Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Irrelevance of Time

By now you've heard about the Pew Forum's recent report on switching one's religious faith. No surprises, really; I think there are a handful of categories that crop up, which I'd put this way:
  • Protestants who switch denominations, but remain Protestant, when they marry, or find a church that "speaks" to them, etc.
  • Protestants who become Catholic, usually for excellent reasons involving scholarship and pursuit of the truth.
  • Catholics who get around to admitting that they're really Protestants, having elected themselves pope, and who finally leave for a church that marries gays or ordains women or blesses abortion or whatnot.
  • Protestants, Catholics, and others not raised in a strong religious family who are more or less perpetually between churches, though they believe in God and would like to find a spiritual home.
I'm simplifying a bit, naturally. But there aren't any real surprises; it's as if the Pew Forum suddenly discovered that religious believers are actually human, and do things the way other humans do.

It may be a bit much to accuse the Pew Forum of that; but it's not at all too much to consider the egregiously smarmy Time article on the subject in that light:
Forty-three years ago, this magazine published a stark cover with the words "Is God Dead?" stamped in red against an inky black background. The accompanying article predicted that secularization, science and urbanization would eliminate the need for religious belief and institutions before long; in modern society, only the weak and uneducated would persist in their faith. Yet rumors of religion's demise turned out to be premature. Over the past few years, neo-atheists like Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens have taken up the cry again, encouraged by studies showing that the percentage of Americans who report no religious affiliation has more than doubled since 1990. But as a new report from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life shows, it is a mistake to conclude that more Americans are rejecting religion. Leaving church, it turns out, doesn't mean losing faith. [...]

Perhaps most surprising to the Pew researchers was that of the 7% of Americans who were raised unaffiliated, only half remained unaffiliated as adults. "Only Jehovah's Witness has a lower retention rate," says Pew analyst Gregory Smith. Unlike the disillusioned Catholics and Protestants who fled organized religion, these new adherents tend to see the positive aspects of being affiliated with a religious institution. When asked for the main reason they joined their current religion, 33% of the formerly unaffiliated cited the benefits of being spiritually and socially connected to a community, and 20% said it was a choice driven by personal spirituality and a sense that something was missing from their life.

These findings won't be music to the ears of Sam Harris or fans of his best seller The End of Faith. But they do confirm that a stubborn, insistent strain of religiosity continues to infuse Americans — even those who claim they've left organized religion behind.

It is interesting to note that Time's paid subscriptions have declined by roughly a million subscribers in the last decade alone; given the way things are going for the publishing industry, I'd be willing to guess that Time will be dead long before religion is.

The surprised tone of the article shows nothing so much as the cluelessness of the media elite when it comes to religion. The notion that there are still people who actually accept the basic tenets of Christianity and seek to worship God according to some form of Christian tradition seems to be a notion that the in-crowd at Time has a hard time accepting. The companion reality, though, that liberalism, especially agnostic/atheistic secularism, is a completely uninspiring set of ideas that, however exciting they may have been in 1966, are now increasingly seen as a philosophical dead end to those who take the study of such ideas seriously is probably one they have never considered--but the increasing irrelevance of their own magazine ought to wake them up to the possibility that perhaps cheerless liberal gloom isn't what people intuitively seek at the heart of their being when they search for truth.

Secularists aren't suprised that people leave a church; they are surprised that people who have left a church will keep looking for another one, one that in some way leads them beyond this life and toward transcendence, toward God Himself, Who is not only not dead, but Who rose from the dead. They probably wonder why anyone who has escaped the chains of religious belief would ever voluntarily return to this kind of servitude, not realizing that they spout such arrogant queries from behind the walls of an intractable prison, beyond which they are serving a death sentence.


LarryD said...

"given the way things are going for the publishing industry, I'd be willing to guess that Time will be dead long before religion is."That is a great line, one of many among a great post.

Charlotte said...

Bravo, Erin! You hit another one out of the park.