by Mike Pyatt
CNN reports for the first time in 44 years of polling, “religious nones” now comprise as many Americans who claim no religion, as Catholics and Evangelicals. This marks a meteoric rise of “religious nones” as researchers label them, that has grown 266% since 1991. Barring a Holy Ghost revival of some proportion, that “no religion” group will be the largest representation by 2025. Some are aghast. Others befuddled. Many indifferent. The secularist and atheist are celebrating this poll. Nick Fish, president of the American Atheist, thinks the internet could be one factor, “It provides a place for nonbeliever to find each other.” Some think the rise reflects generation X, Y and Z’s reluctance to religious expression or affiliation. One blogger thinks, “We’re seeing a generation of Americans who are hungry for facts and curious about the world.” Facts? Or opinions that comport to their comfort zone? While there are few avowedly open atheist amid this diverse Congress, according to a recent Pew study, the religious orthodoxy of that assembly’s more like “Heinz 57” than “Fiber One.” The first known opinion poll, in 1824, conducted by the Harrisburg Pennsylvanian, indicating Andrew Jackson leading John Quincy Adams for president.
The reaction to this recent polling on Facebook drew mixed reactions. Many expressed concern at this trend. Some were shocked. Others gleeful. Most indifferent. Is it an existential threat as some warn? Many Evangelicals are vexed, but unsurprised by the recent trend. It was a slow train coming that finally arrived at the station. We understand that religion played a major role in the American Revolution, by offering a moral sanction for the opposition to the British-an assurance to the average American that Revolution was justified in the sight of God, by “turning colonial resistance into a righteous cause.” It’s a matter of record that ministers of the Gospel served the American cause in various capacities during the Revolution: as military chaplains, as penman for committees of correspondence, members of state legislatures, constitutional conventions and national Congress. Others took up arms leading Continental troops into battle.
The Revolution certainly split some denominations, notably the Church of England, whose ministers were bound by oath to support the King, and Quakers, who were traditionally pacifists. Religious practice suffered in certain geographic regions, due to the absence of ministers, while other regions, religious fervor flourished. Jonathan Mayhew, D.D., Pastor of the West Church in Boston, in 1767, was an eloquent proponent of the idea that civil and religious liberty was ordained by God. He considered the Church of England as dangerous, nearly diabolical, and an enemy of “the New England way.” Fiery sermons punctuated the landscape with a common theme that the Revolution was justified by God. Historians record that John Witherspoon, who represented New Jersey from 1776 to 1782, as a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and President of the College of New Jersey, founded in 1746, present day Princeton University, was accused of turning the institution into a “seminary of sedition.” Witherspoon delivered his first commencement address in Latin. The university’s motto, in Latin, “Dei Sub Numine Viget.” In English, “Under God’s Power She Flourishes.” That was then.
Today’s mainline denominations bear little resemblance to those staunch bastions of old. Most have jettisoned any vestige of Christianity, or theological orthodoxy. Secular institutions donned in religious garb, marked by theological murkiness, that are more likely to celebrate the ordination of LGBTQ ministers, and confessing their “ecological sins to plants” as they did recently at Union Seminary, where faculty members and students confessed to plants, set up in the chapel, while dancing and chanting. The array of students looks more like the UN than a seminary-Baptists, pagans, Buddhist, Hindu, Episcopal, Unitarian, and Jewish. A “hodge podge,” a liturgical “ coming out of the closet” where any view goes unchallenged-with the only metric-sincerity. The Washington Examiner called it “theological absurdity.” What’s one to make of this loss of historic Biblical underpinnings, that once transformed lives, and impacted the public square with a resurgence of moral values?
First, one must reject this faulty, naive yearning for a world with no epistemological boundaries, where good and evil are relative, imprisoned in progressive educational and social models, pervasive in American culture. Although it has a predictable failure, secular humanism’s repackaged nearly every generation, and unabashedly re-marketed to an expanding, naively optimistic populace. The false underlying premise’s that with another tweak or twist of philosophy, or more time, modern man can achieve a morally elevated place from which to reign. Autonomous man’s at the zenith of this movement. That’s why it’s doomed to failure. That foundation crumbled long ago. If man ever steps foot on Mars, for example, the unraveling begins. His futility to escape God’s dominion is thwarted by the salutary reminder of the Psalmist, “Where shall I flee from your Spirit, or Where shall I flee from your Presence?” Nowhere!
On a practical level, few truly desire such a farcical existence of godlessness. Most are trying to navigate this fragile life that’s punctuated by surprises of joy and disaster. Since ancient days man’s inner voice has signaled him that there’s an internal vacuum. This void can’t be filled by craven human or institutional devices. John Adams, in 1787, published “Defense of the Constitutions,” a refutation of Diderot’s, Rousseau’s, and Condorcet’s assertion of human and institutional perfectibility. Even veering toward Unitarianism, Adams knew better. Being made in God’s image, natural man is quite remarkable, unlocking the atom and DNA code, but not his own soul. Unregenerate man gladly embraces a “God” he can mollify. Not the Infinite/Personal God, who tells us the Truth about ourselves. Man’s presence, that corruptive agent that is part of the equation which always spells doom to any misguided pursuit.
Is a decline in religious expression genuinely troubling? One’s inner yearning cannot be gratified by religious mumbo-jumbo or fatuous confidence in human nature, philosophical slight-of-hand, or escape mentality. Buddha, Joseph Smith, and L. Ron Hubbard have one thing in common-they’re all dead. God’s eternal Truth transcend Nirvana, Shangri-La, Celestial Kingdoms, or frivolous tautologies. Pantheism and the recent blasphemous “green movement” that has reached a sacrosanct plateau, lead only to despair. Only the religious pilgrimage that encounters Jesus Christ, found in the ancient Holy Scripture, leads one to the Cross. All others are Cul-de-sacs. What do you think?
Mike Pyatt’s a Natrona County resident. His email’s firstname.lastname@example.org