Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Modern Christianity? Not so bright

Andrew Sullivan interprets the ARIS results (see March 14 post) for a British audience in an article in the Sunday Times of London. He corrects the common European stereotype of US religiosity: Yes, Americans are more religious than Europeans but the US is certainly not immune from the forces that have been devestating religious involvement in other Western countries. In offering one explanation for the decline of American Christianity he notes its increasing shallowness.
The days when America’s leading intellectuals contained a strong cadre of serious Christians are over. There is no Thomas Merton in our day; no Reinhold Niebuhr, Walker Percy or Flannery O’Connor. In the arguments spawned by the new atheist wave, the Christian respondents have been underwhelming. As one evangelical noted in The Christian Science Monitor last week, “being against gay marriage and being rhetorically pro-life will not make up for the fact that massive majorities of evangelicals can’t articulate the Gospel with any coherence”.

Sullivan hopes for a new Christian "middle way" that recognizes both Christianity's historical limitations and the new challenges of the modern and post-modern world. He gives no indication he expects such a development or has any idea how it might come about.
What one yearns for is a resuscitation of a via media in American religious life – the role that the established Protestant churches once played. Or at least an understanding that religion must absorb and explain the new facts of modernity: the deepening of the Darwinian consensus in the sciences, the irrefutable scriptural scholarship that makes biblical literalism intellectually contemptible, the shifting shape of family life, the new reality of openly gay people, the fact of gender equality in the secular world. It seems to me that American Christianity, despite so many resources, has ignored its intellectual responsibility. And atheists, if this continues much longer, will continue to pick up that slack.

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