In my undergraduate philosophy class, I came across a story about Bertrand Russell. As he was being booked after some civil disobedience act, the policeman writing up the report inquired about a series of personal information details of the detainee. When asked about his religion, Russell replied “Atheist.” The officer replied “I’ve never heard of that one before, but that’s fine by me. A man’s got to believe in something.”
We have a host of reasons why atheism is the fastest growing “religion.” We can blame schools, political parties, anything of interest to younger people, but have we ever looked at our own ways of worship?
While in Washington, DC., I regularly attended a Catholic church service where the priest lectured us all the time about who could get communion and who couldn’t. As a guest at a Protestant church down in Florida, I heard the pastor tell us that we needed to replace the wimpy “love Jesus” with an angry, wrathful God, which would scare people into going to church.
Both seemed to have a lot more in common with Aztec rituals where people were intimidated into believing. Perhaps forced conscription would get more people into pews. Fear is a powerful motivator. A couple of lessons on Revelation and some Old Testament smiting would do. But is it really what we’re called to do?
Is it any wonder that some Christians fell for the rapture trick from some radio “evangelist” who was more huckster than holy man? Or how many believe the Mayan Calendar that the world would end on December 21? Why are nature’s destructive manifestations known as “Acts of God?” For the non-believer, have any of these helped convince him or her to join a church?
This isn’t just some American issue alone. Atheism isn’t just one of the fastest growing belief system here in the United States. According to the Pew Center, which does a lot of public opinion work, it is the third largest belief system in the world, trailing only Christianity and Islam (http://news.yahoo.com/no-religion-third-world-group-christians-muslims-122420720.html).
I’m sure you are taking this as a sign of some condemnation of local worship services. Nothing could be further from the truth. I find this place one which seems to be going against the grain. The church services bring in others. In fact, my wife never joined a church, until we came here. She had been to some of those other services in other places that drive people away. But this place was different. For our kids, it’s been much the same thing. If we’re ever out of town on a Sunday, they look at us with surprise and say “but we’ll miss church at home!”
In fact, it was around Christmas of 2001, shortly after we moved here, that my wife chose to be baptized in a LaGrange church. We did the same for the kids, to the Sunday closest to Christmas.
Let’s not forget that these are the times where many of us proclaim the “good news,” that we have a second chance to make up for mistakes we’ve made, if we try to become better people. Maybe if we lead with such a message, we might find more folks interested than tidings of Armageddon, bad news, or more of the same that we see on the nightly television news.