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Here & Now: Americans – Disassociated from Religion

Greetings All,

     This week's thought is about the growing number of "nones" in American society.  According to a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News Survey, younger Americans don’t value patriotism, having children, or organized religion as much as young people two decades ago. These are the so-called “Nones” whose religious affiliation “none.”  And since the early 1990s the number of them have tripled.
     Below is an interview involving Derek Thompson, senior editor at “The Atlantic” about why this has happened, taken from NPR's - Here & Now:  Americans – Disassociated from Religion. It really is very thought provoking and worth the read - especially if you know young adults who have left the church, or distanced themselves from all forms of organized religion (some sections condensed and clarified due to discussion format). Enjoy.

     HostYou write that more than 9 out of 10 Americans belonged to an organized religion throughout the 60s, 70s, 80s, but then came the 1990s. You spoke to a sociology and religion professor at Notre Dame. What did he tell you about what happened in the 1990s?
     DerekThe rise of the religiously non-affiliated, otherwise called the “Nones,” is an incredibly modern phenomenon in the US… that took off in the early 1990s.  So I asked him.  What happened in the early 1990s?  He said, “Historically speaking there's sort of 3 events we have to key in on.”  The first, is the association between the Republican Party and the Christian right.  That did not necessarily exist in the 1960s and earlier.  It was instead, a reaction to a series of things that happened in the late 60s early 70s.  The sexual revolution, the Roe versus Wade decision, the nationalization of no-fault divorce laws, and the Bob Jones University case where it lost their tax-exempt status over its ban on interracial dating.  Because of all those things the Christian right sort of jumped into politics and merged with the Republican Party in a way that, I think, offended a lot of moderates and liberals, who then began to detach from both organized religion and Republicans.  That's number one.  Second, is the end of the Cold War. For the previous, say, 40 years, there had been an association between those who didn’t believe in God (the communists) and “the evil empire.” Once the Cold War was over, being godless wasn't necessarily considered as evil [as it had been].  And third, I think after 911, during the Bush years, a new association – not between godlessness and the evil empire, but rather, between religion and zealotry (at the national level with the USA, or at the international level with al Qaeda) fed into the rise of religious non-affiliation.

     HostThis is so fascinating.  I mean, take the end of the Cold War reasoning.  You know people (as you remind us) could suddenly say: “Well I don't I don't belong to a church” and not be thought to be communists, which previously they might have been. And then after the al Qaeda attacks, there were people wanting to distance from organized religion, and there was also the scandal in the Catholic Church.

     HostSo, who is doing this non-affiliation?  Is it one specific demographic?
     DerekYes. The group that is most pulling away from organized religion over the last 20 to 30 years are young white liberals.  Young white liberals are the ones that are leading the rise in the “Nones.” You don't see a similar dramatic increase from the Blacks and Hispanics.  It is being led by young white liberals who see that the Republican Party has become more and more entrenched with the evangelical movement. Distancing themselves is their way of saying: “I’m not a Republican.”   By proxy, by rejecting the Republican Party, a lot of young whites (I think) feel like they have to reject organized religion as well.  And so, what's ironic to me is that there was this thesis from the late 19th century that said that religion was going to lose its halo effect because of science. Science was going to drive God from the public square.  But, in fact, in the last 30 years, there's been no grand scientific revolution to make people lose their faith in God.  Science hasn't driven God from the public square, politics has!  And it’s particularly driven religion from the public square for young white millennial's.

     HostWell, we should clarify that there are many young white millennial's who are very active in churches, or temples, or mosque.  We know that.
     DerekAbsolutely.  But also there is another factor.  Which is that when young people nowadays are delaying having their families, and having their own individual lives for longer, by the time they settle down they may not have time for activities on Sunday morning, or Saturday morning, because they have gyms to go to, and they’ve got this other kind of schedule that's interesting.

     HostYeah.  But then you also write about what may be one of the paradoxical downsides.  I mean obviously very religious people might worry about this from a different perspective, but you know, it becomes harder to have a social life without an institution to attend.
     DerekYeah, I think that’s a good point. I should add that Christian Smith listed a lot of non-political reasons why religious non-affiliation might be growing, including as you mention, maybe rising divorce, delayed adulthood, etc.  You know, it seems to me that religion isn't just theism. It's not just a belief in God.  It's a bundle. It's a community. It's a theory of how the world works. It's a way of finding individual peace. And I find that a lot of people who have rejected the organized religion bundle shop for individual pieces of that bundle à la carte.  So, you know, maybe their work is a religion, or their politics is a religion, and spin class is a church, and not looking at your phone for a few hours is akin to a digital Sabbath. So, it's interesting to me that although so many millions of Americans have abandoned organized religion, they have only sought to recreate it everywhere they look. They've given up God to a certain extent, only to seek him out everywhere else.” 

     We could surely add other things -- like the Jimmy Swaggert and James Baker scandal in evangelicalism, the misuse of funds and gifts given to ministries, and many other things -- that may have soured people against organized religion.  Yet, regardless of what led to it (and I do believe they are right in suggesting that the end of the cold war, a far too close an association with one political party, and religious zealotry involving violence are to blame) we are left with what we are to do about it?  And the fact that people have come up with all sorts of religious substitutes for organized religion suggests that if we could learn from our mistakes as we move forward, some may be drawn back -- since it the desires for religious expression seems hidden in human nature, even when we try to repress it.

Living in the Grace of Jesus, Pastor Jeff


How an Atheist Journalist became a Christian Believer

Greetings All,

     This weeks "thought" is the story of one many's journey from atheism to faith in Jesus. It is the story of Peter Hitchen's - a British journalist whose well-known brother Christopher was sometimes called the "arch-atheist."  I found it well-written, helpful, and intriguing, and thought I would pass it on to you as well.  So, without any further introduction I offer it to you. Enjoy.

How an Atheist Journalist became a Christian Believer

     "The story of Peter Hitchens' adult conversion to Christianity traced a very different path to that of his arch-atheist brother Christopher.  Christopher Hitchens, along with Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Richard Dawkins was one of the so-called “four horsemen of the New Atheism” that led the charge against religion around the turn of the century. As a professional journalist, Christopher Hitchens was possibly the most eloquent of the four, and his wit and humor accomplished more for the cause than the bluster of the other three combined.
     Christopher Hitchens' popularity was so great that atheists and Christian apologists alike mourned his passing in 2011, as did his brother, Peter. Peter, also a journalist, was an outspoken atheist like his brother. Despite their similar professions, views, and upbringing, the two brothers were always at odds, practically since childhood Though both were raised in a nominal faith, they began their slide into atheism in early adulthood.
     Peter’s journey toward atheism began when he was still in boarding school at the age of 15. He chose to make his rebellion against religion and all of the conventions of his upbringing official by the ceremonial burning of his Bible – a gift from his parents - in the school yard.  After burning the book, he intentionally began to do the things he had always been instructed were wrong: using foul language, mocking the weak, lying, stealing, using drugs and betraying friends and family members. Peter describes the cultural mindset that he believes led him and his brother away from organized religion:

     “I have passed through the same atheist revelation that most self-confident British members of my generation - I was born in 1951 – have experienced. We were sure that we, and our civilization, had grown out of the nursery myths of God, angels and Heaven. We had modern medicine, penicillin, jet engines, the Welfare State, the United Nations and  'science', which explained everything that needed to be explained.”
     It was not, however, a tragedy or desperate turn of events that caused Peter Hitchens to turn back to his childhood faith. As he grew out of his young rebellion and into his established trade of journalism, he became modestly successful. He enjoyed a pleasant relationship with his girlfriend, and was able to pursue his interests and distractions such as holidays on the continent.  His youthful Marxist convictions had been overturned by his experience as a journalist in Soviet Russia and seeing the tragedy brought on by the atheistic state. As he settled into his adult routine, he fell back into attendance of Anglican church from time to time. This was not out of a sense of religious conviction, but rather out of respect for British tradition. But as he did so, he began to recognize that the faithful men of history who had preceded him were no more foolish for their faith. In fact, their convictions had added to their brilliance as statesmen, artists, scientists and so on.
     Staring at the picture Hitchens felt sudden and true conviction.  It was staring at the picture of one such artist – Rogier van der Weyden’s Last Judgment – that Hitchens felt sudden and true conviction. Seeing the naked figures as they fled the fires of hell, all of his intentional rebellion and misdeeds came back to his mind, and with them, the realization that his life was a testament to the truth found in the painting before him: that misdeeds required justice, and that if anyone required saving from this justice, it was he.  It was on the heels of this sobering incident that Christmas came, and with it, a much more uplifting experience. For many years, Hitchens had feigned disdain for the Christmas season, however now he began to truly enjoy the caroling and joy that came along with the seasonal celebration.
     Following this, Hitchens held his wedding in a church, became baptized, and generally began to participate in church affairs, even as his confidence in political solutions to world problems began to dwindle and fade.  Becoming a Christian in the world of journalism has no small amount of stigma attached to it, and given his formerly radical stances, Hitchens tried to conceal his growing faith from his friends and colleagues.  However, as the years passed, Hitchens began to make his Christian faith part of his identity as a journalist, and especially as his brother achieved fame for his atheist stance, to distance himself from his now-famed sibling. This has ultimately had the effect of carving out a unique niche for Hitchens who now uses his position as a journalist to campaign for the various causes his worldview leads him to embrace."
     (Hitchens’ story may be found in his bookThe Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith.)

     It's a testimony to ponder, for he challenges us to think through the ultimate issues of life.  I often say atheists are not people who have asked all the questions, or have all the answers, but people who haven't asked enough questions. That is, enough, "where, or how, did this come to be?" questions.  Why is there so much order and beauty in the world?  What purpose does it have?  Where does that inner sense of justice come from? How is it that our DNA (biological matter) has information imprinted upon it?  Where did this information come from? How does order come out of chaos? How does design come about apart from a Designer?  How does one explain that something came from nothing, or that "being" came from "non-being"?  How does one explain miracles or paranormal activity in a world that is supposedly came about from little more than chemical reactions over time?  And on and on the list could go ...  To me atheism requires a far greater leap of faith than belief in a Creator.  That's why so few people (given the world population) jump onto a bandwagon so poorly constructed.
     As many scientists are now acknowledging, the scientific evidence strongly and ultimately points in the direction of intelligent design, and thus ultimately to the reality of a Creator.  But for the atheist there's a downside to acknowledging a Creator -- a downside which has lead many to adopt atheism instead.  It's not any profound "no-God" or "anti-God" evidence. It's not the supposed "God-particle."  It's the fact that people intuitively know that if there is a Creator (who has placed the fingerprint of his beauty, wisdom, orderliness, design, power, justice and the like, on all he has made) it suggests there had to have been a purpose in creating, and a specific plan for those that were created to inhabit what he made. A plan that includes how we should  live and interact with him and each other, and treat what has been created and given to us as a gift.
     Which means that faith in a Creator ultimately leads one to believe there must be some sort of ethical expectations; righteousness and sin issues (do and don't issues); morality and justice issues.  In atheism anything goes, for if life simply evolved from nothing (an impossibility by the way), then it has no meaning. There is no true basis for law, justice, right or wrong, or morality issues. Without a Creator there is no intelligent basis for absolutes.  In creationism, however, life becomes infused with meaning and purpose and divine expectations cannot be avoided.

     What joy, meaning, and value is infused into life simply by acknowledging a Creator, Pastor Jeff


It Is Well With My Soul

Greetings All,

     My daughter Bekah sent me the link to this devotional by Tori Kelly the other day, because she knows Horatio Spafford's hymn "It Is Well With My Soul" is one of my favorites. I opened it, read it, felt there was much honest transparency and biblical truth in it, and therefore thought I would pass it along to you. I trust it will encourage and speak to you as well.  Enjoy.


     Suffering is guaranteed in this life. The devil is always throwing fiery darts at us. Right now in this moment he’s trying to attack my family, my health, my relationships, and my peace. He’ll do anything to take my eyes off of Jesus.  He wants to take everything away from me, and most importantly, he wants to take my faith.
     Our faith is not grounded in our circumstances.  Neither can our joy in Christ be.  Recently, my grandfather passed away in the time I felt I needed him most.  I felt like I had lost my best friend. It was so painful to go through and I cried so much -- until my eyes had nothing left.  But through every tear, God was with me in those hard moments. I could still be in a dark and lonely place, and even be mourning, but my joy could not be stolen because it is secured in Jesus.  No matter what happens, no matter what arrows are thrown my way, no matter how dark it gets, I know I will be okay.  It’s not always easy to believe, but I know that when I remind myself that God is in control I find rest and am able to sing, “it is well with my soul.”
     Most importantly, I can always sing “it is well” because God spoiled the movie for us and we get to know how this story ends. “It is well with my soul” because there is a place called heaven where death will be no more, every tear will be wiped away, and any tears shed in this life will be redeemed (he has bottled each one).
     Maybe your suffering is different than losing a grandfather. Maybe it’s worse. Maybe it’s as bad as the writer of “It is Well” who lost his entire family in the days prior to when he penned this hymn.  Even still, God says all of it is not even worthy to be compared to the glory to come to us.  Like an adult reflecting on his experience in kindergarten, so believers in heaven will remember their suffering in this life, saying, “Oh yeah... I think I vaguely remember...”
     Suffering comes to each of us in a different way - broken relationships, physical illness, economic hardships, loss, crime, slander, betrayal, depression, humiliation, you name it. Scripture assures us of this. Jesus assures his disciples of this. "In this world you WILL have trouble (tribulations). But take heart!  I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).  Jesus never promises us a trouble-free life in this world. His promised overcoming of the world means, as Tori Kelly rightly points out, we already know how the story ends!  Jesus is the Victor!  It's already a done deal!  God has won!  The world loses!  And we get to be over-comers with him in the victory he's already won!
     John 16:33 was spoken prior to the cross and resurrection.  Yet it is spoken in the past tense - "I have overcome..."  It is spoken before the cross an resurrection, but with as much confidence and assurance in the promise as if those those things had already taken place!  (If only they had truly "heard" him!)  In fact, in a very real sense the cross had already taken place, as John assures us in Revelation 13:8, where it speaks of Jesus as, "the Lamb slain from the creation of the world."   Jesus' ultimate victory of overcoming the world had already been decreed and determined and worked out in the providence of God before God ever created the world!  And we get to rejoice and participate in many of the benefits of that victory in this life (not all of them just yet), remembering as Paul assures us,  "Our light and momentary trials are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all" (I Corinthians 4:17).
     Resting in the victory of God until the promise becomes our experienced reality in eternity, Pastor Jeff


What do you think?

Greetings All,

     Today I offer you some isolated quotes from four different authors and present them to you with this question: "What do you think?"
     When you read each one what is your initial response?  Do you agree or disagree?  And if so, why?  Are they clear or hard to understand?  I know most everyone is pretty busy, but if you did have a spare moment I would enjoy hearing your thoughts!  And if you do happen to respond, please note which comment you are responding to -- comment #1 by Richard Lovelace, comment #2 by William Carey, comment #3 by John Owen,  or comment #4 B.B. Warfield.  Enjoy.

     “Only a fraction of the present body of professing Christians are solidly appropriating the justifying work of Christ in their lives.  Many have so light an apprehension of God’s holiness and of the extent and guilt of their sin, that consciously they see little need for justification (little need for forgiveness and pardon through the substitutionary work of Jesus), although below the surface of their lives they are deeply guilt-ridden and insecure…  Many have a theoretical commitment to this doctrine [of justification by faith] but in their day-to-day existence they rely on their sanctification for justification, in the Augustinian manner, drawing their assurance of acceptance with God from their sincerity, their past experience of conversion, their recent religious performance, or the relative infrequency of their conscious, willful disobedience.  Few know enough to start each day with a thoroughgoing stand upon Luther’s platform: you are accepted, looking outward in faith and claiming the wholly alien righteousness of Christ as the only ground for acceptance, and relaxing in that quality of trust which will produce increasing sanctification as faith is active in love and gratitude.”                 
Richard Lovelace, “Dynamics of Spiritual Life.”

     On his 70th birthday, pioneer missionary William Carey, who translated the whole Bible (or large parts of it) into 23 Indian dialects and Persian; who wrote a Mahratta-English dictionary, a Bengali-English dictionary, a Bhotanta-English dictionary, and a Sanscrit-English dictionary; and who worked tirelessly as a missionary in India for 41 years (between 1792 and 1833) wrote to one of his sons these words:  I am this day 70 years old, a monument of divine mercy and goodness, though on a review of my life I find very much for which I ought to be humbled in the dust. My direct and positive sins are innumerable. My negligence in the Lord's work has been great. I have not promoted His cause nor sought His glory and honor as I ought.  Notwithstanding all of this, I am spared till now and am still retained in His work, and I trust I am received into the divine favor through Him (Christ).” 
William Carey
“Believers obey Christ as the one by whom all their obedience is accepted by God. Believers know all their duties are weak, imperfect and unable to abide in God’s presence. Therefore, they look to Christ as the one who bears the iniquity of their holy things, who adds incense to their prayers, gathers out all the weeds from their duties and makes them acceptable to God... The actual aid and internal operation of the Spirit of God is necessary to produce every holy act of our minds, wills and emotions in every duty whatsoever.  Notwithstanding the power or ability that believers have received by the principle of new life implanted in salvation, they still stand in need of the divine enablement of the Holy Spirit in every single act or duty toward God.”
John Owen
     "It is the conviction that there is nothing in us, or done by us, at any stage of our earthly development which is the cause of our acceptance with God. We must always be accepted for Christ’s sake or we cannot ever be accepted at all. This is not true of us only when we initially believe, it is just as true after we have believed and it will continue to be true as long as we live. Our need of Christ does not cease with our believing, nor does the nature of our relation to Him or to God through Him ever alter regardless of our attainments in Christian graces or our achievements in Christian behavior. It is always on His "blood and righteousness” alone that we can rest. There is never anything that we are or have or do that can take His place or that takes a place along with Him. We are always unworthy, and all that we have or do of good is always of pure grace…  There is emphasized in this attitude the believer's continued sinfulness in fact and in act and his continued sense of his sinfulness. And this carries with it recognition of the necessity of unbroken penitence throughout life. The Christian is conceived fundamentally, in other words, as a penitent sinner.
     We are sinners, and we know ourselves to be sinners, lost and helpless in ourselves. But we are saved sinners, and it is our salvation which gives the tone to our life—a tone of joy which swells in exact proportion to the sense we have of how much we deserve just the opposite.  For it is he to whom much is forgiven who loves much and, who loving, rejoices much.  “It is a great paradox but glorious truth of Christianity,” says Thomas Adams, “that a good conscience may coexist with a consciousness of evil. Though we can have no satisfaction in ourselves, we may have perfect satisfaction in Christ.”
B. B. Warfield

     As I am sure you already know, I am in agreement with all the statements above and believe they accurately reflect the biblical teaching. But if you do not, or feel you would change them in any way, or feel they are out of sync with the message of the Bible I'd love to hear how you disagree or would alter them!

In His Grace, Pastor Jeff