Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Religion in America

I was pointed to this survey by a friend. It is a very detailed survey of religious attitudes in America. The information is very interesting and thought provoking. I give it credence because they have been using the same methodology over many years, so even if they are wrong, they should at least show trends well. The trend, if you are a mainline Christian like myself, is not a good one. The old churches in every town, the Methodist and Presbyterian ones, are basically in a free fall. Catholicism is holding steady, but basically only because of immigration from Central and South America. Evangelical Christianity has continued to explode to now well over 8 million adherents. Overall adherence to any religion is also down. I encourage you to read the survey and respond to my thoughts below.

1. It is interesting that old mainline Protestant churches are in decline. My church is growing, so I really cannot speak to what others in my denomination are going through. My church is First Presbyterian of Plymouth, in MI. I would say that we are probably gaining more members from megachurches now then we are losing to them. I'll talk about that a little in my next point. My guess is a lot of the decline in these mainline churches is in small towns, where there was always a Methodist or Presbyterian church. Now that population is getting older and the church is therefore shrinking.

2. The megachurch phenomenon, in my opinion, is peaking, if not already in decline. I want to make it clear that in no way am I ripping on the megachurch concept, more just an opinion based on my anecdotal observations as head of our new member committee. megachurches will continue to play a vital role in Christian life, but I believe that while VERY good at making new Christians (something us mainliners struggle with sometimes), they are not the best at feeding the soul of someone who is past the introduction stage. Of course there are many exceptions to this, but we gain members from megachurches who say they are looking for more depth in their church experience. Less show and more substance is something along the lines of what they say. Some are also seeking a more intimate experience.

3. As the report points out, over 30% of mainline protestants consider themselves born again. The lines between mainline and evangelical will continue to blur in the future. For some it is more about worship style; we have a full choir and a pipe organ and most evangelical churches have a video screen and a praise band. Nothing wrong with either style, just different for different people. You are also seeing a trend being championed by mainline churches called "emergent worship". This blends traditional elements of worship with intimacy and involvement often seen at evangelical churches. Think the worship service the Disciples had in a room when they gathered together.

4. Overall adherence to any organized religion is also down. Fifteen percent of all Americans claim they have no religious beliefs at all. People have commented to me that this is sad, and that it is a shame that religion is in decline in America. I honestly don't think that religious belief is in decline, I think claiming no religion has just become less taboo. Back in the 1950's, everyone went to church. Even if you did not believe, you probably went to church. Now people have the freedom to choose not to go without losing social status or being stigmatized. There is also the opinion put forth by people like Leonard Pitts, Jr. in his column here. Basically he says religion is corrupt, and if you just look at the headlines, a rational person would not accept the authority religion has claimed over God. I can readily see his point, but the great thing about America is that if you believe that religion is corrupt, you're free to start your own church.

I feel the Christianity will be just fine in the coming decades and centuries. We must remain relevant and vital to the communities we serve. Churches must come to realize that they are no longer the de facto social outlet for their community. I would expect overall levels of religious adherence to fall for a few more years and then stabilize and maybe slightly increase as the children of people who made the conscious choice to not go to church based on Mr. Pitts assessment start searching for something more in their lives. We'll be here waiting with open arms.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Stem Cell Mania

Yup, that thing pictured above is what is causing all these divisiveness and argument. It is a human embryonic stem cell. During his eight years in office, President Bush took a hard line on the stem cell issue, eventually banning the use of federal monies in research using these guys. Now President Obama has opened to door for money to flow into this research once again.

This is sure to whip up a frenzy on both sides. The problem that the right has in trying to argue their side is that they somehow try to attach this issue to the abortion one, when it is not really that intertwined. To give you an example, this is a quote from Representative Christopher Smith (R) of New Jersey “I don’t think it will fly, because the movement in the country is in favor of life." He said this right after calling President Obama "The Abortion President."

Now correct me if I am wrong, but the goal of embryonic stem cell research is to save lives. Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and diabetes are all within the cross hairs of this research. You cannot use the life argument against something that will save lives, it makes you sound highly hypocritical. Most of the embryonic stem cells that will be used will come from fertility clinics, where they would otherwise be thrown away, literally thrown away. Many states, like my home state of Michigan, have passed laws which restrict the source of embryonic stem cells and also strictly ban any form of human cloning or research into that field. With some common sense legislation like Michigan's, you cannot tell a person with Parkinson's that you are defending life by forbidding research that could save his or her life.

It is my opinion that we can find a middle ground on this issue. Life is worth preserving, both in the womb and when threatened by a debilitating disease. Put into effect some commonsense legislation to restrict the source and guide the research, and there should be NO ethical concerns regarding stem cells. I invite thoughtful comments and criticisms to my thoughts.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Democrats in Congress...Step Up or Get Out The Way

So, as a Democrat in this resurgent age of liberalism, I thought it might be a good idea to take stock of how things have gone in the Obama administration so far. In general, I like what I see so far. I think the stimulus is a bit unruly, and could get out of hand, but in general I like the direction the new administration is heading. BTW, all of you who thought that line item for the Coast Guard Ice Breaker was obnoxious... here is an article to the tangible side effects of canceling that out of the stimulus. Crazy idea - replacing almost 40 year old ice breakers on the Great Lakes so 1 billion in freight can be moved around...nutso liberal idea.

My main beef since Obama took office lies not with him, or strangely enough, the opposition party, but with Congressional Democrats. Pelosi, Ried and the like. They have been nothing but a thorn in the side of progress and bipartisanship since Obama took office. They have stuck to their narrow idelogical viewpoints and refused to see the middle road that I believe Obama is trying to go down. I believe that is why he was elected, to move us into a post-partisan age. Ideologies do not matter so much as effectiveness.

To cite an example, I will use the announcement by the President that he will be bringing the troops home from Iraq, and will have combat troops home in 18 months. This is of course 3 months longer then promised during his campaign, but shockingly he talked to the generals on the ground and decided that an extra three months was worth the security. Sounds logical to me. Republicans generally agreed, McCain signed on board, calling the plan "significantly different" the one he saw during the campaign and a responsible way to draw down troop levels. Sounds like this thing is something everyone can agree on. Oh, I forgot about the Congressional Dems, who decided that this plan was just NOT accpetable. Neither fast enough or complete enough to suit them, they wallowed out to the microphones and stated that more was needed. Harry Ried was complaining that the 50,000 troops left over was too many. Can't these people see something that is a good thing, and just get out of the way? Who would have thought a year ago we would have President Obama and Sen McCain and Republican Congressional leadership agreeing on Iraq?

Progress can include the Democrats in Congress, or it can happen without them. Clearly voters are not tied to party affiliation when giving someone a job approval rating. Obama is at 65% and Ried is at 15%. Maybe Harry should take a page out of Obama's book and adapt to the situation on the ground instead of relying on rigid ideology. The President is going to move this country forward, Congressional Dems can come kicking and screaming, and possibly lose their jobs in the process, or they can learn to get along with their wildly popular President, and even, gasp, work with the opposition.