Less religious affiliation doesn’t necessarily mean more atheism
In his July 27 letter to the editor, Bob Scher claims that “rational thinking” is behind the “decline in religiosity in American life,” as charted in a poll by the Barna Research Group. He ascribes declining numbers to “a turn toward agnosticism and atheism.”
Mr. Scher went on to write that young people, in particular, “are increasingly finding religious teaching irrelevant” due to the “myths” of faith, including someone “rising from the dead” and “the existence of God itself.” He cited a Pew Research Center survey on religion in public life, which found that 32 percent of Americans in the 18-29 age group are religiously “unaffiliated.”
First, the conclusions Mr. Scher draws are misleading. The same Pew poll he references finds that 80 percent of Americans agree with the statement “I never doubt the existence of God.” That number doesn’t even include those who sometimes doubt His existence, but still overall believe. A 2011 Gallup survey supports that: 92 percent of Americans surveyed believed in God, including 84 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds.
Moreover, religiously “unaffiliated” doesn’t mean just agnostic or atheistic. In fact, the Pew poll found a majority of the unaffiliated were God-believing. Many just haven’t found a religious denomination or a church parish they’re satisfied with. Even the poll’s 3.3 percent of Americans who call themselves “agnostics” aren’t sure there’s no God; they’re just uncertain.
Secondly, the believer in God almost necessarily has to believe He created the universe out of nothing. Mr. Scher calls belief in the Bible’s stories about the talking serpent in the Garden of Eden (he says “snake” but that came later), the virgin birth, or Christ’s resurrection “irrational.” But if one believes in the Creator God, to believe He then couldn’t effect a virgin birth or have His son rise from the dead would be the height of irrationality. Mr. Scher’s presupposition is the opposite, that God doesn’t exist, so of course every instance of God’s sovereignty on earth must be rejected. One’s starting point is everything.
Yet, any mortal challenging God’s existence can only do so on a subjectively rational basis. Even the most brilliant human being does not know 1 percent of how the universe works, so how are any of us capable of objectively rational judgment? Only by assuming a rational, mathematical and moral basis for the universe, created by God, can one be sure of anything.
Napoleon, Hitler and Pol Pot all had subjective rationales for what they did — they even had millions of followers agreeing with them. Only God authoritatively defines their sins. Humans can only wage a power struggle among subjective rationalities. Does the peaceful, non-murderous rationale group win? Only by greater numbers — or firepower.
Interestingly, a different Barna Group poll found that on average “no-faith individuals” are 40 percent less likely than churchgoing, Bible-reading, praying Christians to be “active in the community; 33 percent less likely to help or serve a homeless or poor person or to volunteer to aid even a non-church-related non-profit group; and five times more likely to focus on acquiring material wealth, while donating 7.5 times less money per person to charitable causes.
Of course, a no-faith person has no objective imperative to help the needy. But a Christian, who knows that his Savior said “whatever you do for the least of these” we do for Him, knows there’s an objective moral standard of giving selflessly that he should live up to.
Yes, the young have grown more “unaffiliated” overall, and it’s hardly surprising. They see TV dramas where the heroes smugly proclaim themselves to be atheists (while the Christian characters are usually exposed as hypocrites midway through their first seasons).
They hear many of their teachers and professors proselytizing atheism. They see atheist billboards going up across America. They play computer games populated by inherently godless beings. They hear of a military chaplain recently having his online essay removed by the U.S. Air Force for including the term “no atheists in a foxhole.”
Young people, hardly the “critical thinkers” Mr. Scher portrays them as, are more often impressionable and pliable. Assessing the 2007 Barna study on agnostic/atheist demographics, Austin Cline of the About Agnosticism/Atheism website bluntly concluded, “the only way for atheism and agnosticism to grow very much in America is to influence young people before they reach adulthood.”
So, with the media, arts and academia promoting atheism and mocking the basis of faith as myth-driven, and with Christian families going to church less and speaking about faith less, how likely is it that the young will turn to their Bible and find God? Not much in the painful short term (the Bible does tell us that whomever He predestinates will ultimately be called).
Yet what has it gotten atheism, that apotheosis of godlessness? With all the billboards and positive media spin, the atheistic share of the U.S. population, says the Pew poll, has climbed all the way up to 2.4 percent. That probably makes it one of the least successfully marketed organizations in American history.
If I were the atheists, I would either start to deal with my self-deception, or hire a new PR firm.