story short, I was born minority Protestant. I became a teenager and explored various religions. I converted to and from various religions overtime. Then sometime after 2013 I finally converted to Buddhism (Mahayana, Nichiren, Soka Gakkai International to be specific). The four issues listed above weren't as big factors as ther factors.

    The biggest factor alienating me from Abrahamic Religions (all of them) was a moralism and legalism that focused on conformity with religious laws, both within religion and society at large, even among people who followed other religions. Cow protectors are an example within Hinduism, but it's a pan religious phenomenon, but is usually seen in Abrahamic religions.

    The burden of proof reversal is an example of how the faith/doubt dichotomy is kind of false. The fundamentalist subverts the concepts of skewing for truth and free thought by implying and outright stating both concepts start, are grounded in, and end in recognizing their faith as the one true faith, and not recognizing any other faith. I've met such people lots of times both online and in real life too.

    Take for instance comments from another blog, whom were moderator removed for fundamentalism on the part of the other person, as an example. They're Australian, but for some reason feel the need to ciriticze any country (like America and others which implicitly ciriticze a their own) for having laws that aren't endorsed by their religion despite being a minority religion in the countries involved.

    They on the one hand praise open letters by interfaith panels and committes, but only if they agree with them on policy positions. But otherwise, they lament how few people have converted to their religion and that God will punish countries for lack of conversions.

    Note related to it, but they did have a habit of not logging in as themselves for their comments. They did log in as themselves most of the time, but during one flame war of comments, they claimed to just be lazy and were logged in as their son because their son used their computer for Facebook, despite the comments section explicitly saying that if people were on a shared computer and they weren't the person logged in to log out and log in as themselves.

    But enough about fundamentalism. Let's talk about positive stuff to end on. People have to have a reason to believe in a religion. Take things like: daily life stuff like human revolution, Interconnectedness, compassion, wisdom, creating value, treasuring diversity, etc and lots more stuff.

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