I’m working on my thesis right now, which (allegedly) is a foray into theistic-atheistic dialogue. With the prodigious rise of atheism in this country over the past ten years as well as Europe’s steady rise of secularism, since, well, always, it seems curious to me that atheism/secularism remains the elephant in the interfaith room that everyone hates to acknowledge. Give me Christian-Buddhist or Jewish-Christian dialogue all-day everyday but slow the hell down if you want to get tricky with a group of people that don’t appeal to a grander theological schema.
And yet this is the direction we are moving in. My generation and the ones following it are finding less and less use for God and religion. Internet blogs (especially the liberal ones) brag that “the internet is killing religion” and while I haven’t found any studies that support this one way or the other, empirically their statement seems true. A few months back NPR ran a piece titled, “More Young People Are Moving Away From Religion, But Why?” It is a fascinating look into several twenty-somethings' decisions to leave religion behind. Some of them have made the move away gladly, finding liberation and life on the other side, while others bemoan their lost God and wish they didn’t live in an age where God and religions stopped making sense.
And truthfully, what sense does God make in a world where physicists and scientists are heralded as the priests and meaning makers? Natural law replaces God and the gaps God once explained away. Quantum mechanics, Higgs-Boson, and an insistence that science will eventually answer and save all have nudged God onto the sidelines. Bonhoeffer saw it coming and this generation is currently watching it happen. Whiteheadian theology has done its best to bridge the sciences with theology but his metaphysic is confusing as hell and leaves many – including myself – wondering whether or not God is necessary at all. But I digress.
For me, the purpose of my thesis or the purpose of this post are not to proclaim from the small hill that I stand on that God is real and still has a function in society. As Simon Critchley points out, God still plays a major role in society (case in point: Inauguration 2013) and probably will always play a role in society. However, as people of religion(s), it seems foolish to me that we, the religious, continue to stand on the shoulders of our rich heritage(s) and claim ourselves tall in a society that is finding less and less use for what we have to say.
Apostle Paul’s dictum to Christians not to “be of the world” should not be taken as an excuse to become social Luddites who refuse to engage in a changing society. Let’s face it: mainline Christianity and especially Liberal Christianity, is dying. In society, Christianity is primarily known (and despised) for denying queer rights, waging a war on women’s reproductive rights, and being the biggest fans Fox News could ever hope for. Yet despite all these things, and this is Critchtley again, Christianity has been the primary inspiration for the moral and ethical foundation in this country. The secular rallying cry that all people are created equal and that everyone deserves equal treatment is something my guy Jesus said 2000 years ago.
So while pastors everywhere are gaining gray hairs wondering what to do about their dropping attendance and flagging relevance, the gospel message they proclaim from their pulpits is being lived out on the streets that they are apparently oblivious to. Religion is not dead but it certainly could be more alive if it started engaging with the people they are intimidated by, which in this case are the secularists and the atheists.
And here I return to my original point and the crux of my thesis: what can the religious, in my case, Liberal Christians, learn from their atheistic and secular sisters and brothers to improve Society as well as the Church? What are we missing by excluding the non-religious from interreligious and interfaith dialogue? Let’s find out.