The Failure of Religion in the 21st Century
Nowadays I see Christians deconverting en masse. About a year ago I posted this trend from a Gallop poll, to which a Christian promptly replied that atheists shouldn't put all their trust in Gallop polls. True enough, but following the trends are a good way to predict the likely outcome of any given cultural change. Yet I look around today, and it seems more and more are walking away from the faith and never looking back.
Recently, atheists have been becoming more and more vocal. Atheists have been engaging theists head on in the news, media, and online. Atheists have taken the debate to theists even as many theists are still shell shocked that there is such a thing as an atheist.
I will not be as naive as to say this trend marks the end of religion. I do not think religion is going anywhere. There is enough anthropological, sociological, and psychological arguments to suggest our brains are just wired to invent supernatural explanations for things--so wherever their is ignorance, it seems to me, there will be a fertile soil for the planting of new religions. Religions grow out of ignorance, and get more complicated, more intricate, as human experience grows. What was once a barren and blank state of the unknown and unthinkable becomes laden with rich explanations and imaginative propositions about the nature of reality. Religion is, after all, our first means of searching for the answers.
Eventually, however, religions all seem to succumb to the same folly. They grow untouched for centuries, and like a majestic garden left unattended, after a while the religion has become infested with weeds. Sometimes these weeds take on the form of heretical offshoots, a new radical denomination, or a more hardcore strain than the rest. Amid the various theological considerations, spiritual experiences, religious rituals and customs, among many other things supplying the religion a rich and luxurious foliage, and more often than not, somewhere in all of this jumble of world philosophies, weeds take root.
Christianity is done for. It's not a prediction any more. It's just a fact which Christians will have to get accustomed to. This doesn't mean Christianity is dead, rather, it means Christianity is a failed enterprise--a failed religion. Today's Christianity doesn't resemble anything like past Christianities, so much so that it cannot even be considered the same religion as far as I can discern. Voodoo is just as dissimilar from Catholicism as Catholicism is from Seventh Day Adventism, the Church of Mormon, or Evangelical and Liberal Christianity. They are all basically different religions. They merely share similar features. But they differ far more than they are alike--even though most Christians seem to be unaware of this fact.
Regardless, there are a couple of reasons I think people are walking away from the faith. First, because in this modern day and age, where there are laws protecting individual freedom of speech, the nonbeliever has little to fear by speaking their mind. Not everywhere mind you, but in most civilized nations, an atheist can speak their mind without being ridiculed, silenced, or abused (most of the time at any rate). This allows there to be an alternative worldview, one where religion isn't as prominent. Only recently has this worldview gained any favor, but it being an option for those who grow weary of organized religion and just cannot reconcile their beliefs with the cognitive dissonance brewing within their rational mind. What's more--they're not alone.
The second reason has to do with what I was referring to above with the garden analogy. Most world religions tend to keep all the bad along with the good--and always neglect to weed out the worst. The best of what religion has to offer never seems to have anything to do with the theological or spiritual claims, most of which cannot even be tested, but instead has to do with the practical function of religion in society.
Religion today serves as a means for people to gather socially, meet friends, make new acquaintances, and helps them develop a sense of community. Churches, temples, and synagogues have become places to hang out with your friends, catch up on news, drop your kids off at a daycare in which you know they will be safe, partake in a choir or band, and then share your troubles with each other. It's a place to uplift each other with kind words, offer prayers and thoughts, and the religious leaders use their words to motivate and reassure their congregations that it will all be alright--that God is watching out for them.
This is why religion is here to stay. Thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people need religion. For all intents and purposes, it is their lifeline. And all this is fine by me.
Which makes one wonder, why is this necessarily a bad thing? Well, allow me to explain.
A religion is the sum of its parts. While the cultural component is thriving, the overall ideology of the faith--the theology--the metaphysical propositions found therein--the outmoded rituals which only seem to sponsor unhealthy attitudes or behavior such as xenophobia, sexism, and further intollerance are all but failed parts of the whole. While the cultural component updates itself along with modern society, the rest of religion remains stagnant, and has trouble adjusting to the times. Eventually we find a surplus of oft forgotten tenets along with bibles most people neglect to read piling up alongside the theological quandaries forgotten or else ignored. While the rest, it seems to me, is just is too tenuous for the average person of faith to bother with. Which is why most don't. Those who, either in their piety or curiosity, muster enough intrepid daring to ask the hard questions are often times the same ones who courageously leave the fold.
If you ask me, this is a sad state of affairs for any religion to be in.
Of course, that leaves all the rest, the faithful, all happy and contented to reside within their faith. A faith, which minus its failing parts, seems to be little more than a vast social networking site. Yet to think that, really, this is the fate of all religions, is no trivial concern. Indeed, for the everyday person of faith religion has become a sort of primitive Facebook. If going to Church is synonymous with logging online and checking your Facebook status, getting together with your social unit, and which basically fulfills all the same cultural needs as any other social network, then this begs the question: How is this not the fall of Christianity and the failure of religion in the 21st century?
The tenets, creeds, and theologies have all but become extinct. Only for but a very few of scholarly professors even care to concern themselves with such matters. The rest feel theology is a huge waste of time. And they are right.
Meanwhile, those who continue to entertain the absurd aspects of religion do so for reasons we well know. They profess to believe. Indeed, they have their reasons for believing. But professions of faith aren't enough to prove the beliefs true. Indeed, belief, it seems, is all they have left. But if believing were enough, then I'm afraid we wouldn't see the continued trend of people walking away from faith--and looking for answers elsewhere.
Eventually the religions of today will become exactly like the religions of the past. Outmoded. They will cease to have importance in the way they currently do, and will be read as legend and myth just like the religions of old are today. New religions, variations, and/or palpable mutations of the same will have superseded them. Another Voodoo Priest will supplant your normal Priest, and the cycle will go on. In with the new and out with the old, as they say. Needless to say, the only unchanging thing we can expect from religion--is its continued capacity to generate apostates.