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Religion Continues Decline in US


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http://abcnews.go.com/US/american-religion-national-council-churches-reports-pentacostalism-gains/story?id=12931023

http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2011-02-16-church_growth_15_ST_N.htm?csp=34news

 

The largest denominations continue to decline. Only 17 million Americans remain in organized Protestant churches. Some smaller churches, including more extreme or dramatic groups, have increased their size, but the overall trend continues its downward trend. One article above says that Americans are still "religious", just no longer enamored with organized forms.

 

Sounds about right to me.

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It appears that america is following the way of most of Europe. There has been a downward trend in churches for a while now. I guess though, people still have their beliefs but don;t go to church/active in the ideas anymore. This could be the future for religion.

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I've heard Kierkergaard cited as the forerunner of modern religious individualism. I'm not sure that secular naturalism isn't more the reason that organized religion would be losing people, though. I think even organized religion itself is shifting popularity to churches that basically tell people that having fun and living it up is good and that ideas like sin, the devil, and hell are not necessary. People like not having to worry about avoiding doing bad things. They want to be told that everything that feels good is morally, ethically, spiritually, and otherwise good. They will be attracted to any authority figure/institution that they can believe will legitimate their desires, whether it is a church, secularism, science, etc. I use the term "secular" to describe such naturalism in the broadest sense, because I think various churches or "philosophical paths" can be used to dogmatize ideas that basically reinforce the logic that what you want and what makes you feel good is natural and therefore good. If hedonism didn't have such a bad name, all these people could probably just choose to be hedonists. Of course, they cannot be total hedonists, though, because they're not independent enough from social-conformity to do whatever they want without worrying about what others think. So maybe a better term for their church would be social-conformism-conditional-hedonism. I.e. they seek pleasure in any form that is socially legitimated and avoid the pain of social-delegitimation over any other deterrent.

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I lived down the street from a 2000-seat cathedral in Berlin that had a few fold-up chairs arranged around the baptismal font. I saw the pastor walking around one day and asked him why the chairs were arranged that way and he said that that was where the congregation met after its numbers had declined to about a dozen. Churches like that persist in Europe because certain institutional funding, government support, large land holdings and their associated rents, etc., sustain them, but religion is essentially dead there.

 

America continues to be the laughing-stock of the developed world because of its corn-pone religiousity, which even comes to expression occasionally in statements by senators and representatives who support Israel because of its supposed role in the second-coming or who insist that global warming won't be a major problem since God promised the world wouldn't end that way.

 

For a long time America has been a country of two distinct cultures: A modern, rational culture in the North and a primitive, third-world culture in the South and non-Pacific West. Since the rational part of the U.S. also corresponds to the part which did not secede in the Civil War, perhaps the country should have split then, since the Union victory seems to have created a cultural incongruity. Unfortunately, with the shift of the U.S. population to the South and non-Pacific West, the population migrating there has only increased the weight of primitivity in American culture rather than elevated the cultural niveau of the primitive parts of the country.

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I lived down the street from a 2000-seat cathedral in Berlin that had a few fold-up chairs arranged around the baptismal font. I saw the pastor walking around one day and asked him why the chairs were arranged that way and he said that that was where the congregation met after its numbers had declined to about a dozen. Churches like that persist in Europe because certain institutional funding, government support, large land holdings and their associated rents, etc., sustain them, but religion is essentially dead there.

 

America continues to be the laughing-stock of the developed world because of its corn-pone religiousity, which even comes to expression occasionally in statements by senators and representatives who support Israel because of its supposed role in the second-coming or who insist that global warming won't be a major problem since God promised the world wouldn't end that way.

 

For a long time America has been a country of two distinct cultures: A modern, rational culture in the North and a primitive, third-world culture in the South and non-Pacific West. Since the rational part of the U.S. also corresponds to the part which did not secede in the Civil War, perhaps the country should have split then, since the Union victory seems to have created a cultural incongruity. Unfortunately, with the shift of the U.S. population to the South and non-Pacific West, the population migrating there has only increased the weight of primitivity in American culture rather than elevated the cultural niveau of the primitive parts of the country.

The distinction between religion and "modern-rationality" is not really this clear cut. Many governing and scientific principles are derived from religious ideologies and then white-washed to make them appear objective while retaining core values of the religions. What's more, when religion is rejected in favor of modernity, it is often the replacement of Christianity with the type of nature-worship religion that preceded it. Nazism, for example, rejected Christianity as a form of Judaism and wanted to replace it with a more "ethically innate" Germanic religious ideology. Likewise, pre-Christian Roman and Greek culture were revived in art and popular ideology as well, I believe. This may be more pronounced than other forms of secular culture, but generally I do think people who consider themselves secular materialists hold values that go beyond pure rationality, and often those are more in line with pre-Christian beliefs and values in terms of worshipping things like pleasure and fertility.

 

As for "America being the laughing stock of the developed world," this is an appropriate expression because it reflects the culture of modernist supremacy and its inability to affirmatively promote its own values, as Christianity so strives to do. So instead modernism just attacks and ridicules anything different from it until difference either conforms or goes away. Ironically, America is not really as religious as it may seem to some. Most American religion seems to actually resemble more what Baudrillard described among those who failed to join in the iconoclasm. I.e. people who did not believe in God enough to renounce the idols/simulacra in an attempt to discover the "true God" hidden by the statues. In other words, many Americans (and not just Americans by the way) are engaged in religion not because they truly believe in God or spirituality but because they like the social aspects of Church-belonging. There was an article in Time magazine a while ago where a poll showed that most people overwhelmingly supported the pope, but also overwhelmingly disagreed with him on key issues such as divorce, abortion, stem-cell research, etc. So it seems that religiosity has less to do with actual spirituality or ideology as it has to do with personal identity and social relations. In that sense, Europeans may be more like the iconoclasts (and Kierkergaard) in search of a true God despite disenchantment with the simulacra of religion. This could be a gross generalization/assumption, though.

 

Either way, I don't think you can simplify the modern development of secularism and religion to the kinds of opposition you suggest. You have to understand both secularism and religion more deeply, imo.

 

 

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Iconoclasts are deeply concerned with the ultimate meaning of the universe and human life in it, so it is worth the effort to them to go through the whole intellectual catharsis of escaping from whatever idolatry they were born into or which suffocates them in the surrounding society. I suspect that religious people are either fanatically committed to religion or just listlessly alligned with a religion they don't analyze very deeply for the same reason in both cases: Both of these two religious groups, fanatics and those who profess belief but just with an indifferent shrug, profoundly need some curtain -- either an elaborate and richly decorated one or a thin and frayed one, respectively -- to shelter them from the existential doubts and the vast questions about the meaning of everything that would otherwise emerge for them without it. In this sense religion's major function in the modern world is as a gigantic stop sign that proclaims, 'Ne plus ultra!' -- you can't go any farther than this palpably ridiculous fairy tale when you approach engagement with the truly disturbing questions of human existence, so you might as well turn around and go back to worrying about gas mileage and retirement savings.

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Iconoclasts are deeply concerned with the ultimate meaning of the universe and human life in it, so it is worth the effort to them to go through the whole intellectual catharsis of escaping from whatever idolatry they were born into or which suffocates them in the surrounding society. I suspect that religious people are either fanatically committed to religion or just listlessly alligned with a religion they don't analyze very deeply for the same reason in both cases: Both of these two religious groups, fanatics and those who profess belief but just with an indifferent shrug, profoundly need some curtain -- either an elaborate and richly decorated one or a thin and frayed one, respectively -- to shelter them from the existential doubts and the vast questions about the meaning of everything that would otherwise emerge for them without it. In this sense religion's major function in the modern world is as a gigantic stop sign that proclaims, 'Ne plus ultra!' -- you can't go any farther than this palpably ridiculous fairy tale when you approach engagement with the truly disturbing questions of human existence, so you might as well turn around and go back to worrying about gas mileage and retirement savings.

Maybe it's just me, but I don't understand when people claim that religion is a substitute for critical inquiry. To me, religion is an existential philosophy that promotes inquiry into the creation as one method of "going forth and multiplying" God's work by studying and knowing it. When Hawking mentions "knowing the mind of God," this somehow has an ominous tone, but I think it's misplaced because if God exists, surely S/He/It would not have any problem with humans perpetually delving into the logic/nature of the creation. If anything, I would think God would want humans to do this as a method of coming closer to "Him" through deeper understanding of "His" work.

 

As for existential doubt, I don't think that this is a perpetual abyss to fall into. I think faith gives people a safety net that allows them to delve deeper into such an abyss. Ultimately, I don't think such doubt exposes theology as an empty fairy tale but as a very functional fairy tale that is designed quite well to recover the human spirit from despair. Theology is just another cognitive-emotional technology, but it just happens to be a very old one. Probably certain vegetables or domestic livestock were developed as long ago as religion, e.g. cattle/chickens, but no one questions their functionality as a source of food. Modernism sometimes seems to have some fixation on transcending every aspect of the past, but I think it must just ignore every facet of modern culture that is rooted in some old culture because cultures don't just emerge from nothing. Your rhetoric is moving, but I think it's one-sided. What aspect of post-religious ideology has come to replace religion, for example, do you think?

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America continues to be the laughing-stock of the developed world because of its corn-pone religiousity

Churches like that persist in Europe because certain institutional funding, government support,

 

What an interesting juxtaposition of sentences. :)

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Fear and Guilt are why religion exists, fear of death and fear of punishment for things you feel guilty about and of course religion gives you plenty of things to feel guilty about. Religion uses these things to promote it's self, religion says we will never really die, if you believe and do what religion tells you to do you will never die and be rewarded with paradise, if you do not then you will never die but be punished forever in a horrible fashion. Some people just can't deal with non existence, my feelings are that the universe is neatly partitioned into three parts, before i existed, while i exist, and after my existence, I see no reason to fear the last one any more than the first one... When people under stand what an oxymoron life after death is and that death is not the beginning of anything but accept it as simply the end i think religion will totally disappear....

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America's unique religiosity makes it the laughing-stock of modern Europeans alive and thinking today. The persistence of institutional supports for religion in Europe is the result of an historical inheritance which most people in Europe today would regard as regrettable and ridiculous.

 

The problem with religion's purported role in leading people deeper into rational reflection on the mysteries of the universe is that it dogmatically sets up certain hypotheses as doctrinal fiats and insists that these must remain valid whatever further inquiry might suggest about their usefulness or rationality. These fiats are also rationally opaque, since they are presented just as contingent facts which somehow have an enormously significant explanatory role even if it remains conceptually unclear either a) how they are required by the available data as organizing hypotheses or b) how they actually explain anything. Thus for example it seems quite bizarre that the ultimate meaning of the entire universe, the whole moral order of the world, is somehow accounted for by the fact that a cave used as a grave in the Roman province of Judea two thousand years ago didn't have a hidden rear exit. Since such a blank contingency set down a priori as an unquestionable fact doesn't seem rationally relatable to any of the basic questions of human existence, morality, or the meaning of the universe, it functions more as a comforting stop sign to further inquiry rather than an invitation to deeper analysis.

 

Truly rational reflection about the meaning of life and humanity's moral purpose would have to be based on ordinary, everyday data we all know are real. Starting from simple premises like that you can generate really deep insights, such as are developed in Heidegger's 'Being and Time' and other such works.

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Fear and Guilt are why religion exists, fear of death and fear of punishment for things you feel guilty about and of course religion gives you plenty of things to feel guilty about. Religion uses these things to promote it's self, religion says we will never really die, if you believe and do what religion tells you to do you will never die and be rewarded with paradise, if you do not then you will never die but be punished forever in a horrible fashion. Some people just can't deal with non existence, my feelings are that the universe is neatly partitioned into three parts, before i existed, while i exist, and after my existence, I see no reason to fear the last one any more than the first one... When people under stand what an oxymoron life after death is and that death is not the beginning of anything but accept it as simply the end i think religion will totally disappear....

Religious language seems to attempt to transcend the ego of the individual by dealing with concepts like God and life after death that view people as being part of connected networks of actions, etc. So, when you say that your life ends when your body dies, you do realize that things that you did while your body still lived continue to have effects on other people, right? Obviously this is not what you interpret when you think about the concept of afterlife, but note that religion views the spirit as transcendent of the body, and one way to understand this is to look at how people's actions extend their "spirit" in committing those actions beyond their body. So, for example, when you have the spirit to build a house, for example, your spirit of building that house can be said to be manifested in the house. Then your body could die but the house is still there. So the deeds you commit while alive can make your "afterlife" a paradise or hell for those that outlive you. Then, if you think about your children as part of yourself, for example, you can view their lives after your death as your own afterlife, which would be eternal assuming that they continue to have children and their children continue to have children and so on. There are many different ways of interpreting various religious ideas, so I don't see what is constructive about taking the narrowest possible interpretation and ridiculing it for being less than immediately literal. It's religious mythology, not science.

Edited by lemur
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