Demographers and the media are having a good time analyzing the religious preferences of Americans. The fastest growing group, of course, are the "nones", those Americans with no particular religious affiliation. Dr. Steve McSwain, writing in the religion section of the Huffington Post (November 17, 2014) adds another troubling category to the list of people running away from our usual religious labels. He says research indicates a growing number of "dones", religious people who have been there, done that, and have had it with the mechanics of the traditional church.
Maybe it's time for us to get a little more literal in our application of Scripture. The Apostle Paul wrote, "Look at what is before your eyes" (2 Corinthians 10:7, ESV). Shoot, it sounds elementary and a little haughty but waking up for a minute and observing what's happening all around us isn't rocket surgery. Suddenly Americas are faded, jaded, none, and done. Cynicism and indifference and apathy are the visible signs of an ethos of booing, thumbs down people across the board in American life. Even more, they're disillusioned with more than tradtional religious options. Ask them how they feel about political parties, the media circus, public education, or the Postal Service. We've become a culture of disbelief in just about every venue that was once considered sacred. So, what gives in a season of doubt?
1. There is a deep and growing distrust of government.
Political scientists point to the Kennedy assassination, Watergate, numerous scandals in Washington, and the total disconnect of the current administration,
legislative branch, and judiciary as mile-markers in a growing distrust of
government. Our belief in a government of the people, by the people, and for the
people has been lost in a re-make that no longer engenders trust and confidence
in the heart of the populace. What was particularly unique among nations has
morphed into a mamoth government monster believed to be out of control.
Even more, the Christian-Judeo ethic thought to be the undergirding principles of
the nation has been questioned and rejected by the media and much of
government. These distinctions were part of the American dream. It has faded.
2. Leaders walk the edges of issues and equivocate answers.
Entering the 2016 political season you can't help but notice how candidates and
parties skirt the issues and avoid answers to political questions in their efforts to
currry favor with voters. The electorate is, therefore, indifferent and uninformed
about political platforms and topics that are important to the public. As a result,
sound-bites, photo-ops, and personality profiles have become election standards.
3. Spiritual leaders too.
America has no spiritual voice. Several people have tried to fill this void but have
proven unable to articulate spiritual truth in passionate and biblically accurate
ways. One reason is that many spiritual leaders will not speak spiritual truth to the
political world, fearful of losing costly tax status. So, many voters are uninformed
about the intersection of faith and politics.
4. The American dream has faded.
The broken immigration system and demise of authority in the mean streets has
created a fading of the American dream. Citizenship has been precious in the
American epoch. There has always been a path to American citizenship and the
promise of protection of our citizenry. Recent events have granted privileges to
illegals and criminals that place questions around the American dream. Many of
our citizens are jaded as a result.
5. Our capacity for the miraculous has been marginalized.
A couple of years ago I read John Ferling's Almost a Miracle: America's Victory in the
War of Independence (Oxford Press, 2009). Later I attended a lecture by Dr. Ferling
and asked why he referred to the events surrounding the revolution as "almost"
miracles. It made him uncomfortable. It's because our national psyche no longer
has room for the miraculous. To admit miracles is to confess the existence of a
miracle maker. Even many spiritual leaders today will hedge talking about the
So, there's a digression----faded, jaded, none, and done. The dreams, aspirations, spiritual beliefs, camp fire tales, legends, and truth that used to stand us in awe have faded from view. The aftermath is that we've become jaded, that is, questioning, cynical, doubtful, even booing in the way we view what once was sacred. Now, with so many question marks, we check the box marked "none". Many of us walk away, we're "done".
When the Apostle Paul defended himself to King Agrippa at Caesarea he said something that strikes me profoundly just now. Paul asked Agrippa, "Why is is thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?" (Acts 26:8, ESV). He wanted to know why their culture was suddenly so cynical they could no longer believe such a miracle was possible. It seems to be an appropriate question for our culture today, one that is faded, jaded, none, and done.
That's when Paul gave his testimony. He told Agrippa, Bernice, Festus, and those in attendance what had happened in his life. He demonstrated that apologetics includes the personal story, what happened in our own lives. Some of those present thought Paul was crazy! But, Agrippa was touched, almost convinced. But, of course, there was more than his testimony. Then, Paul spoke the gospel, the Good News. The gospel was at the center.
The challenge of engaging a faded, jaded, none, and done culture is great. Paul saw their cynical response to his own personal story. So, he spoke unchanging truth and touched this aspect of the challenge in his conversation with Agrippa. He said,
To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying
both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said
would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise
from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and ot the Gentiles
Acts 26: 22-23, ESV
He spoke the gospel. It's the truth that changes people.
Even those who are faded, jaded, none, and done.