Where Are the Lilies of the Field?

Americans love God. Love, love, Love! God. Pat Robertson and George W. Bush say so. And they wouldn’t lie. According to recent statistics, 90% of Americans profess belief in the invisible Man that lives in the clouds. 9 out of every 10 Americans think an anthropomorphic dude with a flowing white beard and preoccupation with shellfish and butt sex cares about fetuses, who they vote for and which language the Bible was really written in. 1 I’d think, being King of the Whole Friggin Universe, he might be more interested in what Black Holes and Pulsars are up to but that’s just me. 9 of 10 people you and I know, think otherwise. Which sounds pretty damn impressive. Except, it’s not true:

  • The percentage of American adults who identify themselves as Christians dropped from 86% in 1990 to 77% in 2001. This is an unprecedented drop.
  • Confidence in religious institutions has hit an all-time low.
  • There appears to be a major increase in interest in spirituality among North Americans. However, this has not translated into greater church involvement.
  • Mainline denominations have been losing membership for decades in the U.S.; conservative denominations have been growing.
  • At the present rates of change, Islam will become the dominant religion in the world before 2050 CE.
  • At the present rate of change, most Americans will be non-Christians by the year 2035 CE.
  • The numbers of “unchurched” people has increased rapidly in the U.S. These are individuals who have not attended church in recent months.
  • Agnosticism, Atheism, secularism are growing rapidly.
  • Interest in new religious movements (e.g. New Age, Neopaganism) is growing rapidly. In particular, Wiccans are doubling in numbers about every 30 months.
  • The influence of the central, program-based congregation is diminishing as more cell churches are being created.
  • Many Christians have left congregations and formed house churches – small groups meeting in each other’s homes.

According to one survey, 76.5% of adult Americans identified themselves as Christians in 2001. But less than half attend church regularly, if at all. A similar study found that those who practice what they preach is a modest 30% and falling. The survey breaks it down like this:

  • 30% are totally secular in outlook
  • 29% are barely or nominally religious
  • 22% are modestly religious
  • 19% regularly practice their religion.

If 60% of those who claim to believe in God act just like us Atheists, are they really religious? More importantly, do they really believe in God or are they just saying so to be polite? We are conditioned from a very early age to equate belief in God with good behavior. But what if in fact we do the reverse and equate good behavior with a presupposition that the person in question believes in God?

I know from personal experience that this is often the case. My in-laws thought I was a nice guy until my wife told them I was an Atheist. Her mother gave me suspicious looks for the first year we were married, to make sure I didn’t have baby’s blood staining my teeth or smell like I’d just been raping puppies out back. She eventually realized I was actually a good person and yet I didn’t believe in Jesus, or pray or anything like that. I think she’s still trying to figure out how that works.

In many places, specifically, the South where I currently live, this equation Good People=Theist is a given. It is assumed that you are a believer and more specifically, a Christian, regardless of the facts or actual behavior. 2 And since first impressions are so important, well, so what if your girlfriend’s grandmother thinks you and she get up early on Sundays and go pray at Church (the other one, across town. No the other one, next to the one with the neon sign. No the other one) rather than sleep off a hangover form the party the night before? What she doesn’t know won’t make Thanksgiving any more awkward than it has to be.

Except, it’s not really even that conscious. Most people profess to believe in God, because they’ve never given it any real thought. God, like the wind through the trees, is just there. You don’t have to think about it or really invest any actual energy in believing in Him, except maybe on Easter or Christmas and even that’s more about candy and presents. So, what was the question again? Oh sure, I believe in God. But let’s skip church and go see Snakes On a Plane instead. That Samuel L. Jackson is one smooth motherfucker!