The failure of the modern American church (and it is failing) is directly related to this one fact. The church has virtually given up on religion.
To understand how the church gave up on religion, understand religion, or at least get a working definition to discuss. I accept Niebuhr's pithy comment, "In part the religious ideal of love is fed and supported by viewing the soul of the fellowman from the absolute and transcendent perspective," Reinhold Niebuhr, Moral Man and Immoral Society. (Louisville: Westminister, John Knox Press, 1960-Reprint), pp. 57,58.
God being my help, I intend to continue this post tonight or tomorrow. In the event of my untimely demise prior to that event, I do want to leave this thought for our (church) culture. The Church is failing because it gave up on Religion, not because we don't have the right musical instruments in the sanctuary.
A 2008 American Religious Identification Survey of 54,000 American adults found 76% of American surveyed calling themselves Christians, down 10% from 1990. Thirty percent of wedded couples said they did not have a religious wedding and more than 25% said they did not expect to have a religious funeral (Leonard Pitts: "Faith-Is Religion Itself Driving People Away From God?"-Ft. Worth Star Telegram, Opinion Page, Tuesday, March 17, 2009, p. 13b).
Down ten percentage points in less than twenty years, Americans, for whatever reasons (mobility, diversity, poor image, immigration) are less and less identifying with the Christian church. Why?
We are banal.
Yes, we have our scandals; repeated scandals, from Roman Catholic pedophile priests to blatant hucksters like , well,pick any televangelist. You can hardly go wrong. I tread lightly here because each of them has a family that scarcely needs any more opprobrium heaped on them but when the televangelist is considered a prime representative of American Christianity, the end thereof is not far from us.
We have our scandals. It is a pity that our scandals may be the most interesting thing about us.
We are banal.
We are not amateurs at religion. Our word amateur is derived of a French word meaning "from the heart." We could settle for amateur. It is when the heart is slimy or dull we have a problem. American Christianity seems to have a wooden heart.
Consider the success of the Christian faith is not based on the incidence of the miraculous any more than the status of the Christian Bible derives from its emphasis on this faith as a book religion, which fact the fundamentalist strains of our faith miss repeatedly. In fact, the success of this Faith and the stature of its Holy Book are born, full grown, from their depth of thought, feeling and intention.
Consider the 74th Psalm of the Hebrew Bible. Therein, Leviathan, the Sea Monster of the Deep, is said to be so utterly defeated by God that he (Leviathan) is broken from the head down and fed to the people as manna in the Wilderness. He is the food God sprinkles on the ground each morning, to be gathered and consumed, Psalm 74:14. God, deep upon deep, descends to the under-fathoms, thence to destroy utterly a lurking menace to His people and feed them from its broken body. In the Kabbalah, the Jewish Mystery stories, the metaphor continues with the prophecy of Leviathan destroyed again, so that the mystical companions might feed on his flesh again in the age of Messiah.
The mystical union with God from past to future deep is nowhere to be seen in the banal religiosity of modern (or post-modern American Christianity). We are devoid of mystical connection.
Or consider this little noted fact. There is no other ancient mid-eastern Creation story that features the creation of woman. The creation of Eve is in Genesis of the Hebrew Bible alone and nowhere else to be found in the surviving literature of the ancient mid-east. Why? Did the author of the Enuma Elish never hear of women?
The J writer of the Hebrew Bible, the one who most likely cut his stylus deep into history, gives us six times more information on the creation of woman than of original man.There is a deep irony to this fact, an irony of the classical sense of irony, the ironic as dissembling, especially in light of the modern application of "gracious submission" of the woman to the man. The J writer shows us to look one way and then breaks at us from the other.
We are banal, empty, devoid of thought, and so unworthy to stand astride a tumultuous fault line in human history, sense the seismic tremors and claim we can offer safety, or even sense. We scarcely consider our fellowman in the transcendent or absolutist sense. We have lost our religion in order to keep our church and now appear poised to lose both what we ceded and what we saved.