Friday, April 30, 2010

Mushy Christians: More evidence Christianity is Dying

I love this new phrase: Mushy Christians!
Most American "Millenials" – those born between 1980 and 1991 – don't pray regularly. Few read their Bibles or other religious texts, and many don't attend church on a weekly basis, according to a LifeWay Research study. ...

Sixty-five percent of Millennials called themselves a Christian in the study that was conducted on 1,200 young Americans in August 2009. But Rainer estimates that 85 percent of young people are lost.

"Many are either mushy Christians or Christians in name only," [Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources] told USA Today. "Most are just indifferent. The more precisely you try to measure their Christianity, the fewer you find committed to the faith."
Isn't that a great term? Mushy Christians! They want to be Christians, probably because of family, a sense of nostalgia or social pressure, but when it comes time to be a Christian ... they get mushy.

We're in a "second generation" effect. It's exactly like what happens to immigrant families' language. The first generation learns to speak English when they come to America, but at home they still speak their native Polish, Spanish, Russian and so forth. They have kids, the kids become truly bilingual, but English is their primary tongue. And when they have kids, they speak English in the home. The grandchildren, who never hear the old language except when they go to Grandma and Grandpa's house, never learn the family's native tongue.

I see this same effect happening to Christianity in America. The "mushy Christians" that Thom Ranier is lamenting are the "second generation Christians." They learned Christianity from their parents, they still call themselves Christians, but they don't attend church. They don't read the Bible, they pick and choose which of the tenets of Christianity to follow, and they don't teach it to their children. Just like the immigrant families that lose their native tongue in three generations, these "second generation Christians" are not committed. They speak the language, but they're not passing it on.

Christianity and all religions require indoctrination at an early age. People can be converted later in life, but the simple fact is that most people only belong to a particular denomination because they were indoctrinated as children. Without that early exposure to religion most people will naturally gravitate to something between indifference and agnosticism. That's especially true of the evangelical churches that believe things that can't possibly be true, like creationism. If you want your kids to believe that stuff, you've got to inoculate them with your religion early and thoroughly because they're going to have to resist a lot of common sense.

BTW, there's an entire chapter of The Religion Virus devoted to this very topic: why the religious indoctrination of children is so critical to religion's survival. It's the core of what makes us human: our ability to pass knowledge from generation to generation with high fidelity via language. Language is what makes us truly human, different from all other animal species, but it is also what makes religion possible. Children are genetically programmed to soak up language and ideas, and then "lock it in place."

I've written about Christianity's demise several times (Is Christianity Dying? and Is Christianity Dying? Interesting New Data...), and this report provides even more evidence.

I believe we are in the last religious generation in America's history, and Mushy Christianity is just a symptom.


  1. Christianity might be losing to more science-enlightened students, but other religions, based on life, not death, are making strides. Even though this is an Atheist blog, support your Pagan and Buddhist brothers and sisters. We are all opposed to Semitic-based religions together, but we have a more classy way of showing it than the Big 3 do.

  2. Rho - Good point. Although I am personally an atheist, I respect religion. What I don't respect, and try to fight, is irrationality, belief in things that can't possibly be true. Things like faith healing and creationism are actually harmful to people and society, and are so obviously false that it boggles the mind how so many still believe. I have great respect for those who believe that there is more to life than the material world, even though I don't share those beliefs.

  3. Unfortunately, I don't have any respect for the religious, regardless of what religion they follow. I have great respect for reality. I reject anything that does not embrace reality. That includes all manner of religion, superstition and pseudo-science, anything that would rather embrace a position emotionally, even if it cannot be substantiated rationally.

    So while yes, there are some forms of religion that are less harmful and less laughable than fundamentalism, at their core all of them share the same basic fault: they believe things for which there is no good reason to think they are true.

  4. Cephus - I think of truth as a spectrum. At one end are things we know are true, at the other are things we know are false. Somewhere there is a huge grey area which, as you put it, "there is no good reason to think they are true." But there is also no specific reason to think they are false. I happen to not believe things for which I find no evidence, but I accept that many of my friends and family, most of whom are intelligent and well educated, have a different view.

    My disrespect is for people who won't even take the time to learn the facts, and especially the well-educated ones who make up false science in a deliberate and cynical campaign to confuse their less-educated followers.

  5. Hi.. you have one perspective/interpretation of this... but you are going to be surprised.

  6. The idea that we ought to allow any load of nonsense into our brains on the off-chance that it might turn out to be true is misguided. We accept that which is true, even if that means we do not always accept everything that may eventually turn out to be true. There is a wealth of perfectly valid science, the existence of atoms or black holes, etc. which, while they were always true, would have been irrational to accept at a time before they were actually supported by evidence. Just because something might eventually be found to be real doesn't give anyone an excuse to believe it before that point is reached.

    There is only a single standard in rationality. If you family or friends do not follow that standard, then it's no surprise they come to different conclusions. That does not make any of those conclusions factually correct however. The idea that you have to support ideas which are logically indefensible, just because you want to make the people who hold them feel better seems absurd in the extreme.

  7. Well, as a pagan, I for one would have no problem if you were to call my gods merely Jungian Archetypes. I might personally believe otherwise for anecdotal reasons that have no business in scientific inquiry, but you wouldn't offend me for not believing the same as I do.

    Now, let's say they ARE Jungian Archetypes. Doesn't that mean that talking to them and interacting with them has a positive effect on my life, even if I am only REALLY talking to and getting to know different aspects of my own personality?

    Furthermore, Cephus, be very careful of not falling into the trap of scientific dogma. Remember, people thought Pasteur was crazy for believing in life forms that we couldn't see at the time too. More times than can be counted the very core of scientific belief has been shaking by one person who dared to go against the grain. Whether it's Pasteur and vaccinations, Tesla and the AC motor, Columbus and the round earth, or what have you. A REAL man of science realizes exactly what Craig says. Believe in what you can prove. That is science. Not believing in what you can't prove is just as dogmatic as any religion.

  8. Entirely false. Believing what you can prove is science. Rejecting what you cannot prove, at least provisionally until you can prove it, is the very epitome of scientific inquiry. Yes, Pasteur's beliefs eventually turned out to be true, but what of the beliefs of many, many others which turned out to be complete bunk? Albert Einstein was greatly disturbed that his mathematical models of the universe allowed for the existence of black holes, he didn't think the universe could be so perverse as to actually allow them to exist. He was wrong, his models were right.

    Just because people may take a chance on a hunch and occasionally that hunch works out (and even more often, it doesn't), that doesn't mean that we ought to throw science out the window and buy into every cockamamie idea on the off-chance that some of them just might be right. That's really what you're arguing, that because a small percentage of cases, the man who takes the chance and turns out to be correct in his assertions, that any claim ought to be given the same degree of credibility, just in case.

    Sorry, every claim ought to be given the same degree of skepticism, all unproven claims provisionally rejected and when, and only when some of those claims turn out to be actually true ought people accept them as such.

    That's not dogmatism, that's science.

  9. No where did I say that you should believe everything that can't be proven. You are throwing up strawmen. What I said is that a REAL scientist will say "There is no evidence to support that claim", or "That claim is unproven" in lieu of "You are wrong".
    Einstein wouldn't be to happy with your use of him to prove your point either. He was agnostic, but not atheist as evidenced in this quote "n view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human understanding, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what really makes me angry is that they quote me for the support of such views."
    And again in this, more famous, one "“Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”
    So, was Einstein not a man of science?
    You see, the problem with your line of thought is that you seem to be confusing skepticism with outright denial.

  10. We can sit around and throw Einstein quotes at each other all day, the only person who can answer what Einstein really believed is Einstein and he's not answering a lot of questions these days. I will say that it really doesn't matter, trying to pigeon-hole a person's rationality based on their religious position is pointless. The head of the NIH, Francis Collins, is a very respected scientist who also happens to be a fundamentalist Christian. He doesn't see any disconnect between rational science and irrational religion. He can make them work together in a way that I, personally, cannot fathom. On the science side, I greatly respect him. On the religious side, I think he's a loon. Just because someone is rational in one part of their life doesn't mean they're rational in all parts of their life and vice versa.

    Rationality is the standard. People either fit it or they do not.

  11. "For me the Jewish religion like all others is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions."
    – Albert Einstein, January 3, 1954, in a letter to the philosopher Eric Gutkind

  12. So we've established that Einstein is wishy washy and not a diety of your scientific religion. How about addressing my core agrument? Or shall we start quoting Steven Hawking? Really Craig, I expected more of you. The christians say god is real because he says he is real, and now you and your atheist buddies say that god isn't real because Einstein says he isn't. Is Einstein your deity or isn't he?
    Honestly, I had hope for you Craig. But anyone who thinks they can prove a negative is an idiot. It is one of the very basic foundations of science. When you want to have a real discussion, you know how to contact me.

  13. Both Hawking and Einstein refer to the awe of the universe as "god", neither of them believe in a personal deity that created anything, they are just very much in awe of what they see around them. I think that's a very bad choice of words but it's their vocabulary, they live with the consequences of often being misunderstood.

    I don't know of anyone who says Einstein is their source of information on the absurdity of gods. Certainly, I couldn't care less what he may have believed or not believed. I reject the existence of gods for the same reason as most atheists, there simply is no evidence for their factual existence.


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