Spiritual Pruning

This week, this article became a topic of debate* amongst my peer group:  How Christian America Dies.

DISCLAIMER:  Let’s call out the obvious slant here, lest you think I don’t know the pictures on the wall are crooked.  🙂  This article is from a site called The American Conservative, and the article is written by Pat Buchanan – I make no illusion that this is a balanced reference, nor does it reflect my personal views.  But I want to talk about it anyway, so if you lean the other way, bear with me here.

*Clarification:  When I say “debate,” I mean that someone posts the article on a message board.  The usual participants gather up mud and feces to sling at the “other team,” and very quickly the conversation, if there ever really WAS one, deteriorates into the usual Republicans vs. Democrats, Obama Sucks vs. Obama Saved Us, Christian vs. Atheist, Us vs. Them name-calling.  I should add that this is a “professional” bulletin board.  Working in HR, I can only assume that for some folks, having to be civil for the majority of the day takes its toll, and if these folks can’t spew venom SOMEWHERE, they’ll explode all over an unsuspecting employee, get fired, and become “part of the problem.”  Meh.  I guess trolling is cheaper than therapy.  But I digress.

Anyway.  Back to the article:

“This is a Christian nation,” said the Supreme Court in 1892. ”America was born a Christian nation,” echoed Woodrow Wilson. Harry Truman affirmed it: “This is a Christian nation.”

But in 2009, Barack Hussein Obama begged to differ: “We do not consider ourselves a Christian nation.” Comes now a Pew Research Center survey that reveals the United States is de-Christianizing at an accelerated rate.

Whereas 86 percent of Americans in 1990 identified as Christians, by 2007, that was down to 78 percent. Today only 7 in 10 say they are Christians. But the percentage of those describing themselves as atheists, agnostics or nonbelievers has risen to 23. That exceeds the Catholic population and is only slightly below evangelicals.

Those in the mainline Protestant churches—Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians—have plummeted from 50 percent of the U.S. population in 1958 to 14 percent today. By accommodating the social revolution of the 1960s to stay relevant, mainline churches appear to have made themselves irrelevant to America’s young.

The decline in Christian identity is greatest among the young. While 85 percent of Americans born before 1945 still call themselves Christians, only 57 percent of those born after 1980 do.”

The author (go here if you want to read the article) then goes on to discuss why Christianity is on the decline, and some of his thoughts on the potential consequences.  As you can probably guess, he doesn’t find those consequences favorable.

I’m gonna throw out a differing viewpoint here.

This isn’t how Christian America dies.  This is how Christian America GROWS.

Here’s why.

It’s easy to be Christian when “everybody else is.” Back in the day, it was more of a societal norm. So easy to blend in. “All” schools did Christmas programs.  “Everyone” had a tree.  We all said “Merry Christmas” at the holidays, and the assumption and expectation was that it applied to everyone.  The bandwagon was full, but comfortable.

Things are different now. As a nation, we’ve evolved into much less of a melting pot, where everything has been masticated and homogenized, and more of a delightful stew, where there are hunks of beef, carrots, peas, potatoes, celery, onions, and a beautiful array of spices that make a rich broth unifying it all.

(Side note:  I’m not crazy about peas, and not a fan of cooked carrots.  But I support your right to chuck ’em in the stew – heck, you probably feel the same way about onions, right?  They all come together to enliven the broth that holds this together.  And if I really can’t stomach one more carrot, I can leave it on the side of the plate.)

In the United States today, these divergent (from “traditional Christianity”) viewpoints have become more mainstream.  They’re more common, more outspoken. They’ve come out of hiding and shown their faces to the sun. And in the light and the open air, they begin to take root, to grow, and to thrive.

This changes things for those folks who were so cozily sitting on the bandwagon where everyone agreed on things.  You can no longer assume that everyone is generally going to be supportive of your viewpoint.  In fact, if you come out with guns a-blazing, trying to violently shove your views in someone’s face…it might not go so well.

Your bandwagon is pulling away without you.  You can’t just state your beliefs and expect heads to nod in agreement.  You now need to be prepared to defend and support those beliefs with rational thought and research.

That isn’t going to be easy, especially if you just assumed the belief system you were raised with. Which a lot of us did, frankly.  I suspect that’s why the Christian numbers were higher in the previous generation – it was a family and social thing for many of us.  Mom and Dad took us to church, and we took OUR kids there, too, never really questioning it…it’s just what we DID.

But now it’s time to really dig in and find out WHY you believe what you do, and WHY -or <gasp> IF – it’s the right decision for you.

It’s challenging. It can be frightening. I mean, what if it turns out that everything you ever believed isn’t what you believe anymore? What if it’s no longer true for you?

What if you find out you were…wrong?

As difficult as this can be, this is an opportunity for you to really strengthen your faith.  You can truly challenge your core belief system by digging deeply into your faith, and finding out WHY you believe what you do.  You’ll delve into some readings, explore some scholarly data, read sermons and Bible studies, and talk to pastors. You’ll find out why others DON’T believe what you do, and you’ll likely discover why different faiths make sense.

You’ll prepare yourself to civilly and confidently express a logical, rational position on your beliefs.  (Because, let’s face it – “because Mom said so” isn’t exactly going to get you taken seriously.)

While you’re working through this exercise, one of two things will happen – you’ll either decide that you really believe something else, OR you’ll solidify your beliefs more strongly.

Either way, you’ll grow.

Admittedly, there is some fallout. Not everyone who deeply explores faith comes to the conclusion that Christianity truly represents their beliefs. But, for those that DO arrive there, their faith is undoubtedly stronger.

So, there are fewer, but those that remain are solidly set.

A firm foundation.

It’s like pruning a rosebush. You cut off the parts that weren’t really helping you bloom.

No matter where you land – Christianity, Buddhism, humanism, atheism….or some general sense of “everything is all tied together somehow” – you’ll undoubtedly stand more strongly.  You’ll have provided spiritual fertilizer, water, and sun, and your roots will stretch deeper into your soul.

And – having all of these different belief systems coexisting really gives us the opportunity to find out what we truly have in common. It allows us to dissent peacefully with the goal of deeper understanding. It teaches us that different is just that – different. It can teach us humility and humbleness as we are presented with fresh challenges, additional trials, and new information.

For those of us not secure enough in our spiritual walks to have a healthy discussion, these conversations can lead to insults and hurt feelings. But that exercise does NOTHING to deepen us spiritually as individuals. And in many cases, it’s lead by fear and insecurity. (But whether this applies to YOU or not, I can’t say – that’s between you and your soul/spiritual guide/God/conscience/brain.)

The Founding Fathers came here so that they could worship in the way that made sense for them.  Several of them were reported to be Christians (albeit different denominations), but a couple of them may have been Deists.  Thomas Paine challenged us to step outside the pews and look around a bit.

If we want to support why this nation was founded, we’ll do just that.

So – read, learn, study. Meditate/pray, if it applies. Think. And listen.

Peace, all.

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