According to a report I heard on the radio, The drop out rate from Christianity, all of it from fundamentalist to liberal, among people aged 15 to 29 is 60%. That's right, sixty percent. If that was a school district, entire schools would be closing down and mayors would be declaring martial law.
There are a lot of very existential issues behind this statistic for us to ponder.
Why is this? The radio report cites a number of reasons, but the primary reason is one I've thought about for a long time. Kids live in a world dominated by radical changes in science and technology that affect all of us personally. Christianity carries with it a huge amount of supernatural content that becomes more and more of a problem, if not an outright liability, in an age where mechanical explanations for natural phenomena continue to have dramatic success.
Another big reason is cultural and social changes. The younger generations are comfortable in a much more cosmopolitan world than the rest of us older folks are. I've observed this myself. They move through a world of myriad cultural differences with an easy unselfconsciousness that I find astonishing (I was born in Civil Rights era Texas where EVERYONE was very anxiously self conscious about all kinds of differences). Teh Gay, which is tearing churches apart, is not an issue at all for most of the kids, even for those who consider themselves to be conservative (a difference I've also noted over the years teaching).
Apparently, most younger people's experience of church is one of constraint, backwardness, and superstition.
Do we think this whole Christian thing is worth keeping? Is there a distinction between the Christian faith and the Christian religion? Most churches would say "no," but are they right? I think not. I don't think what could be called Christendom, that whole spectrum of cultural and institutional identities around the Christian Evangel, has much of a future. I can foresee a near future in which the historic and not-so-historic churches will be as past as the religion of ancient Egypt. Will Christianity survive the loss of its institutions? Should it survive? Maybe, but it may continue in forms that might be hard for us to recognize as Christian or even as religious. What's worth saving and what's worth discarding? Yes, God is eternal, but we of a more universalist bent proclaim a God who is beyond any one religion, and beyond religion itself. Does God worry about Christianity surviving? Should He? Should we?
Do we Christian progressives have a future? Perhaps, but only as small mammals in a world dominated by huge flesh-eating dinosaurs. The right and the fundamentalists seem to have successfully copyrighted Christianity. It is their terms that dominate all of the public debate about the faith these days. It seems we shall have to make our way between a throwback to 19th century Positivism that's far more zealous today, or a throwback to late Medieval Christianity that's become more legalistic and crazier.
I love my Episcopal parish with its 1821 Federal style church and its high church liturgy. I love the heavy silver Victorian processional cross in the sacristy. I love our magnificent choir singing Mass settings by Palestrina and Monteverdi. I love the Book of Common Prayer. I love what all the congregations I've belonged to have done for their larger communities. I love all the remarkable and generous people I've known through the Church for decades. And yet, I cannot help but feel that our days are numbered.
I think our future will ultimately be in house-churches, and even in small lefty churches that meet in the back of a bar like this one near where I live.
So, what do you think?
Speaking of small mammals in a world dominated by huge flesh-eating dinosaurs, our parish is getting threats from a far-right terrorist group (apparently it's one of those groups that murders abortion providers). We haven't exactly been singled out, but we are one of a number of gay-friendly congregations getting hate mail and threats to our staff and to some of our parishoners (not me, I get enough hate and abuse from the trolls on Thinking Anglicans and Fr. Harris' blog). The FBI has been contacted.