Is the historic foundation of America’s religious culture cracking?

What this does NOT mean: we need not worry about radical religious elements in America.

What this DOES mean: we need not pander to radical religious elements in our messages.

From John Meacham, Newsweek: “It was a small detail, a point of comparison buried in the fifth paragraph on the 17th page of a 24-page summary of the 2009 American Religious Identification Survey. But as R. Albert Mohler Jr.—president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, one of the largest on earth—read over the document after its release in March, he was struck by a single sentence. For a BELIEVER  like Mohler—a starched, unflinchingly conservative Christian, steeped in the theology of his particular province of the faith, devoted to producing ministers who will preach the inerrancy of the Bible and the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the only means to eternal life—the central news of the survey was TROUBLING enough: the number of Americans who CLAIM no religious affiliation has nearly DOUBLED since 1990, rising from 8 to 15 percent. Then came the point he could not get out of his mind: while the unaffiliated have historically been concentrated in the Pacific Northwest, the report said, “this pattern has now changed, and the Northeast emerged in 2008 as the new stronghold of the religiously unidentified.  …”A remarkable CULTURE-SHIFT has taken place around us,” Mohler wrote. “The most basic contours of American culture have been radically altered. The so-called Judeo-Christian consensus of the last millennium has given way to a post-modern, POST-CHRISTIAN, post-Western cultural crisis which threatens the very heart of our culture.” When Mohler and I spoke in the days after he wrote this, he had grown even gloomier. “Clearly, there is a new narrative, a post-Christian narrative, that is animating large portions of this society,” he said from his office on campus in Louisville, Ky…This is not to say that the Christian God is dead, but that he is LESS of a force in American politics and culture than at any other time in recent memory. To the surprise of liberals who fear the advent of an evangelical theocracy and to the dismay of religious conservatives who long to see their faith more fully expressed in public life, Christians are now making up a DECLINING percentage of the American population…According to the American Religious Identification Survey that got Mohler’s attention, the percentage of self-identified Christians has FALLEN 10 percentage points since 1990, from 86 to 76 percent. The Jewish population is 1.2 percent; the Muslim, 0.6 percent. A separate Pew Forum poll echoed the ARIS finding, reporting that the percentage of people who say they are UNAFFILIATED with any particular faith has DOUBLED in recent years, to 16 percent; in terms of voting, this group grew from 5 percent in 1988 to 12 percent in 2008—roughly the same percentage of the electorate as African-Americans. (Seventy-five percent of unaffiliated voters chose Barack Obama, a Christian.) Meanwhile, the number of people willing to DESCRIBE themselves as ATHEIST or agnostic has INCREASED ABOUT FOURFOLD from 1990 to 2009, from 1 million to about 3.6 million. (That is about DOUBLE the number of, say, Episcopalians in the United States.)  …our politics and our culture are, in the main, less INFLUENCED by movements and arguments of an explicitly Christian character than they were EVEN FIVE years ago. I think this is a GOOD thing—good for our political culture, which, as the American Founders saw, is complex and charged enough without attempting to compel or coerce religious belief or observance. It is good for Christianity, too, in that many Christians are rediscovering the VIRTUES of a SEPARATION of church and state that protects what Roger Williams, who founded Rhode Island as a haven for religious dissenters, called “the garden of the church” from “the wilderness of the world.” As crucial as religion has been and is to the life of the nation, America’s UNIFYING force has never been a specific faith, but a commitment to FREEDOM—not least freedom of conscience… The DECLINE AND FALL of the modern religious right’s notion of a Christian America creates a calmer political environment and, for many believers, may help open the way for a more theologically serious religious life. Let’s be clear: while the percentage of Christians may be shrinking, rumors of the death of Christianity are greatly EXAGGERATED. Being less Christian does not necessarily mean that America is post-Christian. A third of Americans say they are born again…

Still, in the new NEWSWEEK Poll, FEWER people now think of the United States as a “Christian nation” than did so when George W. Bush was president (62 percent in 2009 versus 69 percent in 2008). Two thirds of the public (68 percent) now say religion is “LOSING INFLUENCE’ in American society, while just 19 percent say religion’s influence is on the rise. The proportion of Americans who think religion “can answer all or most of today’s problems” is NOW AT A HISTORIC LOW of 48 percent. During the Bush 43 and Clinton years, that figure never dropped below 58 percent.

Many conservative Christians believe they have LOST the battles over issues such as abortion, school prayer and even same-sex marriage, and that the country has now entered a post-Christian phase…

What, then, does it MEAN to talk of “Christian America”? Evangelical Christians have long believed that the United States should be a nation whose political life is based upon and governed by THEIR INTERPRETATION  of biblical and theological principles. If the church BELIEVES drinking to be a sin, for instance, then the laws of the state should BAN the consumption of alcohol. If the church believes the theory of EVOLUTION conflicts with a literal reading of the Book of Genesis, then the public schools should tailor their lessons accordingly. If the church believes ABORTION should be outlawed, then the legislatures and courts of the land should follow suit. The intensity of feeling about how Christian the nation should be has ebbed and flowed since Jamestown; there is, as the Bible says, no thing new under the sun. For more than 40 years, the debate that BEGANwith the Supreme Court’s decision to end MANDATORY school prayer in 1962 (and ACCELERATED with the Roe v. Wade ruling 11 years later) may not have been novel, but it has been ferocious. FEARING the coming of a Europe-like secular state, the right longed to engineer a RETURN to what it believed was a Christian America of yore.

But that project has FAILED, at least for now. In Texas, authorities have decided to side with science, not theology, in a dispute over the teaching of evolution. The terrible economic times have NOT led to an increase in church attendance. In Iowa last Friday, the state Supreme Court ruled AGAINST a ban on same-sex marriage, a DEFEAT for religious conservatives. Such evidence is what has believers fretting about the possibility of an age dominated by a newly muscular secularism. “The moral teachings of Christianity have exerted an incalculable influence on Western civilization,” Mohler says. “As those moral teachings fade into cultural memory, a SECULARIZED morality takes their place. Once Christianity is abandoned by a significant portion of the population, the moral landscape necessarily changes. For the better part of the 20th century, the nations of Western Europe led the way in the ABANDOMENT of Christian commitments. Christian moral reflexes and moral principles gave way to the loosening grip of a Christian memory. Now even that Christian memory is absent from the lives of millions…

Religion has been a factor in American life and politics from the beginning. Anglican observance was compulsory at Jamestown, and the Puritans of New England were explicitly hoping to found a New Jerusalem. But COERCEDbelief is NO belief at all; it is tyranny. “I commend that man, whether Jew, or Turk, or Papist, or whoever, that steers no otherwise than his conscience dares,” said Roger Williams.

By the time of the American founding, men like Jefferson and Madison saw the virtue in guaranteeing liberty of conscience, and one of the young republic’s signal achievements was to create a context in which religion and politics mixed but church and state did NOT…they have learned that POLITICS DOES NOT HOLD ALL the answers—a lesson that, along with a certain relief from the anxieties of the cultural upheavals of the ’60s and ’70s, has tended to curb religiously inspired political zeal. “The worst fault of evangelicals in terms of politics over the last 30 years has been an incredible naiveté about politics and politicians and parties,” says Mohler…But when abortion and a moral understanding of the human good became associated with ONEparty, Christians had few options politically.”

When that party FAILEDto deliver—and it did fail—some in the movement responded by retreating into radicalism, convinced of the wickedness and venality of the political universe that dealt them defeat after defeat. (The same thing happened to many liberals after 1968: infuriated by the conservative mood of the country, the left reacted angrily and moved ever leftward.)…Cal Thomas was an early figure in the Moral Majority who came to see the Christian American movement as fatally flawed in theological terms. “No country can be TRULY ‘Christian’,” Thomas says. “Only people can…”

(EMPHASIS MINE).

This article is very comprehensive,see: http://www.newsweek.com/id/192583

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