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October 8, 2011 - Ray Hall (Archive)
There are many very old and mostly empty churches all over Europe. In Britain and Scandinavia state churches are pastored by civil servants and have few regular worshipers. In Catholic populated Italy, the birthrate is not enough to reproduce itself and co-habitation is more prevalent than marriage and despite earthquakes and pestilence, American is catching up.

During Pope John Paul II’s funeral I heard interviewed a thirty something Italian couple who were in attendance. The interviewer was taken aback when he asked the couple if their Catholic faith had been influenced by the popular Pope.

“No,” they said, “they were not religious.”

“Then, why are you here?” The interviewer pressed.

“Pope John Paul was an important international figure and we just wanted to pay our respects.” The young woman answered.

Puzzled, the interviewer dug deeper into what seemed an obvious contradiction.

“The Church is not relevant in our lives,” the young man explained. Then, he added, that they were not married, but had been together for eight years. “One day,” he continued, “we plan to have children, but,” he said, “the Church--religion, although we were confirmed, was much too complex to have meaning in a modern world.”

“Yes, thats’s right,” the woman echoed, “too complex, too confusing.”

That complexity surfaced last week after Dr. Robert Jeffress introduced Governor Rick Perry at the Family Values Conference. Dr. Jeffress, an outspoken Perry supporter, is the Pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, a Church that is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the world.

The Evangelical pastor told a reporter that although Mormons claim to believe in Jesus Christ that Mitt Romney is not a Christian and that Mormonism is a cult. The Baptist pastor went on to explain that even if Mormons believe in Jesus that they follow the teachings of Joseph Smith, a latter day saint, and that fits the definition of a cult. Ergo, he can’t support Mitt Romney because he is a member of a cult, a Mormon and a non-Christian.

The complexity created by that internecine conflict creates confusion especially for a generation living outside the church or otherwise without religion. Pastor Jeffress can endorse whomever he chooses but in expressing his enthusiasm for Rick Perry he is oblivious that by definition Christianity is a cult.

Cathy Lynn Grossman for the USA Today in 2009 wrote: [ When it comes to religion, the USA is now land of the freelancers.

The percentage of people who call themselves in some way Christian has dropped more than 11% in a generation. The faithful have scattered out of their traditional bases: The Bible Belt is less Baptist. The Rust Belt is less Catholic. And everywhere, more people are exploring spiritual frontiers--or falling off the faith map completely.]

She cites the American Religion Identification Study (ARIS) that finds that since 1990, despite growth and immigration that added 50 million adults to the U.S. population almost all religious denominations have lost ground. The article points out that that nearly 3 million people identify with newer religions and call themselves Wiccan, pagan, or Spiritualist. Wiccan adherents can now be buried in Arlington National Cemetery with the Wiccans’ five pointed-star symbol used on gravestones.

What is surprising is that 15% of Americans now choose “none” when asked to select a religion and since 1990 this falling away from religion has declined more sharply. The USA Today article cites other studies that show a decline in Jewish numbers and a large number of Jewish responders include “cultural” Jews who connect to Judaism through tradition but do not actively practice the religion. One of the co-authors of the ARIS report said that people see God as a “personal hobby” and that “religion has become more like a fashion statement, not a deep personal commitment for many.”

Gay bashing, child abuse, questions of life and death, and trysts with prostitutes, hypocrisies all, have been responsible for some of the decline. And the complexities of religion,having to twist the mind like a pretzel to come to grips with outdated tenants has doubtlessly pushed Americans away from religion. But politically motivated pastors like Dr. Robert Jeffress are major players in religions’ self-destruction in America.

When Democrats pander to black churches and people like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and even Billy Graham crawl into bed with America’s political class, evangelicals and politicians--all are soiled.


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 Enlarge By Garrett Hubbard, USA TODAY Ex-Catholic Dylan Rossi, 21, a philosophy student at the University of Massachusetts in Boston meditates. "I don't know anyone religious and hardly anyone 'spiritual,'" he says.