What is the future of Christianity and religion as a whole?

toppled cross

What is the future of Christianity and religion as a whole?

A reader of my blog posed this question to me yesterday. It’s funny I didn’t even consider writing back. The second I read it I knew it would be my next article.

I have been a religious seeker from the earliest age I can remember. I am the type of person who needs to know the “why” before going on to anything else, and the “why life?” question is the first and most important. If I failed to answer this I would have ended my life many years ago. Thus, I am highly biased toward the opinion that religion as a whole will never pass. Without religion there is no answer to “why”.

Simply follow the bouncing ball of history and you will not discover a single era in which people were wholly irreligious. The reason is because all people everywhere are religious. Being human requires it.

So to the last part of the question, religion as a whole is in good shape as far as I can tell.

The first part of the question is slightly more interesting. When one follows the history of Christianity one cannot help but be amazed at the survivability of the faith. Nevermind the first few centuries of its fight for survival (which is mind blowing enough) one needs only look back a century ago to Bolshevik Russia. The Orthodox Church from the very start of the revolution was completely ravished: tens of thousands of clergy and churches destroyed, tens of millions of believers slaughtered; if one needs an example of Christianity being routed then twentieth century Russia is surely the standard bearer.

But what of the Russian Church today? Was it annihilated? Thankfully no. Bolshevism was. Today the Church in Russia has rebounded to a degree that I’m not sure anybody expected.  According to polling data at the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 only 31% of Russians identified as Orthodox Christian. By 2008 that number increased to 72%.

Wowzers!

But nevermind, many today still seem to think that the last century was far more given to Christianity than our own century. They tend to think that it was only the last generation or so—you know like since Woodstock—when the public took a sharp turn away from Christianity. Many imagine that since America was still fairly Christianized up until the 1950’s or 60’s that the world at large was as well.

Not even close.

Truth is Christianity was never under fire as much as it was in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It wasn’t just Darwin, Marx, and Freud clamoring against Christianity. Read some of the major authors of the time—read Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Kirkegaard, Weber, Jung, and many others—and you will get the impression that Christianity had already been wholly eliminated in all but name, even amongst the non-educated masses, throughout Europe and Russia. It seems to me that those who have kept the score from then till now are stunned, nay annoyed, that Christianity is still around after the lashing it received from every literary corner just a century ago.

People expect that it will just burn out. They look to the histories of the old Egyptian, Greek, and Norse religions and expect Christianity to have the same fate. The rationale is something like: Christianity came along and gave new answers to questions the ancients had and so they left their old believes and became Christians. Now science has come along and given answers to questions the Christianized nations had so damnit, why is Christianity still around? On all accounts Jesus should have shared the fate of Ra, Zeus, and Odin. What gives?

For starters, Christianity is not a mythology that was made up to satisfy the ancient’s appetite for cosmic mysteries, perpetuated today only by science-denying, knuckle-draggers who hate Democrats, gays, and gun control. Christianity is still around in part because it’s doctrines are not, and never were, answers to scientific conundrums.

In addition, neither science nor secular philosophy could ever supply the two most important elements of human existence: meaning of life and moral imperative. On the moral end the best secular thought has ever come up with has failed to produce the type of moral principle which binds a person to anything beyond the level of rationality and civic duty. When was passion ever a slave to reason, and when was civic duty ever binding when Lady Justice was looking the other way?

But you could keep all that and it still wouldn’t strike at the heart of Christianity. Christianity is first and foremost a Person, a Person whose tomb is still empty. To truly eliminate Christianity would necessitate eliminating Christ, and for that to happen Christ would need to suddenly become un-truth. His influence is not merely historic, He lives and His Spirit lives within those initiated into His mysteries. Those who would wish Christianity removed would need to remove the Holy Spirit. This has been tried multiplied millions of times through violence, but killing Christians has only ever produced more and more Christians. It’s been said that the seeds of the Church is the blood of its martyrs and history bares this well.

That’s my take.

Thanks for reading!

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12 thoughts on “What is the future of Christianity and religion as a whole?

  1. I agree. Christianity cannot die, partly but not only because Christianity is the first teaching of love, and the only genuine one. Prior to Christ, love was understood and practiced only as an affection towards our own kind and those we like, and any higher form of love was only vaguely alluded to here and there in the religious scriptures and philosophies of the world. But Christ demonstrated and taught us the full scope and power of love, which had not been done before. He taught us to love those we don’t like, even those who hate us and would do us harm. He taught and demonstrated forgiveness, that part of love we can direct to things distasteful, and that enables us to love in all directions, and he taught us love’s power to wash away guilt and shame, and to heal body and mind. When on the cross he even demonstrated how to forgive others when we are exhausted and feeling personally unable to, by asking God to forgive others on our behalf. From rough guidelines to get us started – “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, and the parable of the Good Samaritan – through to the most profound and esoteric teachings on the subject. As a teacher and demonstrator of love, who will ever trump him? I expect no one will. As he said himself, he is the first and the last.

    Even those “spiritual but not religious” who so often claim to have a better alternative to the love taught in Christianity still use Christianity as a reference, as something to have an alternative to. But there is no alternative to the real thing except the fake thing.

    Just as someone could not be true in their claim to value reason and to be reasonable if they begrudge Socrates and belittled the stream of reasoned thought that stemmed from his teachings and has come through the centuries, so too, those who claim to be spiritual and loving cannot be true if they begrudge Christ and the institution that has carried his teachings on love through the centuries.

    Christianity will continue, but further understandings are sure to be built upon it by science. It is bound to change and develop as we change and develop, but the power of love in human life will always exist, and Jesus Christ will always be the first example and teacher of love. And as long as we require words, guidelines, and an example, to help us understand lave, then Christianity and the story of Jesus will always be the first carrier of those teachings on love.

  2. From an agnostic perspective, I feel like the two main attractions of religion in general are the higher purpose argument you used above, and the need to feel like a higher power has got your back when you’re in trouble. For me at least, I don’t really feel like I need to have a higher purpose in life, but when I’m scared or stressed out, my emotions kick aside my intellectual doubts and I start appealing to higher powers.

    On another note, I have gained the impression from you and other Christians that even when dominant, as Christianity is still mostly today in the US, part of your religious identity depends on feeling like the persecuted minority, like you are always under attack. Would you agree with that impression?

  3. Hi Ethan,

    I haven’t thought about it much but I suppose an argument can be made that Christians do have a persecuted minority complex. I’m wondering if it is any different from, say, the LGBT community who, even when dominant, have the same complex. Or any number of supposed minority groups or even political parties for that matter. Perhaps the complex fits when one holds a view with deep passion, whatever the view might be.

  4. “killing Christians has only ever produced more and more Christians.” Jesus himself the first example. God works in mysterious ways. Hallelujah.

  5. Are you referring to the respondent who denies Jesus ever existed? Its strange to me that anyone no matter their maturity level who take this position seeing as how weak it is. It’s like killing any of the plethora of good arguments one could take against Christianity right out of the gate.

  6. “According to polling data at the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 only 31% of Russians identified as Orthodox Christian. By 2008 that number increased to 72%.”

    The reason why those 72% are now calling themselves Orthodox Christians is the same as why the very same people were calling themselves atheists 30 years ago – the Russian authorities want to see them that way. If you look at other polling data, only about 5% of Russians regularly attend church and actually practice religion. The truth is, the Russians are not very religious and never have been.

    Someone said, “In the West they have non-religious Christianity, but we here have non-Christian religiosity”. I think, THAT is the main issue with Russian Orthodox Christians these days.

  7. Culture is not in diet or dress as so many seem to think. Culture is the crucible that forged the psyche. Culture is the collective personality. Western culture is generally Christo-Socratic based. There are national and racial overlays on that. For example, the English are Christo-Socratic-Shakespearian, the Italians are Christo-Soctratic-Dantean,… And in Asia the Chinese are Taoist-Buddhist-Confusian…. and of course the Arabs are Pagan-Islamic. Geography plays a role in culture too, as does historical breeding patterns. For example, the little island of Britain had a very different cultural effect upon its inhabitants to what the frozen expanse of Russia had on her inhabitants. There are other influences on Russian culture aside from Russian geography and Christianity. Such as Russian writers and composers, and the addition of Viking blood too. Geography though, is the most significant influence, and one that gets overlooked. The Russians got a rough deal with their land; locked inland on vast frozen plains, with other peoples established on warmer lands with warm beaches. The Russians have always looked outwards at those on more favourable lands, and others have always been conscious of the Russians watching them. Russia and her neighbours have always eyed each other and been ready for way. Russians have always had to be smart, to survive their own climate, and to outsmart each other and others. That’s why Russians are good at combat, judo, wrestling, chess…. Russian geography (and climate) has made Russians strategic in all their thinking. Russians have learnt to separate intelligence from emotion better than most. But Russians often make the error of thinking others are as strategic as themselves, hence Russian propensity for paranoia. The influence of Russian geography on Russian culture, that is, on the collective Russian personality, is so powerful that it has in the past rivalled the influence of Christianity. Of course times are changing. The horse is replaced by the motor car, homes and buildings are more easily heated, trade in food and commerce is easier than in the past, as is travel. The stresses of Russian life are not what they used to be, and Russian character will evolve, or more accurately, will develop. As the world shrinks and the races continue to interact and even blend, Russian strategic thinking will blend with a more global awareness. But whether that will be for the benefit or detriment of all concerned, no one can see, for there are too many variables involved. One thing is for sure, there will be conflict, for conflict is life going forward.

    Here is some more about Russia:

    http://www.familysecuritymatters.org/publications/detail/russias-new-global-aims

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