Look at daily life in America – all the hubbub of news, business, entertainment, government, communications, careers, education, science and other goings-on.
Except for paid programming by churches, there’s no serious mention of a supernatural creator-god supposedly in command of everything. Or of Jesus as an invisible deity supposedly hovering among us. Or of heaven or hell supposedly awaiting people after death. Those theological “truths” are ignored by the modern world. Any reports of miracles are treated half-jokingly.
Christianity simply has no functional reality in today’s Western democracies – except for a fringe of intense believers. Most of the First World would churn onward quite well without it.
Six decades ago, some radical theologians and professors saw the sociological change and launched the“Death of God” movement. Harvey Cox of Harvard wrote The Secular City saying the disappearance of God in today’s democracies was “an epochal crisis… not just a passing fad.” In Catholic France, Gabriel Vahanian wrote The Death of God calling most religion a “domesticated” sideshow. American rabbi Richard Rubenstein said the Holocaust forced all Jews to realize that a protector god doesn’t exist. From my town of Charleston, WV, Thomas J.J. Altizer of Emory University said any observer could see that god was absent from our world. His coauthor, William Hamilton of Colgate Rochester Divinity School, called the loss of deities “the decisive theological event of our time.”
Public uproar over these assertions caused Hamilton to lose his job, and Altizer nearly suffered the same. That’s a shame, because I think all of them saw a clear truth: God is gone from our lives. Since those days, religion has faded enormously in educated, advanced nations, and many experts label the current society “post-Christian.” Some scholars say today’s culture is “functionally atheist.”
Western Europe was first to experience the transformation. Churchgoing declined to a fringe. Pope Benedict lamented: “Europe has developed a culture that, in a manner unknown before now to humanity, excludes God from the public conscience.” Canada, Japan, Australia and finally America joined the shift. Time and Newsweek printed cover stories on fading faith. Now Pew Research foresees that Christians will become a minority in the United States.
Here’s a clear example: When I was young in the 1950s, fundamentalist taboos ruled Appalachia. It was a crime for stores to open on the Sabbath – or for anyone to look at nudity in movies or magazines – or to buy a lottery ticket – or buy a cocktail – or for an unwed couple to share a bedroom. Gay sex was a felony. Even writing about sex was illegal. Now, all those church laws have vanished.
A foreign report says the Church of Scotland was so powerful in the 1950s that playground swings were chained on Sundays to prevent children from playing on the Sabbath – but nowadays the church has virtually disappeared from Scottish society.
The shift from Christian to post-Christian was a blessing for nearly everyone.
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