This article is somewhat provocative and if you are a conservative church goer, you may not want to read it. If you do, mind that the provocation aims at the institution and not its people – a big difference.
Christianity is withering fast. Will it, one day, turn into dust? The stats look bleak. According to the British Social Attitudes Survey’s 31st report, the percentage of people who declared not to belong to a religion rose from 31.4% to 50.6% between 1983 and 2013. Now, calling oneself religious and practicing religion are two different affairs. According to Religious Trends No 7, published by Christian Research, the percentage of churchgoers dropped from 11.1% in 1980 to 6.3% in 2005. Now it’s around 5% of the total British population.
What about the USA? The Pew Research Center found that the percentage of Christian American adults dropped by almost eight percent in seven years from 78.4% to 70.6% in 2014. The percentage of Americans who describe themselves as a-religious rose from 16.1% to 22.8% in the same period.
How did Christianity end up like that? What happened to this once glorious religion? Let’s go back to the beginning. Christianity emerged two-thousand years ago. Jesus Christ was not a traditional, religious person. He wanted illumination. He liked to inspire and disliked rules. Well, he gave one rule: love one another. He focused on the essence of religion – realizing the higher self or soul and establishing an uplink to God. And this means realization in both meanings of the word: know your soul and allow it to express itself, from within, and influence its environment. How does the soul influence? With love, beauty, happiness, and meaning. For the sake of simplifying this article, let’s call the essence of religion spirituality.
Christianity spread like a bush fire through the, at that time, spiritually parched Roman empire and fused with many other traditions. The most influential fusion was Gnosticism, an amalgamation of Christianity and Greek philosophy. At that time, Christianity was a free religion, in all meanings of the word.
Constantine changed all that when he turned Christianity into the state religion. Probably, he realized the power of the faith that inspired the educated and uneducated. He may have hoped as well that Christianity would help to slow down the disintegration of the Roman Empire. But in order to become a state religion, Christianity had to be united. And that union was forced and came with collateral damage. Freedom was the first collateral. After that Christianity was caged in by dogmas. And yes, people died too.
After the dust settled, the church found itself in an incredible power position. It owned the truth, ruled education, dominated morality, it was the ultimate lawmaker, and it had even military forces at its disposal to execute its politics. Christianity was the only religious bus in town and everybody had to take it.
Wait, what happened to Christian spirituality? It was banned into the monasteries. Christianity kinda lost its engine day one. 😉
Custom was another aspect of society that Christianity never fully controlled. Customs are much older than religion and deeply rooted in people’s subconsciousness. Habits die really hard. Christmas is a good example. The most cherished Christian celebration is a fusion of Christian and Pagan tradition, a compromise made during the conversions of the Germans. Well, Easter eggs are obviously not an original Christian custom either.
Back to the subject. The church had stakes in all aspects of society and ruled people’s minds. It ruled kings too, as the Walk to Canossa proved. It seems to be natural that a power peak is, at the same time, the point of descent. It was a long way down for Christianity. Education was the first monopoly that fell. During the Renaissance, schools secularized and came up with a new subject: science. Catholicism reacted and came up with scholasticism, a religious pseudo-science, but it was too late. The schism between religion and science was sealed – until today.
Next, governments tool the church’s judiciary power away. True, priests had never been judges like in ancient Judaea, but, when deemed necessary, the church came up with its own judiciary institution, for example, the inquisition. And that was a bloody mess. Anyways does anyone want a priest to rule the courtroom today?
With the Reformation, Christianity influence on politics took a gigantic hit. Christianity fragmented and, logically, lost power. Christianity did its best to influence politics till today, but it’s not in the game anymore.
After the Reformation, Christianity continued to control lifestyle, communities, morality and did good old soul work. It lost its power over society, but still ruled people’s minds.
Soon, Christianity lost its grip on morality too. That happened during the Age of Enlightenment or Age of Reason. Morality became a matter of dispute, a matter of philosophy. It became fluid. Many humanistic philosophies emerged and the church wasn’t the only one anymore who declared, “Love one another!”. At the end of the Age of Enlightenment, Nietzsche declared God dead.
What about Christianity today? Why do people still go to church? To be part of a community, to do some networking, and ask God for favors. Wait, there is still soul work. People need solace when catastrophe strikes. But let’s face it, churches aren’t comfy places and priests aren’t necessarily good psychologists.
True, there’s a bit of a revival. People are worried. People feel that morality is on a decline, that crimes and drugs are on the rise, and then there are all those conspiracy theories. Christians wish that the good old times return. But really, was morality better when the church was in charge? Think twice. The church raged wars in the name of God, came up with the inquisition, even did the unthinkable, the torture and execution of children.
Actually, we believe that morality is improving. So many good things are happening. We have labor regulations, people can make a decent living with lukewarm opportunities to become wealthy. We have international institutions in place that promote morality worldwide, like Amnesty International, the UNO, and the Red Cross. Already a few rich people like Warren Buffet and Bill Gates donated billions of dollars for good purposes. Look at the younger generations, it becomes obvious that they are focused on happiness, love, beauty, and building a meaningful life. Unlike our generation, which has been on a career frenzy and money/status symbol hoarding trip. True, much remains to be done and improved, but signs are all over the place that the light of humanity has already won.
As you can see, we don’t need Christianity anymore.
We don’t need Christianity to make laws. Give the government what is the government’s.
We don’t need to involve Christianity in education. Give science what is science’s.
We don’t need Christianity to guard morality and laws. Give society what is society’s.
We don’t need Christianity to tell us how to live our lives. Give Facebook what is Facebook’s … just kidding.
We don’t need Christianity to involve itself in politics. Give politicians what is politician’s. Wait, maybe not.
Is that it? Shall we let Christianity wither? The answer is, yes. For a bit longer, because the crisis of Christianity may be blessing in disguise. Why? Because Christianity is shrinking to its essence and soon nothing will be left, but its core: spirituality. The moment Christianity is reduced to the realization of the soul, the connection to God, and the promotion of love, happiness, beauty, and purpose, it has a chance to reinvent itself.
Christianity has the opportunity to redefine itself as a spiritual religion. But how to restore the essence of Christianity? Wasn’t it banned into the monasteries and aren’t monasteries withering even faster than churches? Fortunately, the spiritual tradition of Christianity wasn’t just preserved by the monasteries. It went underground when the Catholics came to power. And since the end of the 19th century, the secret, Christian tradition is out in the open again – the esoteric Christian tradition. The problem is that religious people hesitate to embrace esotericism, since it appears awkward and too liberal.
But it stands to reason that Christianity will have to reinvent itself. This is the challenge: How to create a contemporary, spiritual Christianity?