Why People Have Dropped Out (from the church and religion)

empty-church

Why do so many people feel so alienated from the church, and from religion in general? This is an important to question to answer and it’s answer is important to understand if you want to be successful in sharing your faith in Jesus with others. You probably know people – maybe your neighbor or co-worker or family member – who are wonderful people, yet extremely resistant to the Gospel’s call to total dedication and commitment to Jesus Christ as Savior. Why is that? We know from previous studies that people don’t believe because the don’t want to. It’s not that they can’t have faith in Jesus or that they are vehemently opposed to Jesus Christ and the Christian faith, it’s that they simply choose not to believe. But that really doesn’t answer the “why,” does it? Maybe there are two questions here: Why do many people feel alienated from the church? and Why have so many people left the church (or organized religion)?

Just how bad is it for organized religion in America today? Survey after survey after survey tells us that the number of young people with “no religious affiliation” is rising exponentially. This so-called Millennial Generation may also be called “the Nones,” in terms of their commitment to a particular faith. They have none. This holds true across the broad spectrum of religion. Sons and daughters of, for example, evangelical parents largely consider themselves to be “Nones.” But this is true also of Roman Catholics, conservative or orthodox Judaism, and mainstream Protestantism. Young people are increasingly uninterested in the religion of their parents. Or another way to look at this problem is in terms of reproduction. Generations ago, churches and synagogues didn’t worry about growing or maintaining their numbers because their members would have children and those children would grow up and, in many cases, remain members of their parents church or synagogue (or at least remain in the same religion), and then they would have children who would do the same. That kind of reproduction just isn’t happening any more. This spiritual fall-off is obvious and accelerating. Here are some of the reasons why.

We live in an increasingly secular world.

It used to be, not so long ago, there were all kinds of Christian symbols all over a town. Not just church steeples, but manger scenes at Christmas in front of the library and the town hall, Easter displays in shopping centers, big sales at toy and clothing stores to coincide with various Christian and Jewish holidays. Clergy were respected members of society. The church was respected for all kinds of reasons, and so were Christians. There was a time when no business took place on a Sunday and if you were a Christian or an observant Jew, your belief in the Sabbath was respected and you didn’t have to work on Sunday. Rarely does that happen today. As far as your eye can see, there is only secularism today; the landscape of most communities is devoid religious symbols, with the exception of church steeples.

But it’s worse even than that. This secularism is now indoctrinated into our children. From kindergarten to graduate school, children and young people are indoctrinated with secularism.

Across the world, young brains are filled with secular notions like these: religion is for the weak or the stupid; faith in God doesn’t make sense; the greatest evil perpetrated in the world was done in the name of God. That last point is one you hear repeated ad nauseam, usually from college graduates, and yet it’s patently false. It’s like people that believe that have never heard about Nazism or communism or Mao Tse-tung, who starved some 60 million of his own people to death. None of this evil was done in the name of God! And yet the secular lie is repeated and believed by people who don’t know any better.

The truth is, secularism is good for only one thing: the government, because it fosters a dependency on government programs at the expense of true, brotherly compassion of one person helping another person personally. This kind of compassion usually takes place within the context of religion.

How secular has America become? In the 1960’s, the counter-cultural movement was marked by things like ripped jeans, long hair, and marijuana. In 2015, to be counter-cultural, you go to church on Sunday, or synagogue on Saturday, are pro-life, believe in just two sexes, and in traditional marriage. How far America has fallen in less than half a century, thanks to secularism and the secular indoctrination of our children.

The Bob Dylan Syndrome

In 1979, Bob Dylan, the luckiest musician in the world, recorded a song called You Gotta Serve Somebody. He didn’t know it, but that’s actually a very profound theological truth he was singing about. Man was created with a need to worship.

You may be an ambassador to England or France You may like to gamble, you might like to dance You may be the heavyweight champion of the world You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed You’re gonna have to serve somebody Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

Well, he drones on like that seemingly forever, but the point of Dylan’s song is also the point of so much Scriptural teaching: human beings need to worship, and if it’s not God they’re worshiping, it will be something or someone else. Why did God make man this way? Every human being was created to worship because every human being needs, among other things, a sense of meaning in their life. Animals don’t have this need, only human beings do. This is why you don’t see churches for dogs or cats (unless you’re in California). Animals don’t have spiritual needs, only carnal ones: the need to eat, to reproduce, to survive, to be walked, etc. Man, though, is different. He has spiritual needs whether he acknowledges those needs or not. People want and need meaning, and so as a result of the decline of religion in America, people find meaning elsewhere; they invent new religions. In the West today, the new religions include:

Science/Education

Today, science and education have become forms of religions to some people. By the way, knowledge is not a bad thing. Science has taught and continues to teach us great things. Knowledge has made the world a better in which to live. So, religious people aren’t, nor should they be, anti-science or anti-knowledge.

But for some, these things have taken God’s place. The pursuit of education to these people is their all-in-all; science is their guide. Unfortunately, higher education makes a poor religion. Science doesn’t know morality nor does it teach good and evil. Science is never settled; it’s always changing its mind. More education is not able to answer the deepest questions in life, like, Where did I come from? Where am I going?

It’s a little sad when people seek meaning in their lives by pursuing the latest scientific or educational fad.

Environmentalism

This is a huge new religion today. Environmentalism it not a concern for the environment, incidentally. We should all be concerned with the state of the world around us, in terms of nature. We should all want clean air and water and so on. But the modern environmentalism movement goes way, way beyond those things into the realm of pure faith, a realm previously associated with traditional religion. Environmentalism is actually the worship of the environment. And it’s dangerous. For example, if banning DDT is good for the environment, it should be banned even though banning it killed millions of Africans.

It takes a lot of faith be a modern environmentalist, especially since over the past decade so many of the tenets of environmentalism (the superiority of solar and wind power over traditional means of creating energy, and man-made climate change, for example) have been completely debunked or at the very least been brought into serious question. And yet, those who worship at the altar of environmentalism continue to stubbornly hold onto those notions and teach them to our children. That takes faith. But, some people find meaning in this new religion.

Leftism

Even more popular and fast growing than the previous two new religions, is the new religion of leftism. Sadly, leftism is far more dynamic than Christianity; it has captured the imagination of the elites of the Western world over the past half century. How popular is leftism today? It is as popular among the elites of the world as Roman Catholicism was in the Medieval world in Europe.

A classic example of a devoted disciple of leftist theology is Jill Abramson, former editor of the New York Times. Here’s what she said:

The New York Times is my Bible.

To the leftists of America, the New York Times is what the Bible used to be to most Americans: the authoritative source of morality and ethics. People used to turn to the Bible to learn what they should believe about a certain thing. Now they turn to the New York Times. But it’s not just the New York Times. As far as leftists are concerned, their “holy writ” is made up of the latest opinions from their inspired writers and those opinion makers are found all over the mainstream media and their ideas dominate the thinking of leftists.

Leftism is not an American political problem.  It’s tentacles encircle the world.  Leftism, coupled with secularism, its progeny, has ruined Europe and America is catching up fast.  There is no room for other ideas or alternate ideas in the theology of the leftists. That’s why they ban books, boycott restaurants, launch campaigns against radio talk show hosts, eliminate words from the English language, and why they use the courts to force their beliefs onto others. If you don’t support leftist theology – if you are not a “true believer” – you are deemed a sexist, a racist, a homophobe, Islamophobic, a bigot, or a hundred other names.  They have become the new bullies in the neighborhood.

But the reason so many people feel so alienated from religion isn’t just the fault of the secular indoctrinators or non-believers. Often the religious – the true believers – have driven the seeker or the questioner or the doubter away.

Religious evil

A lot of people are witnessing the horrific evil being done by Islamic terrorists in the name their god and they extend that proclivity toward evil to all religions because in today’s world of moral equivalence, all religions are the same. That, of course, isn’t true, but the non-believer doesn’t know that. They equate Islam with Judaism with Christianity because they haven’t been taught the difference. They don’t know that the Muslim god Allah is not the Christian or Jewish God Yahweh.

Religious evil has done more to alienate people from God than all the atheists of the world. And you’ll encounter people like this as you try to share your faith with the lost. Invariably you will find someone who mentions 9-11, the Crusades, and the Salem witch trials all in the same breath because, as the saying goes, “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” These are the people who think they know, but they know nothing.

Religious evil has done much to hurt the faith but religious good does more to help the faith than all government programs combined . We rarely hear about all the good done around the world in the name of God, but it’s being done and people are finding God because of those efforts. Often, the way you live as a Christian will do more to influence a lost soul than your presentation of the Gospel. Micah 6:8 says –

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (NIV)

It doesn’t get any simpler than that! Know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior then be good. Faith is simple yet human beings make is ridiculously complicated to the point where a non-believer doesn’t know what to believe because he’s heard his Baptist friends say one thing, his Pentecostal friends something else and the Presbyterian neighbor totally confuses him. If we as Christians just lived the way God wants us to, sharing our faith would so much easier.

So, unfortunately, religious people – including some Christians – are partially responsible for alienating people from religion and the church.

Historic evil

World War 1 almost killed the Christian faith and World War 2 buried it in Europe. Historians often cite World War 1 as being the worst event of modern times. It was bloody and it was horrible but it also severely damaged the image of Christianity for in World War 1 it was Christian killing Christian. This led to World War 2 and the rise of Nazism and Communism but also to the Holocaust, which will forever be a blight on Christianity. German Christians did almost nothing to stop the extermination of Jews and the largest Christian nation on earth was late to the game, thus allowing millions of Jews to die. This is, of course, over simplified, but essentially true. People have long memories. It’s no wonder some Jews are so distrustful of Christians.

Evil

A lot of people feel alienated from the church or from the faith because of the persistent existence of evil on earth. To them, if God existed He would do something about it. Even some Christians wonder about this, not to the point where they doubt their faith, but they wonder nonetheless.

Two views of Scripture

Finally, people often feel alienated from the faith because of Scripture. Within the Christian faith, and even the Jewish faith, there exists two divergent views of Scripture. One view says that the Bible is a work of man; that it is not divine, and that it is not to be taken literally. The other view says the Bible is a divine book; it was written by God and should be taken literally.

People who hold to the first view, that the Bible is not a divine book, are very good at making their brand of Christianity relevant, while those who hold to the divine nature of Scripture are, generally speaking, terrible at making their faith relevant.

Over the years, the religious left, those who do not look at the Bible as divine, preach and teach about things like, social justice, gay rights, worker’s rights, eliminating hunger and poverty, and so on. It’s not surprising, then, that these types of churches tend to back liberal politicians and political agendas that are left of center, very often unaware of what they are doing. Though you may disagree with this view of Christianity, you have to admit they are addressing real life problems in a way that is consistent with their worldview.

Over on the conservative side, the religious right isn’t always very good at addressing the relevance of their faith to real life issues. For example, when was the last time you heard a sermon on the Christian response to some controversial social issue other than abortion?  Ever hear a compelling sermon on the importance of capital punishment from the Biblical perspective?  And speaking of abortion, we see how successful the church was at presenting its case against the wholesale slaughter of unborn babies.

Given the current state of society, what side of the church do you think gets favorable press? Or, another way to look at this problem is this: Christians who live their lives like Christians, whose conduct and morality are centered on the Scriptures, have nothing to say to the world but Christians who don’t live like Christians, whose conduct and morality mirror the secular culture, are listened to no matter what they say. So when you, as a Bible-believing, conservative, orthodox Christian go out into the world of lost souls, your message is one of faith and salvation, a message that doesn’t always sit well with somebody who’s looking for help in raising a troubled son or who has just lost their job and has a bill to pay. Like it or not, the world has a perception of the true church that’s not at all accurate. That lost soul is looking for what they think is relevancy in your Christian faith, and unfortunately, to them salvation isn’t as relevant as a free meal or advice. We conservative, orthodox Christians need to get a lot better at making Biblical Christianity relevant. Because in truth, Biblical Christianity is the only relevant form of Christianity in the world.

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