4/7/09

Newsweek Chronicles the Recession in Christianity in America

Newsweek's big RELIGION feature this year is Jon Meacham's penetrating essay on the current state of religion, i.e., Christianity, in our good land. If the title "The End of Christian America" without a question mark looks like it is a mistake to you, then you are not alone. The article summary promises to investigate, "The percentage of self-identified Christians has fallen 10 points in the past two decades. How that statistic explains who we are now—and what, as a nation, we are about to become."

The essay combines statistics with anecdotes and some sweeping historical observations, in the expected Newsweek style. It's written from the vantage point of an editor looking out on America from his upper story corner magazine office.

To get your attention the writer gives you some startling clear news, e.g.,
...the new NEWSWEEK Poll, fewer people now think of the United States as a "Christian nation" than did so when George W. Bush was president (62 percent in 2009 versus 69 percent in 2008). Two thirds of the public (68 percent) now say religion is "losing influence" in American society, while just 19 percent say religion's influence is on the rise. The proportion of Americans who think religion "can answer all or most of today's problems" is now at a historic low of 48 percent. During the Bush 43 and Clinton years, that figure never dropped below 58 percent.
Meacham hedges this and the other statistics that he cites quite a bit warning us not to see them as any indications that we are entering into a "post-Christian" era in the USA.

There is always a lot for the chattering masses to debate in the sweeping generalizations of cover stories in weekly magazines. (There are 1500+ comments online for this article as of today, a number sure to grow. Everyone wants to get into this act.)

Meacham comes close to sounding like he is able to tell us what will come next in our great country. We consistently rail against the predictors of our future because we see it always as a thinly veiled way to try to advance a hidden agenda.

The one point glossed over by Meacham is the search for culpability at the top to explain the weakening of American affiliation. No, we don't mean he should seek to blame the ministers, priests, rabbis and imams for not being charismatic or energetic enough. There are good and bad actors and actions in all areas of Christian hierarchies up to and including the Pope. There is nothing right or wrong with the product that they have to offer. And all the fancy packaging in the universe is not going to make more than a 1 or 2 percent difference in the palatability of our Western religions.

No, we think the eight years under George Bush during which he cynically used religious issues and faith communities as a means to achieve and maintain political control and to bully our nation has led to the current religious recession. And that retreat is what Meacham is chronicling in the essay.

This recession in Christian religious affiliation is quite tangible, says Newsweek. We fear that it may deepen and become a worldwide faith-depression. That's happened in the past. Still, we are optimistic that with the right kinds of stimulus packages and rescue plans, the systems of religious affiliations may be saved from bankruptcy. I don't want to belabor the metaphor. You get the point.

Here is the article link.

1 comment:

tzvee said...

Yohanan Hashlishi sent us the response essay from the WSJ (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123906081768295037.html), which ends, naturally, with this provocative capsule business assessment of Christianity in America:

"The real strength of religious America lies in its diversity. There are more than 200 religious traditions in America, with 20 different sorts of Baptists alone. Religious America is remarkably good at segmenting its customer base: There are services for bikers, gays and dropouts (the Scum of the Earth Church in Denver); Bibles for cowboys, brides, soldiers and rap artists ("Even though I walk through/The hood of death/I don't back down/for You have my back"); and even theme parks for every faith. This Holy Week you can visit the Golgotha Fun Park in Cave City, Ky., or the Ave Maria Grotto in Cullman, Ala., which includes a mini-version of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.

"Looked at from a celestial perspective, the American model of religion, far from retreating, is going global. Pastorpreneurs are taking their message around the world. In Latin America, Pentecostalism has disrupted the Catholic Church's monopoly. Already five of the world's 10 biggest churches are in South Korea: Yoido Full Gospel Church, which has 800,000 members, is a rival in terms of organization for anything Messrs. Warren and Hybels can offer. China is the latest great convert. There are probably close to 100 million Christians in China, most of them following a very individualistic American-style faith. Already more people attend church each Sunday than are members of the Communist Party. China will soon be the world's biggest Christian country and also possibly its biggest Muslim one.

"The Christian right has certainly stirred up an angry reaction to its attempt to marry religion to political power. But it would be a mistake to regard this reaction as evidence that America is losing its religion."

//By -- Mr. Micklethwait is the editor in chief of the Economist and Mr. Wooldridge is its Washington bureau chief. .. authors of "God is Back: How the Global Revival of Faith is Changing the World," published this week by Penguin Press.