A good Facebook friend pointed me to an article by Peter Beinart in The Atlantic that I think is vital reading for Christians. Actually, for everyone. The article is called “Breaking Faith,” and the subtitle spells out its thesis: The culture war over religious morality has faded; in its place is something much worse.
The basic premise of the article is that Christianity is on the decline in the US. Sure, the vast majority of Americans identify as Christians, but those numbers are declining. More significantly, the level of regular church attendance is dropping across all demographics, even among self-professed “evangelicals.” I’ve heard the old excuse that “going to church doesn’t make you a Christian.” That’s like me saying, “I’m a member of the YMCA, but I don’t have to go regularly to stay fit.” You can see the results!
According to Beinart, the impact of this sharp decline in church involvement is greater intolerance. He sees this happening all across the political spectrum. For instance, “conservatives” who don’t go to church regularly are content to tolerate (or even eager to support) progressive social causes like same-sex marriage, but they are much more likely to see the world in terms of racial or tribal interests.
“Whatever the reason, when cultural conservatives disengage from organized religion, they tend to redraw the boundaries of identity, de-emphasizing morality and religion and emphasizing race and nation.”
This is why, according to Beinart, many “alt-right” conservatives embrace people like Milo Yiannopoulos, hardly a paragon of traditional Christian virtue, but a virulent proponent of the “blood and soil” white nationalism of the alt-right.
Beinart also sees the same trend on the Left. Liberals tend to be more secular in their outlook anyway, but church attendance is dropping in that demographic as well. This is especially true among African-Americans, who historically have attended church more frequently than whites. The result is the “Black Lives Matter” movement, which does not value the virtues of “love, forgiveness and reconciliation that empowered black leaders such as King” (in the words of civil rights activist Barbara Reynolds).
Beinart discusses the decision of Patrisse Cullors, of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, to renounce Christianity in exchange for an ancient African religion:
“In a move that faintly echoes the way some in the alt-right have traded Christianity for religious traditions rooted in pagan Europe, Cullors has embraced the Nigerian religion of Ifa. To be sure, her motivations are diametrically opposed to the alt-right’s. Cullors wants a spiritual foundation on which to challenge white, male supremacy; the pagans of the alt-right are looking for a spiritual basis on which to fortify it. But both are seeking religions rooted in racial ancestry and disengaging from Christianity….”
Last month I wrote a post about the tribal morality that is inherent to atheism. The Christian worldview offers a coherent grounding for the dignity of all people, regardless of border, race, or tribe. Atheism does not. And what we have in America right now is a practical sort of atheism. Sure, most people still give lip service to Christianity, but fewer and fewer Americans known what Christianity actually teaches. Instead, we have been living on the fumes of Christian ethical teaching. The distant echoes of sayings like “love your neighbor” still faintly resonate while the theological commitments that undergird such teachings are long forgotten. In another generation, when those echoes disappear, all that will be left are the parochial concerns of race and tribe.
We are on the brink of a new Dark Ages.