Yesterday evening, while waiting in the car for my stepdaughter as she did some shopping, I was listening to our local NPR station.  The show was: “Q, with Jian Ghomeshi,” and one of his guests was one John S. Dickerson, pastor of the Cornerstone Church in Tempe, AZ and author of the book, The Great Evangelical Recession.  It would appear as though some evangelicals have recognized that their numbers are dwindling and that their title “evangelical” has been besmirched by, among others, those with a more political than religious agenda.  During the conversation, it was interesting to listen to Dickerson admit that he was uncertain as to exactly why evangelicals’ numbers were down.  It was even more fascinating to hear him concede that, because of extremists and political evangelicals, he thought that the very term was unrecoverable, even as “fundamentalist” became similarly tarnished not that long ago.  That this gentleman could write a book on the decline of evangelism in the United States, yet could not come up with a single reason, other than the influence of those as much invested in politics as in religion, frankly astonishes me.  I’m hardly an expert on the subject, but two reasons for their loss of numbers immediately comes to mind.

The first of these is the presence and growth of the internet.  Some time back, the YouTube vlogger Thunderf00t opined that: “The internet is where religions go to die.”  While religion isn’t dead yet, I believe it has indeed suffered mightily at the hands of a repository of information and participation which, though sometimes poorly disciplined and not always having accurate facts at hand, has the great virtue of being largely uncensored and available to anyone with a computer or a smart phone.  Wide-ranging discussions on the topic of religion are all over hundreds and thousands of webpages.  Numerous YouTube bloggers create videos criticizing, attacking and mocking Christianity, Islam and Judaism and promoting rationality, reason and critical thought, with further discussion, civil and otherwise, carried out in the comments on those videos.  The old and tired dogma of the believers is being repeatedly hammered by skeptics who think outside of the theists’ doctrinal box.  Slowly but surely, eyes are being opened and minds are being changed by these interactions.

The second reason is at once simple and not simple at all: 9/11.  When 19 radical Islamists attacked the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and an attempt at the Capitol or the White House, one of the near-immediate consequences was an increased scrutiny of Islam.  That microscope didn’t stay limited to Islam for very long, but got turned onto the other Abrahamic religions in fairly short order.  What had been a reserved and “sacred” subject – religion – was no longer so.  Then came people like Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, among many others, who brought boldness, expertise and credibility to the arguments against religion.  Add THAT to the internet … and what you have is a near-perfect storm of reason and logic, focused against what had previously been an untouchable subject.  The result is far from pretty, certainly not if you’re a subscriber to any form of unverifiable belief.

Most amusing of all toward the end of the interview was Dickerson’s talk about getting people to come back to what he perceived as evangelicals’ primary message: that of salvation through Christ.  Again and again, he made the statement that people are sinners; that they fall short of god’s grace, but that through Jesus Christ, they can be reclaimed for their precious deity.  I wonder if this isn’t a third reason: the lameness, the inexcusable bullshit which their belief system depends on.  Sin is a god-concept.  Without a god, there is no sin.  There is wrongdoing, certainly, and a need for correction and adjudication to provide balance … but sin?  Sin requires a wronged god as an aggrieved party, but that “wronged party” cannot in any ways be located.  Funny thing, that, as there is as of yet no god who has been discovered and defined and demonstrated to exist in any way, shape or form.  People are seeing that.  They’ve been slow and subject to the indoctrination which religion has employed to scare them, goad them, force their compliance, but a growing few have seen through the lies and the threats, recognized that they have been played, and denied any further permission to those players.  Could it be that “The Great Evangelical Recession” is a product of man’s curiosity, his desire to learn, grow, and shed that which fails to serve his understanding?

I wonder … could it be that Mr. Dickerson failed to see the forest for all those pesky trees?

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Tags: evangelical, recession

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Comment by Loren Miller on June 9, 2013 at 10:37am

Joan, I think you already know the answer to that one!  Please do so, with my compliments!

Comment by Joan Denoo on June 9, 2013 at 10:18am

Loren, after a month of pure physical torture of killer poisons being pumped into my body, I am getting to my mail and found this treasure. Perfect! Absolutely powerful! A real treasure. May I send it over to Facebook for my family and friends to read? 

Comment by booklover on May 29, 2013 at 7:53pm

A 19-year old daughter of a friend of mine just put on FB something about not judging people who "sin" differently than you do.  I replied there is no such thing as a "sin", there are just choices people make in life.  NOBODY on FB said a word.   She has over 500 "friends" on Facebook.  I have like 24 (on-purpose.)  She didn't reply to me either.

Comment by Loren Miller on May 29, 2013 at 10:14am

To listen to him in the interview, Dickerson was having no crisis of faith.  Everything I heard in him told me he was convinced of the truth of this putative salvation.  What struck me was his cluelessness at the environment his belief system is currently living in, especially since all he could cite for reasons for the the decline were people like those of the Westboro Baptist Church.  He didn't mention Robertson, Falwell only got passing notice, the shame that the Bakkers, Jimmy Swaggart or Ted Haggard were apparently off his radar as well.

For a man who wrote an entire book on the subject, Dickerson demonstrates a remarkable lack of insight or analysis.  That may be just as well.  Were he to culture such skills, he might actually see his movement the way we do.  Imagine the horror!

Comment by John Aultman on May 29, 2013 at 9:45am

I get the feeling that Mr. Dickenson may be having a crisis of faith seeing his flock declining but not sure why.  I believe he knows why but can't except it because it would require him to find another occupation so he does what he is trained to do make people come to Jesus by capitalizing on their fear and ignorance.  I think Mr Dickenson needs to contact the Clergy Project.

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