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The 'No Religion' Religion

I just learned this week about a “new” religion.  It’s called No Religion.  They have a website, www.lifewithoutreligion.org, billboards, a creed, and even an evangelistic appeal to join their community of “secular humanist or free thought groups” that have “regular meetings, activities and family events.”


Now, let’s think about this.  What is a religion?  According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, religion is “the belief in a god or in a group of gods; an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods; an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group.”  Basically religion is a belief system, and this “no religion” of secular humanism is therefore, by definition, a religion.  They have a belief system where they are their own gods:  “We make our own meaning and are free to create purpose for our own existence.  We decide for ourselves what we want to do with the limited time we have on the planet.”  They have their own local and universal church: “We are connected with family, friends—even people we interact with around the world who (sic) we’ve never met in real life.”  They have their own doctrine: “[We] share our values and ideals. . . .  We’re not here for some cosmic or universal purpose—we’re simply here.  But that’s a good thing, because it means we get to decide what to do with our lives.  We get to figure out what we want our purpose to be.”


And this religion is growing.  According to their website, 20% of the U.S. population identifies itself as having “no religion,” an increase of 5% over the past five years, which represents 63 million people.  What’s most concerning to me is how the percentage of those ascribing to “no religion” increases dramatically in younger generations.  9% of the generation born between 1928-1945 is defined as having no religion.  This increases to 15% among Baby Boomers (those born between 1946-1964), 21% among GenXers (1965-1980), 30% among older Millennials (1981-1989), and 34% among younger Millennials (1990-1994). 


So let me cut to the chase.  This no-religion religion espouses that humanity needs no divine command to determine right vs. wrong.  Their doctrine teaches that “basic moral rules are common to all cultures.”  Really?  Have you been to Somalia lately?  They also teach that concerning “more complex issues, especially ones that touch on public policy, we have science and reason to help guide us.  We study different behaviors, and we use facts and data to help determine which behaviors are truly harmful and which ones are actually benign.  We decide right and wrong based on real-world experience, not on tradition or what a god wants or doesn't want.”  Sounds like a direct quote out of the Nazi handbook on extermination of the Jews.  Hitler and his savage henchmen studied different behaviors, used science and reason to guide them, and used facts and data to determine which behaviors they declared truly harmful or benign. 


Call me a non-believer.  If we decide right and wrong based on real-world experience, we’re in a real-world of hurt.  Real-world experience teaches us that whoever has the political muscle gets to decide right and wrong, and it doesn’t bode well for those who think differently. 


I for one ascribe to a different belief system, one that does not place the rules of right and wrong in the hands of scientists, politicians, or philosophers.  C. S. Lewis put it this way, “The Law of Human Nature, or of Right and Wrong, must be something above and beyond the actual facts of human behavior.  In this case, besides the actual facts, you have something else—a real law which we did not invent and which we know we ought to obey” (Mere Christianity).  The One who breathed this real law into place is a Person who has placed eternity in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:10).  He is the One who gives us purpose and meaning and who desires that we should seek Him, though “He is actually not far from each one of us, for `In him we live and move and have our being’” (Acts 17:27-28). 


If I have to make a choice, and I do, I’d much rather hang my hat on the peg of the Creator who has given me life both now and forever through His Son, Jesus Christ, than on the peg of a handful of people who get to make up the rules as they go along.  I leave you with this.  The choice is yours.  What will you choose?

Putting on More Makeup Doesn't Make You Pretty

I was in a bookstore in Cincinnati the other day, and I saw a book title that caught my eye: Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore by Thom and Joani Schultz. I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but I would imagine it connects with Dave Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons' book unChristian and Kinnaman's other book, You Lost Me. Both books give solid research on why younger generations are leaving the church.


Without question, the church in America is in decline. Consider the following: the number of megachurches in America has nearly doubled during every decade over the last half century. One would think that as a result of more megachurches, there would be fewer unchurched people in America. And yet, according to The Barna Group, during the past decade the number of adults who do not attend church has nearly doubled to over 125 million. So, with all of our marketing, big buildings, and budgets, we’re not even keeping up with population growth in America!


I recently had lunch with a man who has a grown child who has walked away from the church. When I got back to my office, I saw an email (not sent to me but another pastor) that said, "I have watched each of my grown children walk away from the church. They all pray and have some sort of belief, but do not have a use for the church. I now think I am beginning to understand why. It is irrelevant to them. I am a leader in a church and lead a small group each Sunday night. It, for the most part, is a church of older dying members who are the main financial support . . . I pray for God to use me and bring more families to serve Him, but it is not happening."


I've been a full-time pastor now for 21 years, and I've seen more churches than ever use culturally relevant music, facilities, dress style, and marketing, and yet the unchurched population continues to grow. Now, believe me, I'm not against relevant music, facilities, and so forth. In fact, as a former church planter, I understand quite well how important these tools can be. However, I find it interesting that when young adults who grew up in the church but have left are asked, "Why did you leave?" their answers have little to do with these issues. The most predominant answers given by young adults who have left the church are that the church is shallow, repressive, anti-intellectual, hypocritical, judgmental, and too political. Whether or not you agree with their assessment, notice that these are substantive issues that get at belief systems and Christian behaviors and attitudes.


Unfortunately, many churches keep focusing on the window dressing and not what's inside the room. While we tweak our music and dress styles, we're not addressing the core issue which is WE'RE THE PROBLEM! It doesn't matter how "cool" we are or how relevant we try to be if we're shallow, repressive, anti-intellectual, hypocritical, and judgmental people. These are behavior changes we need to address. We can't put on more make-up and think we'll be more pretty, if we're ugly on the inside.


G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “Christianity has not been tested and failed. Genuine Christianity is rarely tested.” What is genuine Christianity? That which looks like Christ. Perhaps if we focused more on looking like Jesus, we would see more people focused on Jesus and attracted to a community of Jesus followers. In spite of great obstacles, persecution and being the minority in Jewish culture, the first-century church exceedingly grew. Today, in spite of nice buildings, great marketing tools and music, churches are in decline. Something is wrong with that picture. Let's get below the surface of just dealing with the facade, and let's deal with the deeper issues of our character, Christlikeness and commitment. I believe that when we do so, our church buildings won't be able to hold all the young … and older adults who will want to learn more about this Jesus we follow.

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