Friday, November 18, 2005

Evangelicals In Decline, Worried

There's no dancing around it, religion cuts through the center of our controversy here in Montgomery County. The "other guys" don't like to be called religious zealots but the fact is, the cases against teaching about sexual variation and safe sex are based on religious arguments.

Today we read in Agape Press, the evangelical Christian online publication, that the evangelicals are concerned about what young people believe. Sure, 86 per cent of them believe in God -- but is that enough? This article is a sort of "book report" -- it's not a book review really, just reports on the contents of a book that talks about a survey of religious attitudes that was done with American teenagers.

Some of the survey results are alarming ... if you're, uh, one of these guys.
... But if the religious lives of teens in the U.S. seem encouraging on the surface, there are troubling currents beneath the foamy whitecaps. As researchers probed deeper, what they found should shake churches to the core.

Barna, for example, after noting that 86 percent of teenagers claimed that they believed in God, asked, "But what is the nature of the God they embrace?"

A strange god indeed, as it turns out. In his book, Third Millennium Teens, Barna revealed this stunning fact: 63 percent of church-going, supposedly Christian teens said they believed "Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, Jews and all other people pray to the same God, even though they use different names for their god."

In other critical areas of Christian doctrine -- e.g., the divinity of Christ, the resurrection, the reality of absolute truth -- the majority of church-going teenagers simply do not hold to views that are orthodox. A Strange Faith -- Are Church-Going Kids Christian?

Now ... I don't know what to say here. It apparently goes without saying among these folks that the gods of the Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, and Jews are different gods. Or, possibly, there's only one God, and "we" know who He is.

But just a second. Are they saying the God of the Jews is a different God from the one that the Christians worship? When did they switch that? And the Moslems -- Islam is an Abrahamic religion closely related to Judaism and Christianity. I would be interested to see what Jewish and Moslem scholars say on this point -- my guess is that the question is not as simple as these guys imply. Never mind the Buddhists. Actually, I'll give them that one, I don't think you'll find much about the biblical God in the Buddhist texts.

And that "reality of absolute truth" thing, I'm not going to criticise that, if they want to believe it, then cool. I will complain though when they make decisions that affect me, based on an "absolute truth" that only they understand, especially when their truth runs against empirical evidence. Yes, I will resist that, even while I support their right to think that way.
To obtain a clearer picture of what youth actually believe, Barna used specific questions in his polling that were designed to allow a peek behind more generalized answers such as, "Yes, I believe in God." For example, in determining if a teenager is actually an evangelical Christian, Barna Research asked nine questions which focus on core evangelical beliefs, such as whether or not a person believes salvation is possible by grace alone.

Using this more probing method, Barna found that only 4 percent of U.S. teens can be considered evangelicals. More distressingly, that number is actually trending in the wrong direction. That 4 percent figure "is a far cry from the 10 percent measured in 1995," he said.

Mmm, OK, I would have used a different set of adjectives and adverbs there, but ...

It is very interesting to find that, once you look under the surface a little bit, only four per cent of teenagers turn out to be hard-core evangelical Christians. Down from 10 percent ten years ago. Didn't you have the feeling there were more of them than there used to be? Somehow, with all their success, taking over the federal government and everything else, their numbers are declining. They don't give you the number, but it sounds like somewhere between four and ten percent of Americans might qualify for inclusion in this religious category today. Note: that's not very many people. (The argument that gay people are "abnormal" because they comprise a small percentage of the population takes on a new significance.)
Whether we blame parents, church leaders, the kids themselves, the culture, or some combination, one thing seems clear: Apparently, many church-going teens are not being challenged by the preaching and teaching of the true Gospel. How else can one explain the overwhelming assumption among teens that they are Christian, when they clearly are not?

Now there's a problem for you. These evangelicals really don't feel like the more moderate Christians are actually Christians.

This is America, these guys are free to believe whatever they believe, and I am not going to make any statement judging their faith or the things that they hold to be true. That's their business, and I couldn't care less. But I will admit that their behavior -- not their belief, but their insistence on forcing their views on everyone around them -- has earned them the title you often see: America's Taliban. I think I am as surprised as they are to see that their numbers in the population are actually dropping, and I think it is surprising, maybe even amazing, that such a tiny group can have so much effect on daily life in a society like ours.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


I think you're a little confused about the different categories of Christians but you're not alone- we all are. I don't think think the definitions have ever gelled. I think, though, you mix up Fundamentalists and Evagelicals.

If you read the Bible, you'll notice that it's written in the context of Christians being a minority of the population. Everything actually makes more sense in that context. The pastor at my church always says that the conversion of Constantine was the most unfortunate in history.

We'll always have relevance, though. Against conventional wisdom, a carpenter-turned- religious teacher from a small, impoverished province of the Roman Empire over two millienia ago has been the most influential person in history since. Did you know Jesus has appeared on the cover of Time magazine more than any other person? Even people who would completely disagree with him try to claim they admire him.

One thing you were wondering about: there are no Christians who consider Jews to have a different God from them. As to Islam, most Christians don't consider Allah to be identical to Jehovah, although there is a minority at some churches, including mine, that try to make that case. That minority, however, would not consider the Koran to be a revelation from God.

Keep reading those evangelical journals, and pass them on to your board.

November 18, 2005 12:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"But I will admit that their behavior -- not their belief, but their insistence on forcing their views on everyone around them -- has earned them the title you often see: America's Taliban."

This is a reprehensible misrepresentation that qualifies in the lie category. The Taliban violently dealt with any dissent or violation of Islamic law. Evangelicals have not "forced" their beliefs on anyone. This phrase has been used repeatedly here and it's a lie.

November 18, 2005 1:04 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

Anon, I didn't make it up, you see it every day. I'll agree, there is a matter of degree, the Taliban uses physical violence -- and I'm not sure why you put that in the past tense, if you meant to imply something or not.

I know it's not very nice, and I suppose I meant the phrase to be provocative, but comparison between the way the religious right (as they are politely called) has moved into politics and lawmaking in the US, and the way the Taliban in another land operated, is a rather low-hanging fruit, you must admit.

The whole reason for this web site is to defend our county from the attempted imposition of extreme religious views on a secular school district. You don't need to be indignant about that implication -- we have seen policies from the county to the federal level, for instance making harmless things illegal when they violate some religious taboos. The whole point is for the Christians to "take back America," right? Would you say you don't support that movement?


November 18, 2005 2:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

1. Well, I've got a problem with calling democratic processes "force".

2. I prefer Christianity be a counter-cultural movement. We'll always try to convince America- like John the Baptist did with Herod but I wouldn't call that taking it back. We wouldn't want to live in a world with no potential converts.

November 18, 2005 2:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This site and its participants seem mighty zealous, Corrine. I think this is another example of word abuse- it's an ugly thing.

November 18, 2005 2:31 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

Anon, zealousness is not a negative trait. I merely reported that the "other side" doesn't like be called that, I'm not sure why but they have mentioned it a few times. is a zealous organization, zealous about freedom and fairness.


November 18, 2005 2:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reminds me of that old Doors song, "Break on Through to the Other Side."

Hey, Jim, maybe as part of your research for the CAC, you should attend an evangelical church for a month or two. You won't be forced to do anything. I promise.

I'm zealous about freedom and fairness too.

November 18, 2005 2:55 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

A few years ago my son joined a Baptist church in our neighborhood, and attended every Sunday for probably two years. It may have had something to do with the pastor's daughters, I'm not sure, but he seemed happy enough with it, and participated in a number of their ceremonies and outside activities.

As for myself, uh, no thanks, man.


November 18, 2005 3:02 PM  
Blogger Tish said...

I took my sons to dinner in a diner last night and one of the group at the table next to ours was a very loud biblical literalist. His pronouncements frequently intruded on our conversation. At one point he said,

"Athiests are, by definition, psychotics, because they deny the essential nature of all existance."

It was an interesting little window into the kind of mind-set we're dealing with.

November 20, 2005 6:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, atheists have concluded, without a doubt, there is no God. It's kind of irrational to make a definitive statement like that. In spite of all the evidence that the universe was designed, and the testimony of history's greatest scientists, they persist in ignorance. It's sad.

November 21, 2005 6:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

anonymous said: In spite of all the evidence that the universe was designed, and the testimony of history's greatest scientists, they persist in ignorance. It's sad.

What evidence that the universe was "designed?"

"anon free"

November 21, 2005 1:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


We had quite a bit of discussion on this back in October. Read those discussions and get back to me if you're still confused.

November 21, 2005 2:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

anonymous said: In spite of all the evidence that the universe was designed, and the testimony of history's greatest scientists, they persist in ignorance. It's sad.

What evidence that the universe was "designed?"

"anon free"


Anonymous replied with NO usual.

"anon free"

November 21, 2005 2:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Free ignores science as usual.

November 21, 2005 2:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well anonymous has still provided NO EXAMPLES. It figures....

"anon free"

November 22, 2005 4:27 PM  

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