Sleeping in on this Sunday morning? Or missing church, so you can join others for breakfast at Blue Ridge Diner or some other favorite eatery. If so, don’t worry. You’re not the oddball, but now part of a growing majority: Americans who no longer belong to any church.
Hardcore evangelicals say this means more and more of us are going to hell. Others say it is because organized religion, especially the shrinking number of self-declared “Christians,” say it is because denominational religion has lost its way and no longer represents a true God.
Gallup’s pollsters began measuring church membership in 1937 — 84 years ago — and found that 73% of Americans belongs to a church. Earlier this year, Gallup reported that membership in any church or denomination fell below 50% om 2020 and now stands at 47% and dropping.
This doesn’t mean a growth in atheists, the polls say, but an increase in those who have found other ways to believe in God without having to deal with the biases and political ambitions of ministers and those invoking false preaching tactics to win elections.
Hypocritical use of religion is rampant in political circles, even here in Floyd County, where candidates claim they are “true Christian conservatives” or, astoundingly, “Constitutional Christians.”
As a one-time political operative and still a newspaperman who has covered and tracked political activity for more than 60 years, I find the misuse of religion disgusting. The then-prominent evangelical leader, Jerry Falwell Jr., claimed devout Christianity while watching his adulterous wife engage in sex with her lover and practice other such acts while endorsing self-declared adulterer Donald Trump, a disgraced president who refused to stop using words and phrases like “God–n” in public speeches and in gatherings like the National Prayer Breakfast.
In Virginia, Republicans urge voters to cast their ballots for Trump-embracing Glenn Youngkin for governor, even after investigations have shown the one-time hedge fund boss forced Senior Citizens out of their homes, closed down factories that puts hundreds of thousands out of work and sent jobs overseas.
In Floyd County, we have a delegate candidate, Marie March, who brags both that she is “an unashamed Christian” and not “a wishy-washy, fence-straddling, yellow-bellied politician.” She will win solely because she is a Republican running in a county where all she needs is to be a member of the misnamed “Grand Old Party.”
The county Board of Supervisors will have another declared “conservative Christian,” who openly violated Virginia law when she removed her mask and threw it down in a school board meeting and had to be escorted out by a county deputy because masks are requiring in the school building. Maybe conservative Christians don’t care about protecting the health of children and others who work in schools.
A second proclaimed “true conservative Christian” embraces Trump while running for the supervisor seat now held by Jerry Boothe. If she wins, the most obvious response is “God, why have you forsaken us?”
As a Floyd County resident who spent his high school years here and returned in 2004, I don’t give a damn about any candidate’s religion. It’s more important, I feel, to know if a candidate has the foggiest idea of what he takes to be a governor, a delegate, a supervisor or a member of a school board. When I see a supervisor candidate focusing on abortion as an issue, I see an ideologue who has no knowledge that a county has no role in such things. If a potential school board member wants “critical race theory” banned from schools and quotes Fox News propaganda as a justification, I see someone who ignores the need for schools to educate students on the truth in issues that affect society and not the narrow-view whims of an extremist. I also she has any idea what the theory really says.
Thomas Jefferson argued that church and state must remain separate to assure a government that serves all of its people, not just a predetermined, favored few.
My work and considerable travel over the years has exposed me to the varied religious beliefs of many of the word’s various religions, from Catholics at the Vatican in Rome, to the holy places of worship in the Middle and Far East. Long discussions with Jewish holy leaders in Israel gave insight on how and why they doubt that Jesus was a true son of God. Their beliefs are devout and strong. Muslim leaders show the same devotion to a faith that disavows violence but, like Christianity, is invoked too often to wage wars.
I spent much of my youth in the Presbyterian church, where my grandparents were founding members. I attended the church for a while after returning in 2004, but found the messages preached there appeared different and more partisan that what I heard 50+ years before. When the church decided to withdraw from the Presbyterian Church USA denomination and become part of an “evangelical” offshoot denomination, I had to leave.
For one thing, the church refused to conduct same-sex marriages after they were authorized by Presbyterian Church USA. Continuing to be part of that church would, I felt, would be hypocritical since I have a first cousin who is married to his long-time male partner, and we have many friends who are gay, bisexual or married to a same-sex partner.
Evangelicals claim God considers such behavior a “sin,” but other Presbyterian church leaders feel otherwise. One told me that references to homosexuality in the Bible are “vague at best” and are written opinions of humans who add their on interpretations on what God might or might not have said. Another said religion based on love from God should not accept that he (or she) accepts all of us.
All religions are based on beliefs passed down over the centuries and go back to a time when the Romans believes in a collection of gods, as did the Greeks.
Lawrence M. Krauss, a physicist and science commentator, is Foundation Professor and director of the Origins Initiative at Arizona State University, says:
I don’t know which is more dangerous, that religious beliefs force some people to choose between knowledge and myth, or that pointing out how religion can purvey ignorance is taboo. To do so risks being branded as intolerant of religion.–Lawrence M. Krauss
I admit an intolerance of religion. I feel it is influenced too often by human bias and political agendas. Consider me a man who believes in God but does not have any use for the controlling use of misinformation from religious denominations, especially Christianity. I do not believe any religion is superior to the faiths of others. To me, such superiority is not God’s way.
When Christianity professes to be the “only true religion,” I realized that I can no longer call myself a Christian. I have read the Bible entirely more times than I can remember, but it contains so many positions that differ on so many issues that. I also own two copies of the Koran, one translated to English, by a Muslim cleric and have read it several times00, along with the texts of Judaism, the Muslim faith and Buddhism. In each, I have found more love than violence than we see in the Protestant Bible.
I believe anyone’s choice of faith should be a personal one and not something forced on anyone by law, regulation or political extremism. Some tell me I will go to hell for having such a belief. Maybe I will. If so, I suspect I will meet some of them there.
If so, I may learn that truth when I die. Or I might not. Death could be just that…and nothing more.