Sunday, March 15, 2009

What you make of it

I find interesting the CNN article on the decline of Christianity in America. I’ve heard and read a few takes on these results, ranging from defensiveness to indifference. I personally don’t put too much stock in polls after my senior year stats professor told us that you can say anything you want with statistics, depending on how you report the data. But I have seen what may affirm these findings, at least among the small cross-section of people I know.

Over the years I’ve witnessed a number of folks, me included, who have drifted away from the practice of their faith in the form of the Church As We Know It. It ranges from one end of just not going to church, to the other extreme of rejecting God and faith entirely. Call it disillusionment or crisis of belief, bottom line is that Church just isn’t working for them.

I know everyone has their own stories, complicated as they may be, but if I were to simplify why I believe this shift is taking place, it is the tension that exists between what is Real and what is Ideal.

As children growing up in church, our elders presented the idea of God to us the best way they saw fit. I remember learning bible stories on a flannegraph, a novel little method on which Noah or Daniel or Solomon were cut out of cloth and placed on an easel covered with flannel. The teacher interpreted the stories of these men to us in terms a little child could understand.

But as we grew older, some of us never saw our faith mature past those stories. Noah might have been the nice man who obeyed God and built the ark to save the animals, but what do we do when we start contending with the God who destroyed the world in his wrath? Or when we realize The Wisest Man in the World was also the man Who Slept With Lots of Women? I understand why this angle was left out of first grade bible curriculum.

One option is just to jettison it all over board and adopt a position of indifference, cynicism or further still, hostility. It is too conflicting to see religious leaders rail against homosexuals when your best friend is gay. To be stuck in the middle between the church culture that you question and your non religious family may leave you with no place to stand. It's easier to just side with one or the other.

This is what I mean by the Real and the Ideal. What we hope for, long for and dream about gets juxtaposed with the way it really is. If God is Love, why does it seem there is so much anger among those who say they speak for Him? If the primary image of God in the New Testament is Father, why did dad leave mom? What does all this dissonance mean?

I think it means we are stuck in a fallen place. I think it means we need men and women who will hold fast to the Ideal and not let the Real defeat them. It means we have to decide if which of the two will get the best of us.


Spirit Flower said...

Hi Watchman, a friend pointed your blog out to me. I am an ex-nun and ex-Catholic, so I relate to the issues you face. In the last 4 years, I have read 2 books pointing out flaws in the Bible, which contradicted what I had learned in Catholic Seminary. But, I had already left the church because of issues you mention in your blog. I have settled on a contemplative spiritual life and no longer have a God. I have a blog too,

Keep writing, I enjoy your journey.

Steve said...

Perhaps I'm misinterpreting this post, but I wonder if it takes just as much courage and honesty--if not more--to cling to the Real rather than the Ideal.

An example: evangelical pollster George Barna's data shows year after year that believers behave no differently than nonbelievers when it comes to divorce, suicide, adultery, etc. So is it better to cling to the Ideal and maintain that God is greater than human frailty? Or should we ask the harder questions about reality of this Ideal?

My point is that people of integrity may come down on either side: Real or Ideal.