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Why Christianity Is Not Working

This is a paper I wrote for a class on Biblical Preaching. Why is a Wiccan in such a class? Well I had this fantasy that I was going to become an Army Chaplain, which requires a lot of religious classes. The professor was a fundamentalist, but claimed to be open to our spiritual values. As someone who doesn’t believe in Biblical preaching, it was a hard class to be in. But I thought it might interest you. Why do you think preaching doesn’t work in our society these days?

Cultural Trends and its Effect on Disillusionment with Preaching (part 1)

Every generation looks at their children and wonders where it all went so wrong. Parents worry about their kids listening to rock and roll, wearing torn and baggy clothes, and the language that comes out of their mouths. Kids these days seem so disrespectful! Adults tell themselves it certainly was not like that when they were young. Religion in particular has gone through some changes as the culture changes. It used to be that religion defined culture, and unified Americans as they set out on the great experiment called democracy. But times are changing. Our valued culture is slipping. Even some experts are starting to agree. Rabbi David Lapin declared,  “I believe America is in decline—not compared to five or ten years ago, but when compared to the years following World War II until the early sixties….Americans remain unaware of, or indifferent to America’s decline” (Lapin, 1999).

There is a battle going on between the left and right, old and young, Christian and other religions. The problem is the culture in America as a whole is challenging the relevance of preaching. One hundred years ago, the Bible was the standard classroom text, studied in rural and urban school houses all across the country. Now you can scarcely find a Bible in a school library. The focus is on secularism, and our culture has generally become anti-religious. The new generation of Americans “have come to feel that religious America poses the real threat to our continuity, so they instinctively migrate to the end of the rope opposite from religious conservatives. Although not committed to every nuance of secularism, they consider it the lesser of two evils and lend their not inconsiderable weight to the left of the rope” (Lapin, 1999).

Where do these ideas come from? They are imbedded in our own culture; the way we educate our children, the media and entertainment that permeates our society, in new religious movements and evolving concepts of what it means to be an American. Post-modernism and Consumerism has changed American culture forever, leaving religion behind. The effect the culture has had on our nation’s children is becoming more obvious as traditional values slip away. Paradigms shift, but the beliefs necessary to relate to Biblical preaching have not. The seeds of Christianity through sermonism fall on fallow ground.

The “New” Education

These ideas perhaps begin in the way we educate our children. Education now focuses heavily on awareness of multiculturalism. Instead of reading Milton and Augustine, they read Maya Angelou and Sherman Alexie. It may sound an atrocity to set aside the great literature of the past, but “the purpose of their education is not to make them scholars but to provide them with a moral virtue—openness” (Bloom, 1987). This “openness” is intended to create a society that welcomes all people, regardless of race or religion, but it also creates subjectivism. Each identity is voiced individually, but very little is shared. This type of education goes beyond the classroom: “People sup together, play together, travel together, but they do not think together. Hardly any homes have any intellectual life whatsoever, let alone one that informs the vital interests of life” (Bloom, 1987).

Instead, our schools promote a secular education, where religion of any kind, whether mainstream or not, is neither taught nor considered. Rather, the student learns to worship science and reason. Passion is removed. Students who prefer a Creationist, rather than Evolutionary, belief are ridiculed by teachers and peers alike. For the sake of openness, no religious ideas are taught or publicly tolerated in the classroom. One critic suggests that in education, “there is no enemy other than the man who is not open to everything. But when there are no shared goals or vision of the public good, is the social contract any longer possible” (Bloom, 1987)? The social contract of openness and tolerance for differences does not give students a sense of shared identity as Americans. With no shared values, how are we to get along?

With regards to Biblical preaching, this type of education has students looking broadly across many religions and cultures, rather than deeply into their own. Secular education teaches an avoidance of religion, and an avoidance of one source for truth, effectively negating the potential power of the Bible for these students. Students are more aware of other religions than ever before, and the church itself is so fractured in denominationism that youth are overloaded with outside information. The simple days of growing up in one church with the family your whole life—those days are long gone. People now, literally, shop for religion. Their education in subjectivism allows them to choose their religious beliefs, rather than being told what is true.

“Hollywood vs. America”

Another problems lies in the media and entertainment which permeates our culture. The value of openness has spread to the availability of information. Now juicy items such as scandals in the church quickly become public news for the whole world to judge and comment about, without proper context. The horror of war is splayed across the nightly news. The media talks about everything without thought to decency or relevancy, and every atrocity is beamed into the living room with no thought of the consequences. It also seems that the nature of the stories themselves is changing. Lapin points out that “as such alarming stories continue, we experience less discomfort. After the second and third well-publicized cases of babies found in Dumpsters [sic], we become anesthetized….Life continues, and very few of us stop to realize that these things simply were not happening fifty years ago” (Lapin, 1999).

The openness in education and information exchange is purported to be for the support of Democracy. Professor Bloom suggests that information about other people, secularism and political moderation erode our values:

…as Tocqueville put it, in a democracy tradition is nothing more than information. With the ‘information explosion,’ tradition has become superfluous. As soon as tradition has come to be recognized as tradition, it is dead, something to which lip service is paid in the vain home of edifying the kids. In the United States, practically speaking, the Bible was the only common culture, one that united simple and sophisticated, rich and poor, young and old… (Bloom, 1987)

In Hollywood too, the traditional values are ignored. Gone are the days of a dancing and laughing Ginger Rogers and the family musical. Films contain more sex, violence and pessimism than ever before, despite the criticism from the public. Film critic and radio show host Michael Medved points out that “Hollywood ignores the concerns of the overwhelming majority of the American people who worry over the destructive messages so frequently featured in today’s movies, television and popular music” (Medved, 1992). The rating system is a help to audiences in telling them what in a film might offend them, but when choices are limited, it is difficult to find a film the whole family can agree on. Medved claims that “the apologists for the entertainment industry seldom claim that Hollywood’s messages are beneficial; they argue, rather, that those messages don’t matter” (Medved, 1992) but many know that the opposite is true. On one hand the entertainment industry is making offensive films and calling it art, but on the other hand, people are still buying tickets to see them! One hand washes the other. Does art create culture or does art reflect culture?

In particular, I think of the movie The Passion of the Christ. While the movie plot was taken from the Gospels, the visual component was so violent, that I personally could not watch it. I am reminded of a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The religion of one age is the literary entertainment of the next” (Goodreads, inc., 2009), and I wonder if the Bible is going the same route as Greek and Roman mythology, where a beautiful religion dominant for thousands of years is reduced to a Disney movie.

The church, now, is on TV, partaking of a culture it claims to despise as self-proclaimed evangelists beam their messages into living rooms and ask for a donation for God. Some of these so-called men of God become almost objects of worship as cult-like believers flock around them. One questions if true Biblical preaching is being done, or if the charisma of the preacher himself is at the audience. Perhaps it is an attempt to modernize, and use this new forum to reach people who otherwise could not (or would not!) attend services. This sort of evangelicalism has become absorbed in the fabric of our American culture and, for better or worse, impacts the way many people understand Biblical preaching.

Indeed, the very definition of what it means to be an American has changed. We cling to our puritanical roots, yet uphold rationalism and secularism as a national value. Americans have struggled to balance religion and rationalism since the beginning. One atheist points out that “The whole point of religious faith, its strength and chief glory, is that it does not depend on rational justification. The rest of us are expected to defend our prejudices. But ask a religious person to justify their faith and you infringe ‘religious liberty’” and then turns around to apologetically say “I am not in favor of offending or hurting anyone just for the sake of it. But I am intrigued and mystified by the disproportionate privileging of religion in our otherwise secular societies” (Dawkins, 2006). For him and many others, the two beliefs cannot exist simultaneously, yet we know that the best of Biblical preaching comes out of a rational argument. Part of this struggle, I believe, is imbedded in our own history, particularly with slavery. Separation of church and state requires us to keep religion out of the classroom and out of politics. But in reality, if there were no moral compass, we would still have slavery and segregation. It was thanks to religious leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr that the Civil Rights laws were passed to allow human beings to be truly equal in this country.


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