A church with no God? The spread of religious cynicism and doubt
Sunday Assembly – church for people who don’t believe in God
The newly founded Sunday Assembly in Los Angeles claims to be a “church for people who don’t believe in God”. One Sunday Assembly founder, quick to point out that they are not a cult, noted, “It’s all the best bits of church, but with no religion – and awesome pop songs.” Differing from other secular organizations such as American Atheists and Ethical Culture Society, they do not attempt to critique or debunk religion. Members are encouraged to volunteer to read to children at local elementary schools, to donate blood to those in need, and to plant trees with a local charity organizations – and Sunday Assembly branches have spread across the country.
The real cause behind religious cynicism
Ignore for the moment that the Sunday Assembly organization was founded by two comedians and that their recruitment video portrays a woman pouring a goblet of blood down the throat of a white-robed man. Instead, let’s first recognize that the organization is growing, with more than 30 branches already spread throughout the country, and then focus on the *reasons* for the spread of interest in this so-called godless church. The whys and wherefores for the growth in the Sunday Assembly “church” should indeed be a concern for Christians and contrary to oft-mentioned explanations such as “atheist propaganda seeking to destroy the Christian religion”, it’s a pretty easy argument that the cynicism towards Christian religion is being created from within the very walls of the church itself.
Professor Phil Zuckerman of Pitzer College in California says the reasons for the upturn in secularism are two-fold – (1) disenchantment with the Church and (2) the Church’s insistence that “faith” be the sole reason for believing. Zuckerman told NPR:
“Some people who were raised with religion rejected it for certain reason that leaves them with a bitter taste in their mouth about religion: either they had bad experiences in their church, or they saw hypocrisy in the youth pastor, or they felt that religion was manipulative or all the litany of reasons people might not like religion. Those people are a little bit angry at religion… They don’t want to go to a place where they have to keep their intellect on hold. They don’t want to push pause on the skepticism button in their mind.”
So who’s to blame?
Many have become disillusioned with religion for a variety of reasons, some of which originate from poor Church management. “Bad experiences” in church are going to happen just as they will happen in every other aspect of life and the belief that the church is a sanctuary from all evil is a misguided one. Satan is not stupid – he’ll almost certainly attempt to hit Christians where they are most vulnerable and unguarded and that means churches must not only be watchful of evil intrusions but also react to those situations in an appropriate manner. “Love the sinner but hate the sin” and forgiveness should be key points in the church’s response to “bad experiences” that take place within the walls of the church. Sweeping problems under the rug or tearful apologies in falsely-emoted voices from the pulpit should not.
In addition, as Zuckerman stated, hypocrisy within the church and manipulation of its members is all too common. We’ve all seen prominent church leaders go astray. Again, such situations may well occur in a church just as they may appear at work, school, or from within our government. The key again is to acknowledge that church leaders (and members) are human and with that comes sin. Remove the false impression that church is a sanctuary from evil and instead promote it for what its true purpose is – a place of worship. Secondly, stop treating pastors and ministers like they are representatives of God. They’re not. They’re mere mortal men (and women).
It should be pointed that that I’m not implying that Christian church members should lower their guard, accept sin, and simply seek forgiveness later – that indeed would be hypocritical and contrary to our fundamental teachings. In fact, I believe Christians *should* be held to a higher standard and that includes churches and their leadership. Our churches must learn that, given their visibility (and the big red target on their foreheads), they must stop trying to sweep problems under the rug lest the public see them as weak-kneed hypocrites. Face the problems, deal with them (severely if needed), forgive them, and charge forward.
The call of “faith” as a response to the problem
Zuckerberg’s last statement is particularly relevant to Bible Blender. Some feel religion “does not make sense”, that the teachings are irrational, or that it’s a carnal sin to question interpretations of the Bible. In today’s day and age, if you’re going to tell someone that a God created the entire universe with his hands or that a man kept thousands fed with a single basket of fish, some explanations, or at the very least, discussions, are going to be needed. The call of “faith” as the response to promoting belief in the Word will not be blindly accepted by this “modern” generation.
I’m not proposing that we twist the Word to fit our modern societal beliefs (or morals) nor do I propose that we seek to “explain” every miracle that took place in the Bible as a justification for our faith. But since we truly believe what our religion teaches us, we should not be afraid to tie those teachings together with our current understanding of science and technology in order to demonstrate that our faith is not without merit. Where discrepancies occur (and thus far in my studies, I’ve yet to come across a single one), we simply accept that (1) we are misinterpreting the Word, (2) our understanding of the universe is not complete, or (3) we’re missing the bigger picture. Seeking knowledge should not be feared and in fact, for true believers, will only serve to increase our faith.