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09 January, 2014

CHRISTIANITY TODAY: WE HAVE FAILED OUR YOUNGER GENERATIONS...BUT HOW MANY OF US REALLY CARE ABOUT WHAT THE FUTURE MAY HOLD?

I am tackling today a subject that has been on my mind for some time and for which I have no ready answers.  It has to do with the decline of religion in the 20th and 21st centuries and a growing nonchalant, take-it-or-leave-it attitude on the part of even those who profess to be "Christian", as arm's-length as that may be.

This has been driven home to me, especially when I have posted religious items on Wright Lane and subsequently on Facebook.  I get numerous comments and "Likes" on some of my less serious "puff" pieces, but virtually no feedback on more thought-provoking religious stories with bonafide messages, some of which take days to formulate and to compose.  It has been suggested by one authority, that people do not like to read, or comment on, subjects that they do not understand or do not have a personal interest in.  This may well be the case, I'm not sure.

I know for a fact that there are those who will say "What qualifies Dick Wright to speak/write on religious matters?  What does he know? I knew him when and he wasn't the brightest bulb on the tree...etc."  In other words, generally speaking, I am not necessarily always taken seriously or understood.  I liken it to when I was writing newspaper editorials for many years and I got the feeling that I was continually tossing handfuls of mothballs (thoughts, ideas, convictions) into the air and having them float aimlessly, never landing.  Feedback was generally in the form of an objection to something that I had written...So I am used to being ignored, but I keep exercising my compulsion in the hope that I can at least stimulated some thought and somehow, somewhere along the line, a few like-thinkers will be able to relate.

I have no reason to believe that what follows will be any better embraced but this too will be reality, as I see it.

Religion in Canada encompasses a wide range of groups and beliefs. The preamble to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms refers to "God", and the monarch carries the title of "Defender of the Faith". However, Canada has no official religion, and support for religious pluralism (Freedom of religion in Canada) is an important part of Canada's political culture. The 2011 Canadian census reported that 67 per cent of Canadians claim adherence to Christianity, followed by no religion at 24 per cent but rates of religious adherence have been steadily decreasing.

It has been recently suggested that with Christianity on decline, having once been central and integral to Canadian culture and daily life; Canada has come to enter a post-Christian period in secular state, with irreligion in Canada on the rise. The practice of religion is now generally considered a private matter throughout society and within the state. Additionally a majority of Canadians consider religion to be unimportant, but still believe in God.

I am a lay minister and teaching elder in a small community church with an aging congregation that will have extreme difficulty sustaining itself financially in the coming year. Ninety per cent of the members are over 70 years of age and ministers find themselves "preaching to the choir" and holding the status quo. There are no young people in my home church (with the exception of two grade school youngsters who are being exposed to a church environment by their grandparents). Sadly, and in all honesty, the life-expectancy of this church is in the three to five-year range, if that. It has been suggested that churches like this, and there are several dozen in the Presbytery that I serve, have not sufficiently changed in an ever-changing society...It is understood that increased emphasis must be placed on community viability and outreach missions both at home and abroad.  For many aging churches with limited human and financial resources, however, this is a tall order.

The Catch 22 in all of this is that in order to be viable in any community, churches need youthful involvement and that is just not happening. For that I blame my permissive generation and the situation is virtually irrevocable. I fear that we have lost several generations in the process and the jury is out as to where this is going to lead in the end.

It would seem that we have a generation of people who actually challenge the things that their elders took as gospel. In my formative years in the 1940s, religion was taught with no room for question. At best "the Lord moves in mysterious ways" was the only answer one could expect to some youthful questions and that was accepted by us. We have arrived at a point where young people question the "authority" of religion and may even see it as a man made creation to satisfy questions that we ourselves have difficulty answering. By and large, the "faith" aspect of religion is no longer accepted and comprehended by young people and that's where we elders have fallen short. We have not made religion relative in the lives of our younger generations.

We are told by number-crunchers that one-fifth of North Americans today are religiously unaffiliated — higher than at any time in recent history — and those younger than 30 especially seem to be drifting from organized religion. A third of of them say they do not belong to any religion...and this includes my own children and grandchildren -- a sad admission, on my part.

To understand this phenomenon, a round table of six young people was recently organized — three young women and three young men — all struggling with the role of faith and religion in their lives.  The following is the reality of rather naive and disturbing views that reflect an overall lack of understanding of what it means to be a Christian.

Miriam Nissly, 29, was raised Jewish and considers herself Jewish with an "agnostic bent." She loves going to synagogue

"I realize maybe there's a disconnect there — why are you doing it if you don't necessarily have a belief in God? But I think there's a cultural aspect, there's a spiritual aspect, I suppose. I find the practice of sitting and being quiet and being alone with your thoughts to be helpful, but I don't think I need to answer that question [about God] in order to participate in the traditions I was brought up with."

Yusuf Ahmad, 33, raised Muslim, is now an atheist. His doubts set in as a child with sacred stories he just didn't believe

"Like the story of Abraham — his God tells him to sacrifice his son. Then he takes his son to sacrifice him, and he turns into a goat. I remember growing up, in like fifth [or] sixth grade I'd hear these stories and be like, 'That's crazy! Why would this guy do this? Just because he heard a voice in his head, he went to sacrifice his son and it turned into a goat?' There's no way that this happened. I wasn't buying it.

"Today if some guy told you that 'I need to sacrifice my son because God told me to do it,' he'd be locked up in a crazy institution."

Kyle Simpson, 27, raised Christian. He has a tattoo on the inside of his wrist that says "Salvation from the cross" in Latin

"It's a little troublesome now when people ask me. I tell them and they go, 'Oh, you're a Christian,' and I try to skirt the issue now. They go, 'What does that mean?' and it's like, "It's Latin for 'I made a mistake when I was 18.'

"When I first got the tattoo I remember thinking, 'Oh, this will be great because when I'm having troubles in my faith I will be able to look at it, and I can't run away from it.' And that is exactly what is happening.

"I don't [believe in God] but I really want to. That's the problem with questions like these is you don't have anything that clearly states, 'Yes, this is fact,' so I'm constantly struggling. But looking right at the facts — evolution and science — they're saying, no there is none. But what about love? What about the ideas of forgiveness? I like to believe they are true and they are meaningful.

"I think having a God would create a meaning for our lives, like we're working toward a purpose — and it's all worthwhile because at the end of the day we will maybe move on to another life where everything is beautiful. I love that idea."
Melissa Adelman, 30, raised Catholic

"Starting in middle school we got the lessons about why premarital sex was not OK, why active homosexuality was not OK, and growing up in American culture, kids automatically pushed back on those things, and so we had some of those conversations in school with our theology teachers. The thing for me — a large part of the reason I moved away from Catholicism was because without accepting a lot of these core beliefs, I just didn't think that I could still be part of that community.

"I remember a theology test in eighth grade where there was a question about homosexuality, and the right answer was that if you are homosexual, then that is not a sin because that's how God made you, but acting upon it would be a sin. That's what I put down as the answer, but I vividly remember thinking to myself that that was not the right answer."

Rigoberto Perez, 30, raised as Seventh-day Adventist

"It was a fairly important part of our lives. It was something we did every Saturday morning. We celebrate the Sabbath on Saturday. It was pretty hard growing up in a lot of ways. We didn't have a lot of money, the household wasn't very stable a lot of the time, so when something bad would happen, say a prayer, go to church. When my mom got cancer the first time, it was something that was useful at the time for me as a coping mechanism.

"While I was younger, my father drank a lot. There was abuse in the home. My brother committed suicide in 2001. So at some point you start to say, 'Why does all this stuff happen to people?' And if I pray and nothing good happens, is that supposed to be I'm being tried? I find that almost kind of cruel in some ways. It's like burning ants with a magnifying glass. Eventually that gets just too hard to believe anymore."

Lizz Reeves, 23, raised by a Jewish mother and a Christian father. She lost a brother to cancer.

"I wanted so badly to believe in God and in heaven, and that's where my brother was going. I wanted to have some sort of purpose and meaning associated with his passing. And ultimately the more time I spent thinking about it, I realized the purpose and meaning of his life had nothing to do with heaven, but it had to do with how I could make choices in my life that give his life meaning. And that had a lot more weight with me than any kind of faith in anything else."

These very honest responses make my heart bleed and my soul cry.  Without exception there is a very real need for young people to believe in something and to find truth in life, but Christianity as presented to them (or as they perceive it) is not cutting it for them today.  They are not getting the right answers to their questions.  Neither are they being listened to and therein lies a big difference between the days of my youth and today.  Kids in the 21st century want to be heard, whereas I was taught to be seen and not heard.  Adults today can learn a lot if they are open to "listening" to their kids with understanding and sensitivity in a today perspective.

Then again, could it be that our young people are just too smart for their own good (or think they are)? Maybe so!   But that does not let my generation off the hook  In many respects we have failed in providing moral fibre by not passing on the "faith of our fathers"..And speaking for my parents in particular, they would be ashamed of me for letting that happen in my own life.

As stated earlier, society tends to reject Christianity or to relegate it to the private sphere: That is to say, a detachment from God as the origin and meaning of life, and therefore of experience.  It is as if God responded to "piety" and not to the demands of life. Therefore, unconsciously, we accept the role that society has decided to reserve for Christians, and that is to be the religious supplement, the soul for the fulfilment of one's own plans, instead of using our judgment and so sharing in the common aspiration of humanity for happiness.

The difficulties that young people have with Christianity today are a dramatic interrogative for the parents and spiritual leaders who may, or may not, have influenced them. Therefore we should ask ourselves, like T.S. Eliot in Choruses from the Rock, "Has the Church failed mankind, or has mankind failed the Church?"

I pray that it is not too late to turn things around for the up-and-coming generation.  Would that Dick Wright -- the "not-too-bright", often out-spoken, long-in-the-tooth sinner -- had the necessary answers.  

What we need in all of this is a Saviour to rescue us...Come to think of it -- He already has!  All we have to do is to continue following Him in the hope that enough Godliness has rubbed off on some young people today to enable them to follow the Christian path in keeping trust and love alive for generations to come.

God help society otherwise!

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