Stand up, stand up for something
American church membership is at an historic high. Yet, many of America’s so-called mainstream religious denominations are losing members at a precipitous rate. Millions of believers have left the older established churches to join churches they feel are offering the religious experiences they seek.
Let’s face it. From the time of Plato and Aristotle, there has been a market place of ideas. As people apply these ideas in their everyday living, they find some of them work out in practice better than others. Some sets of ideas work out so well in practice that many believe they are divinely inspired and we call them: religions.
At the heart of all the world’s great religions, one finds some version of what Christians call: The Ten Commandments. These are rules for living which, if universally adopted and practiced, would bring an end to war and strife and virtually all of the problems we humans inflict upon each other and ourselves. Unfortunately, we are still waiting for that to happen.
Among the Christian religious community, this market place of ideas is divided between two groups, one that is growing and one that is shrinking. On one side, are those who believe The Holy Bible describes a system for living leading to Salvation. But the price of Salvation is adherence to what the Scriptures say. In other words, The Ten Commandments are actual commandments and not The Ten Suggestions. This side is growing.
On the other side are those who take an existentialist view of life. They feel uncomfortable with living by or wanting others to live by a core set of religious beliefs. They tend to talk a lot about tolerance, pluralism, diversity and being non-judgmental. This side is shrinking.
Recently, Dr. William J. Bennett Jr., who held important posts in the Reagan and Bush Administrations and is the author of the best-selling The Book of Virtues and other philosophical works, addressed the Presbyterian Lay Committee in Long Beach, California. Dr. Bennett says “tolerance” has become “indifference.” “While it is fine to be tolerant,” said Dr. Bennett, “we must still take a stand that some things are right and some things are wrong.”
“Indifference, unwillingness to judge, and unfettered pluralism have led to paganism in a variety of forms, ranging from all types of consensual sex to crass entertainment.
“In the times we live, many people believe the worst thing you can be is judgmental. Judgmental means using judgment. So what do you do about the jury system? What do you do about hiring a babysitter?” asked Dr. Bennett.
Recently, this observer was called to jury duty. During the voir dire examination of prospective jurors, one member of the panel said he would not feel comfortable sitting in judgment of others. Heaven forbid that any of us should have to experience a moment of discomfort in carrying out the duties of citizenship.
In a society filled with Baby Boomers, Generation Xers, and now, Generation Yers, one would think the ascendant religious denominations would be those promising Salvation on the permissive, silver platter of The Ten Suggestions. But, in fact, their membership numbers are headed straight downhill.
The mainstream denominations ought to figure this out before their numbers shrink below the point of economic viability. The churches that are growing are offering “that old time religion.” Call them Fundamentalists, Evangelicals, Conservatives, Charismatics or old-line Roman Catholics or whatever, but they are obviously filling a need in the market place of religious ideas.
And, if you think the devil has all the best tunes, watch “Carman” on the Trinity Broadcasting TV Network or listen to Amy Grant or Sandy Patty sing. Clearly, he doesn’t.
Like Lemmings, the mainstream Christian denominations are being led over the membership cliff by their liberal, existentialist clergy who appear to be more in step with Camus, Kinsey, Sartre and Hugh Hefner than with Jesus Christ. Hello. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this out.
William Hamilton is a nationally syndicated columnist and a featured commentator for USA Today.