"A couple came into my office once with a yellow pad of their teenage son's questions. One of them was: 'What is that guy doing hanging up there on the plus sign?' "The falling attendance of America's churches is getting to the point where even Christians are writing about it. According to Drew Dyke in Christianity Today, young people are leaving Christianity in droves. And unlike previous generations, this isn't just a folly-of-youth period in their lives. They're leaving for good.
Some Christian scholars claim the trend isn't worrisome. They point out that young people have always drifted away from church as they leave home, only to return later when they marry and have children. But according to Dyke, these are false reassurances for three reasons:
- Today's young adults are dropping their religion at "five to six times" the historic rate.
- The life-phase argument is no longer relevant. People now marry and have kids in their 30s instead of their 20s. After ten years away from a church they are much less likely to return.
- Past generations lived in an overwhelmingly Judeo-Christian society with strong social pressure to stay "in the fold." Today there is little pressure to attend church, and TV, movies and media portray alternative lifestyles as acceptable. The "cultural gravity" toward religion is gone.
For the memeplex that comprises Christianity, this is a complete calamity, a virtual memetic ice age. The memetic ecosphere for religion is being invaded by science memes, tolerance memes, and think-for-yourself memes, and it's reflected in the attitudes of young people. From Dyke's article:
- "Religion has become more like a fashion statement, not a deep personal commitment for many."
- Among young people, "If religion comes up, everyone at the table will start mocking it. I don't know anyone religious and hardly anyone 'spiritual.' "
- Young Catholics are frequently choosing non-Catholic partners, having civil weddings and skipping baptism for their babies.
- In South Carolina, part of the "Bible belt," the percentage of "Nones" (no religion) has more than tripled since 1990, from 3% to 10%. The share of Protestants is down from 88% in 1990 to 73%.
- Most non-Christians in this country, particularly in the younger generation, are actually dechurched individuals.
Moral Compromise. Young Christians come of age, start to party and have sex, and "Tired of dealing with a guilty conscience and unwilling to abandon their sinful lifestyles, they drop their Christian commitment. ... The Christian life is hard to sustain in the face of so many temptations."
Dyke doesn't consider the alternative explanation: reasonable, modern adults realize that Christian "morals" are a bit silly. The hypocrisies and contradictions in the Bible make your head spin if you actually read it. It's clear why young people don't want any part of outdated Christian sexual morality.
Postmodern Misgivings. Where once Christian philosophy reigned king, young people are now exposed to many philosophical traditions, including Eastern religions, American religion and mysticism, Western traditions – a veritable philosophical smorgasbord.
Harm by Christians. The priest child-abuse scandals are the most glaring case of religion run amok that has cost Christianity dearly. Who wants to belong to a church that shelters pedophiles? Dyke acknowledges this. But Dyke doesn't mention the much broader problem: just about every young adult has personally witnessed the harm that Christian anti-homosexual bigotry causes to their gay and lesbian friends.
Alternatives. It has become much more socially acceptable, even "cool," for young people to adopt alternative religions such as Wicca, Buddhism or Native American rituals and beliefs.
Christianity is still alive and well in America, but the trend is clear: Christianity's future is bleak, with no prospects for improvement. Even the Christians can't ignore it any more.
Here are a few related blogs.
- Is Christianity Dying? (December, 2009)
- Is Christianity Dying? Interesting New Data (February, 2010)
- Mushy Christians – More Evidence Christianity is Dying (April 2010)
- Christianity is Dying – The Story Behind Defection of Anne Rice (August 2010)
- Christianity Dying Faster than Expected? (October, 2010)