The issues of the age…why “church” is losing

719276This morning, Dr. Scot McKnight featured a blog post on Jesus Creed regarding Pew Research results regarding what they label as, “the Religious Landscape.”  In the original article, these results were specifically shared in relation to the Southern Baptists.  As you know, I am no SoBap.  Even so, I am interested in how religious mores are being shaped by contemporary culture and trends.  What I decided to do was copy the pertinent info for you to be able to see.  I especially want to share with you the “conclusions” (three specific points) at the bottom of the article.  Take note of some of the issues raised in this article. I’m actually going to underline the insights I believe are especially relevant for the churchworld:

The Pew Research Center has featured results from the Religious Landscape Survey in a couple of stories over the last month that have bearing on these issues.  The survey was conducted in 2014 and compared with a similar survey in 2007. As reported in May 2015 (here), over the seven years between these surveys the Christian share of the US population dropped from 78.4% to 70.6% and the Evangelical Protestant share dropped from 26.3% to 25.4%. Those who claim none or unaffiliated (atheist, agnostic, nothing in particular) grew from 16.1% to 22.8% accounting for the lion’s share of the decrease in the Christian population. The results released this year dig into this a bit deeper, Why America’s ‘nones’ left religion behind. The chart to the right comes from this report. Most of the “nones” shed their religious identity in adulthood … 78%, or about 17 to 18% of the US population. Among the common themes:

About half of current religious “nones” who were raised in a religion (49%) indicate that a lack of belief led them to move away from religion. (Robin’s comment – my experience is that this is true. A new book by Os Guinness makes note of the fact that we are experiencing the full impact in our times of cultural shifts in essential belief systems).  This includes many respondents who mention “science” as the reason they do not believe in religious teachings, including one who said “I’m a scientist now, and I don’t believe in miracles.” Others reference “common sense,” “logic” or a “lack of evidence” – or simply say they do not believe in God (Robin’s comment – again, this has been my experience).  

Another 20% cite the shortcomings of religious institutions, with hierarchy, power, and abuse scandals playing a role (Robin’s comment – no one in churchworld wants to address these issues – to those in religious institutionalism, their motto is “don’t rock my boat.”).  Among the more damning from the Pew study: “Too many Christians doing un-Christian things,” “Rational thought makes religion go out the window,” and “Because I think religion is not a religion anymore. It’s a business … its all about money” (Robin’s comment – remember, culture is not rebelling against Jesus and spirituality but about “religion”)

The Unaffiliated makeup a growing share across generations…the none phenomenon is not just about younger people.  In fact, it is not entirely generational! It is also important to realize that the growth in “unaffiliated” is both between and within generations. Among those in the cohort to which my children belong (born between 1990 and 1996) 36% identify as unaffiliated, compared with 17% of my cohort. On top of this, the percentage of unaffiliated in each cohort increased between 2007 and 2014 (well, except my kids’ cohort because they were not adults in 2007 and thus not part of the survey). If trends continue, by 2021 we may well see half of those born between 1990 and 1996 claiming “unaffiliated.”

The Pew story on factors concludes:  “Whether Millennials will become more religious as they age remains to be seen, but there is nothing in our data to suggest that Millennials or members of Generation X have become any more religious in recent years. If anything, they have so far become less religious as they have aged.”

Solutions? Most of the “solutions” I’ve (the “I’ve” is the author of this piece) seen proposed focus on aspects of Christian practice that could be called “style.” Music style, for example. How we worship on Sundays. Now I’m not against music or other aspects of style evolving over time, but our core problem isn’t style. Nor is it “doctrine.” Rather, we have a credibility problem. The reasons I pulled out above highlight this point.

(1) Christians do not live and behave according Christian principles. “Hypocrite” is too often a valid judgment.

(2) Religion isn’t religion, it is just another business.  The focus is too often on numbers and ‘success,’ profit, prestige, and power, personalities and performance. A church is a Sunday morning (or Saturday evening) audience. This is just, plain wrong. The church is the community of God’s people and this is the only worthwhile thing we have to offer, now and for eternity.

(3) Rational thought makes religion go out the window. This is front and center in my town and among colleagues. Christians are often seen as opposed to reason, to science, but this goes far beyond science (Robin’s comment – I’ve often told my friends and people in our faith community that churches operate in such a manner where they expect people to leave their brains at the door and accept everything by blind “faith”).  We need to teach people how to think and live as Christians in a changing world. 

I don’t know about you but this is a good article on which to reflect.  The author’s three points at the end do hit “home” with many of the non-Jesus followers that I know as well as those who have walked away.  I could add some more reasons, but for the purpose of this post, this is enough to get you thinking…SO, got an opinion?  Go ahead and make a comment OR email me your comments at rdugall@apu.edu.

 

The Miracle of Community

60ae8-6a00d83451607369e201538efebc56970b-piThe Miracle of Community

“The future of the church depends on whether it develops true community…unless we
sense that we belong to each other, with masks of , the vibrant church of today will become the powerless church of tomorrow” – Larry Crabb

“Spiritual community = the presence of conflicted relationships met by spiritual friendship, spiritual direction and characterized by the dependence upon the Spirit of God” – M.Scott Peck

How about starting with some personal remarks – when I was young in the faith, I
got a taste of spiritual community…in fact, true community is inherently spiritual.
You and I were created in the image of a God who is “eternal community”…when we
share in relationships of love, encouragement, prayer, support and challenge, we are
experiencing a glimpse of the very nature and character of our Lord. In my case,
the story of community started in earnest during my college years. There were three
young men (Steve, Russ and Jeff) who poured themselves in me as a brother, friend,
and someone with whom they shared life. For two years, those relationships gave me
hope, healing, comfort, accountability and, most important, a constant glance at
Jesus and the reality of the Kingdom. Over a period of months, that little “band of
brothers” became infectious and grew…other people wanted “in” because they saw
something that they wanted and weren’t experiencing in their own life. I’m confident
enough to call a spade a spade…they saw Jesus and saw the Kingdom of God.
To say the least, I’ve been searching for a way to quench my deep desire for
community ever since. Throughout numerous experiences, I have gotten close only to
be sidetracked by ecclesiastical agendas, congregational politics, superficiality, and a
host of other relational elements that caused community to break down. I’m tired of
empty feelings when it comes to community – it has been my dream for a long, long
time to enter anew into redemptive and Kingdom community before I reach the end
of my earthly journey. I want to take the vision of scripture for a “ride” and find any
way I can to experience the sense of awe, power, and satisfaction that comes in living
in the flow of what Jesus created for us to experience.

I promised the Lord that I would pursue that dream in every move and every
transition in life. Friends, Jesus followers were created to experience oneness with
God and each other. It is only when we enter into that oneness do we experience the
fullness of life that God intended for us. I also realize as someone who takes the
scripture seriously that we need to have the quality of community that incarnates
Jesus and gives people an opportunity to see something that can only happen because
of God. Relationships are difficult because of the essential brokenness of humanity.
That’s why Christ-followers cannot tolerate having community that is anything else
than a glimpse of the Kingdom. We need to be inviting people into an experience in
relationships that actually transcends anything that can happen without the presence
of the Holy Spirit. To have relationships like “everyone else does” does not give
witness to the lives that Jesus calls us into. I’m attaching to this email a PDF link (if you
are interested) that outlines a set of values that are non-negotiable in our belief about
community. Community is transformational. We single-mindedly pursue the unity of
love and the missional and incarnational witness of community in the context of our
lives together in Kingdom living. This little booklet is divided up into three sections:
The Theology of Community – it is an overview of theological insights gleaned from
scripture and historical reflection. Secondly, the Practices of Community – these are
essential things, or practices that we do in relationship and, finally, our Pledge to each other – the life we are calling ourselves to live.

The Visions and Values of Community PDF link!

Check out some of this Bible Stuff:

1. Ephesians 2 – how far God goes to knock down the walls that separate people.
Jesus died on the cross to bring down the dividing wall, to settle once and for
all, any and all enmity between the people He loves. Any time you purposely put
up a wall, you make a mockery of the sacrifice of Jesus.
2. Forgiveness – Matthew 18 (the entire chapter) – In Jesus’ heart, personal
forgiveness is not enough…God can and will forgive as we pass that
forgiveness on to others. This section is one of the most challenging aspects of
scripture!
3. The Great Commandment – Matthew 22 – Jesus says, “you want to follow me?
Love God, love others…and follow me (obey me).” Friends, loving God is not
enough – loving others is our call as well – love God/love others so important
Jesus called THEM the greatest commandment – not two commandments but
one
4. “One another” passages – there are 59 “one another” passage in New
Testament.

“Many communities of the religious…live in large buildings that tend to separate their
members from other people…isolated personal lives, irresponsible and dishonest attitudes, unresponsiveness to communal needs and assumption of values and aspirations that are ignorant of the Kingdom of God Jesus Himself embodied and proclaimed” John Kavanaugh

Going “public” with Disciple Training…

Many of you know that I am a leader in a local faith community.  I’ve been involved in professional, local church work for most of my life.  I started at 17 years old with Campus Life/Youth for Christ.  Though not technically a “church” based ministry, it was something that was grounded in essentially the same objectives – encouraging and challenging people to discover what it means to love God, love others and discover a Jesus-following lifestyle.   Then at 19 years old, I was hired to work in a local church for the first time.  An Episcopalian priest took a risk on a young person like me…the vestry of that congregation paid me $200 a month to be their youth worker.  From there it was leadership in a bible camp, then a youth ministry “movement,” then work in local churches…first as a ministry associate and finally as a pastor in what now has totaled seven congregations.  In other words, I’ve been around the block.

One of the things that has always interested me is how much GOOD STUFF comes out of the leadership of local churches.  You might not know it but some of the best and most applicable “training” materials for local church ministry has NOT been published by a major publishing house.   Some leaders have the honor of being published…they are at the right place at the right time (or have the right contacts) to leap into that world.  For most though, they simply plug away, day after day, doing their best to be faithful in their local contexts.  They don’t dream of national or international fame or exposure…all they want to do is be faithful with the sphere God has entrusted to them.

Well…over the years, I’ve run into many, many of those types of leaders.  And we all agreed to do one thing – when we had the opportunity to make “stuff” available, we would.  SO, in an effort to do just that, for the sake of my local community and for my friends who are part of my journey, I’m “publishing” some of the discipleship training materials that I use in my local faith community on our church’s website.  If you like portions of what you see, copy and paste whatever you want to use.  If all you do is read over the materials, great.  If you are a growing Jesus follower and want to work the lessons through for your own personal spiritual and disciple formation, great!  It is all there for you!

Go to peacemonroe.org – click on the Disciple Training links and all that material is yours. If you know of any other websites or leaders who are sharing their materials, let me know. I love getting new ideas!

 

Forgiveness…the power and the challenge

1I’m a realist and I know that one of the MOST realistic statements I can write is this – “we get hurt.” If you live long enough, you will be forced to embrace and admit that life is painful…that someone has hurt you…someone whom you trusted or depended upon. We’ve all felt the sting of someone’s disloyalty, betrayal, or even emotional brutality. I know, I know…you didn’t deserve it! I didn’t either but it happened. How do you cope with these experiences in life? How can you navigate those issues lurking in your past or in your memories hitting your heart at the most unexpected times?

You essentially have three choices:

1 – Forget – but trust me, this is easier said than done. It is very difficult, if not impossible to erase hurt. It is like a virus on your computer…it just keeps messing things up in your life. My experience? Forgetting doesn’t work!
2 – Get Even – you know the phrase, “I don’t get back, I get even!” Trust me in this as well…that’s the saddest game in town. Someone once told me a long time ago, “you can never get even in the exchange of pain.”
3 – Forgive – yep, that’s God’s “invention.” It is something Jesus uses with us. Regret, hurt, pain, betrayal…God’s experienced them all in His relationship with you and me. All that we are and have done and God forgives.

Well, it seems to most of us that God has it easy…when it comes to forgiveness, since He “invented” it, He wields it without effort. The rub happens in our hearts when we read what Jesus said about not just RECEIVING forgiveness but then being challenged to BE a forgiver. When Paul writes in Ephesians 4:

“be kind to each other, tender-hearted, and forgive as Jesus has forgiven you.”

Or as Jesus said himself, “love one another AS I HAVE LOVE YOU”…or “love one another as you LOVE yourself”…if you have experienced the power of forgiveness, now the ball is in your court to be a forgiver.

So, how DO you get to the point that you can say, “you are forgiven”…”we are reconciled”? With that strong move in your life, how can you get to the point where you are ready because you have forgiven to be the son, daughter, friend, coworker, or even spouse that you want to be?

Permit me to give you some pointed encouragement. You can download a PDF below that has four “session” explanation and challenge to all of us regarding the power and the challenge of forgiveness. Each of these challenges come straight from how our Lord treats us in terms of forgiveness. You see, when we are awestruck, moved and transformed by the “amazing grace” of the forgiving heart of Jesus toward us, we are at the same time challenged to be one who “pays it forward” in our relationships. Since we are created in the image of God and that “image” is one of forgiveness, it would seem that a commitment like that would be easy for us to make. But often it is not…so we all need to have a clear look again at how far God goes to forgive us so that when the challenge comes to be a forgiver, we have a specific and clear example of what that forgiveness looks like. We are all called to,

“Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. 2 Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us[a] and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.” Ephesians 5:1

Forgiveness Series 2

If you are interested…I am a senior Leadership of a faith community…this is an articulation of what drives us in who and what we do!

1Some of my friends around the country as well as some of my University students have been curious about the faith community that I lead here in the state of Washington.

Here’s a link to a more extensive definition of who we are and what we do…our core values and common purpose and mission.  

If you are interested, it will give you a broader picture, a snapshot of that which we believe Jesus has given us.

P@M-logo2

 

The Sacrament of the PARTY? Hmmm…

1I am a HUGE fan of Hugh Halter.  He and his buddy Mat Smay wrote a book that inspired and encouraged me at a critical time in my leadership journey.  You can check it out yourself OR read the summary pages that I wrote here Chapter by Chapter Overview of Tangible Kingdom.

Hugh has written another book that I have NOT read yet (I’m having a few shipped to me even as I write this).  He “previewed” the book on a missional website that I frequent with a short article entitled, “The Sacrament of the Party.”  NOW, as a pure extrovert and self-confessed relational addict, that got my attention.  Take a peek yourself at what Hugh says,

“Somewhere, everywhere, people are connecting socially. From the beginning of time and throughout the scriptures, God’s people patterned their lives around celebration, feasts, social gatherings, levity, story-telling, eating, drinking, laughter, and listening. For God’s ancient fans, levity, sobriety, and a good ol’ fashion party helped create a social connection that makes spiritual connection possible. It used to be Five O’clock somewhere, but sadly, over the last century, the church is the last one to the party. I remember growing up as a Nazarene boy hearing that ‘good Christians’ don’t smoke, chew or have friends that do. As such, I didn’t venture out to the movies, look at art, play cards, and I had to listen to all my secular music undercover. My friends were Christians…all of them. As I entered training for ministry my reading of Jesus’ life didn’t square with a seminary prof who suggested that all wine in the New Testament was simply grape juice or the denominational leaders who wanted us to plant churches for them, but only if we abstain from having a beer with neighbor. It just seemed that at every turn, my old perception of being committed to Jesus didn’t allow me to follow Him or live like He lived. Now that I’m a big boy, not much has changed. Except for one small adjustment. I now pattern my holiness after the human life of Jesus instead of the traditions of any certain church, outdated ministerial code of ethics or leadership definitions born of prohibition, or the subjective and selective literalism so many of us grew up under. I simply want to be holy as Jesus was holy. And for Him, leadership, influence, witness, the gospel as good news, the new covenant, life according the heart & spirit instead of the law and his main message of the kingdom of God was no longer a matter of eating and drinking, which now meant you can do exactly that. Enjoy life, faith, friends, great food and drink and yes all while being holy.”

Hugh is the USA Director for the “missions training” network called FORGE. Forge believes, and rightly so, that we are experiencing life much like the early Jesus followers did in the first century.  Hugh writes, “in a pure missionary context the church can no longer ask the secular culture to act the part of the missionary and come to us and our church services anymore. We must be the ‘sent’ ones again. We must be the missionaries.”

Amen to that!  His point?  A missionary starts NOT in the hallowed halls of the already convinced but where the people in culture are in an attempt to “connect, identify, and learn the context of one another’s story.” We call that CONTEXTUALIZATION.

This is what I wrote a number of years ago on the subject of contextualization,

“To “contextualize” means that you enter the world of another…you start to care about their lives…you come to understand what makes them “tick”…you stop the tourist life and become a resident. That’s why this is an important topic in terms of life living for Jesus. If we are just “passing through” this world, then why care? Why build relationships? Why do any of the things we do as a faith community with a passion and/or vision for God presence/power to impact people’s lives? Those who don’t “contextualize” build bunkers and fortresses to keep the rest of the world out and wait until the battle is over. Unfortunately, that’s not been the way God has acted in history. God is not a detached God…He has infiltrated human life at every intersection. In fact, one of if not the most powerful and history-shaking aspects of God’s work in the world is undoubtedly the incarnation – and please understand, the incarnation is all about contextualization – for the ultimate expression of contextualization is “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).”

Hugh quotes another good, missional guy, Alan Hirsch who has said, “PARTY IS SACRAMENT” when he starts to think out loud about contextualization.  He says,

“Many people have asked, “Hugh, what is the one key to turning a typical small group into a true missionary community?” Another asks, “Hugh, how did all those people find faith..really how did it actually happen?” Another asks, “how do you disciple people to live more human lives like Jesus?” My answer is always the same. “You have to teach and disciple people in how to throw a good party. It’s where everything starts.” It’s where we learn to listen instead of judge. Where we become advocates instead of adversaries and where people cease to be targets or projects because they are our friends. Remember, when teaching about the gospel of the kingdom, our living metaphors are that of a wedding feast, a banquet, and a supper. It’s time to include this in our own spiritual formation.”

Now, I wasn’t born yesterday (in fact, it was 61 years full of yesterdays).  For Hugh to use the word, “sacrament” is bound to scare off or irritate a few.  I don’t think that is his point as much as it is that you and I as Jesus followers have been “commissioned and called” to live out the purposes of God.  Those moments where we rely on the presence of the Holy Spirit as well as find ways to “incarnate” the truth and grace of Jesus in and through our lives become holy indeed.  I have written before on the issue of sacrament and what that means for Jesus followers.  You can read that article here!  For now, I’m going to think about this new “take” on following Jesus in daily life.  Who knows…maybe a party is a sacrament in some sort of manner…yeah, it doesn’t necessarily “fit” in a classical sense of the word…EVEN SO, it does give the love of Jesus, the grace of God opportunity to do what the sacraments do – embody God’s Word, release God’s grace, give an experience of God’s promises…

“A means of grace is a way God creates faith, bring about conversion, justification, and sanctification.”

“A Sacrament is a sacred act – instituted by God Himself; containing certain visible means connected with His Word; by which God offers, gives and seals unto us the forgiveness of sins…essentially a sacrament is a means of grace.”

It sounded like a good idea in my head!

1It sounded like a good idea in my head!

“With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers, as an act of intelligent worship, to give him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to him and acceptable by him. Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.”  Romans 12:1-2 JB Phillips

It was just a few days ago and I was putting the finishing touches on a Sunday morning “talk” (aka sermon).  I was stuck…not on content but on the introduction.  I was spending an inordinate amount of time on how to kick it off.  As you know, introductions IN ANY public presentation is one of the keys to a good speech.  What happens in the first three minutes, in many respects, either sinks or keeps the ship afloat.  So, as I was thinking about the introduction I had this great idea to check out a comic website of which I was familiar in order to discover some creative ideas on how to get people to “smile” in the first few minutes. There enters my idea…I went to the site, did some searching on some of the categories they had and I saw this one that I thought would work.  Immediately, I thought to myself, “hey, this got me laughing hysterically in my head, it’s going to work great this weekend.”  All week I had anticipated that, what I found funny, would go over the same way when I spoke it out loud to the people gathered in our worship community. You can probably see what’s coming…the day came and you know what happened?  Crickets!  Yep, maybe a chuckle or two (that I couldn’t hear) but nothing close to what I expected.

That got me thinking (again, I know that’s dangerous) about ALL the things we entertain in our heads about our lives.  There isn’t a day that goes by where we focus on something that ends up consuming our attention.  Sometimes it consumes small amounts of time and energy…sometimes TONS of time and energy.  Our minds are tricky things.  We had “two sides” to our brains – one that is dedicated to order and one that is dedicated to creativity.  For many of us, once we start focusing on something (the order side that chooses, in most instances, what to focus on) our creative side “takes over” and expands what could be innocent into something potentially diabolical.  Permit me to illustrate:

Much of the time, the things that we purchase (whether it be a car, computer, video game, book or shoes, it’s all the same) begin to be actually be purchased in our minds before the fact.  We see or hear an ad, talk to a friend or casually walk by something that catches our attention.  Soon, what is a microsecond of a look becomes something on which we focus…then the mental fun begins. Focus becomes obsession, obsession becomes a vision of what life would be like IF we mad that purchase, and vision creates action.  That’s why Jesus said that the “lamp to the soul” is the eyes:

“Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light. But when it is bad, your body is filled with darkness.”  Luke 11:34

Jesus knew what we all choose to ignore or deny – that our focus, our obsessions, all the “ideas that sound good in the mind” can lead us down paths of destruction.  Now, destruction might be a strong word but follow me – our choices begin with mental flirtation and can lead us anywhere.  Yes, they all are not necessarily negative…but they can lead us in all sorts of directions that are far, far away from the Lord’s will in our lives.  It’s either “light or darkness” according to Jesus.  Most of us know what darkness we flirt with in our minds.  Most of the people I’ve known, including myself, who “fell” into one action or another that harms the heart of our God because of something that began in the mind.  Maybe it was a rationalization of some behavior or some obsession that turned into an action that hurt another person…maybe it was something initially irrational that was taken over by emotion and turned ugly.  Whatever the case, our minds are fruitful places…places of potential good and bad.

Paul says that our minds can be renewed!  In fact, the bible says we should guard our minds.  Don’t let your mind be “squeezed” into submission to choices and aspects of focus that might sound good in your head but will only net hurt and pain.  Seek the Lord for a renewal of your mind.  When something comes across your head, ask yourself, “is this something light or dark?”  Is this thought going to illumine my heart and life with a taste of heaven or will it lead to pain or hurt?  You see how this works!  May the Lord renew our minds this day!

Worldview Course I’m teaching in cooperation with our friends at Cascade Church in Monroe! We Continue TOOOOOOOONIGHT!

b6ba0-6a00d83451607369e201539234b6cf970b-piIn a unique and exciting partnership, I’m teaching a course for Adults this summer (continuing TONIGHT, Monday July 25th@ 6:30pm) on the subject of Worldview.  Cascade Church and Peace in Monroe are sharing time together for the sake of promoting individual growth, spiritual unity, and community cooperation in our town.  John Reynolds (Senior Associate Pastor at Cascade), Nat Hettinga (Senior Pastor and Leader at Cascade) and I are really excited about this step of fellowship and sharing of ministry together.  If you live in Monroe, consider yourself URGED and invited to attend!  In addition to INFORMATION there will be TONS of time for CONVERSATION!

Below are the FIRST session’s class materials…check them out!

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Session One Class Handout 

Session Two Class Handout

Everyone has a Worldview.  A Worldview is a “lens” through which we live, interpret reality, and make decisions.  It is our belief as Jesus followers that that Worldview is consistent, biblical, honoring of Jesus, cohesive with the Body of Christ as well as something that can be articulated and lived out in conversation and relationships.  In this class, we will give an overview of Bible narrative theme and issues. The Bible’s major themes will be integrated with an understanding of a Christian Worldview in and through issues such as cosmology (our understanding of God’s created order, the human predicament of brokenness and sin, as well as a thorough comprehension of redemption/renewal which are foundations for understanding how Jesus calls us to live, how to interpret current global issues, and an understanding of diverse worldviews.

Tonight’s Topics:

  • Understanding Biblical Theism, Theism and Non-Theism Worldview
  • Understanding Post-Christendom
  • Knowing the BIG STORY of the Bible!

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Religion in Schools?

3492674549_80fc0a1122I teach an online course on Religion in the Modern World (probably would have been best to name it “post-modern” world but that’s not my call).  In that course, we discuss the role of (in any) religion has within schools.  Here are a few thoughts that I’ve shared with my students along that journey.  Maybe you will find them enlightening, maddening…you choose.  

To be fully human, there must be an appreciation for that which is beyond the purely material.  Materialism, though on the surface a verifiable and popular philosophy, is in the final analysis a fatalistic and meaningless “religion.”  If life’s meaning is based upon only that which is material, humanity is in sad shape indeed.  No “Utopianistic” theory or reality could answer the deeper realities that most humans seek out of life.  Pure materialism is bankrupt in moving humanity toward meaningful existence.  The purely material can be destroyed, diseased, or rendered meaningless by many of the realities of life.  That being said, human beings are not just material beings.  Most would agree that human beings have a spiritual dimension in their lives as well…hence the word, “being.”

Here is something for you to “chew on”…

If we grasp Being, we will need to clarify the meaning of Being, or “sense” of Being.  A “Sense of Being” precedes any notions of how or in what manner any particular being or beings exist, it is pre-conceptual, non-propositional, and hence pre-scientific.  Some Philosophers and Religious thinkers believe that fundamental ontology (the nature of being) would be an explanation of the understanding preceding any other way of knowing, such as the use of logic, theory, specific ontology or act of reflective thought. In this manner, our sense of being is teeming with or “dripping” with meaning beyond the material.  In some of the work I have done, I discovered that one philosopher, (interestingly enough, one influenced by Nihilism) Heidegger, argues that a true understanding of being can only proceed by referring to MYSTERY.   The Mystery of Being can only be understood in, what Heidegger calls, “the hermeneutic circle.”  That “circle” is that which includes a variety of human experience and expression that acts as a “phenomenological interpretation” (i.e. interpretation of that which is beyond the material).  To be VERY clear, students can only achieve a sense of meaning in their education as they wrestle with reality beyond that which is purely materialistic.  Because of that, there must be exposure to as well as bold, productive conversation regarding life’s “mysteries” (I would state that religiously) or transcendent realities. 

In addition – another side note – I would contend that materialism is just as much of a “theo-logy” as believing in God.  If our understanding of “God” is that to which we give ultimate allegiance, in materialism, ultimate reality is material.  So essentially, materialism is the cultural deity.  Another insight that I have entertained is that IF materialism is our deity, then it is “worshipped” at the altar of expressive individualism, that being, the deification of self that is, in its utmost expression, the only way materialism has meaning (if it is understood narcissistically).  In other words, MY materialism only has meaning for me…it cannot have meaning for you because your materialism differs.  I contend that in order to promote healthy human growth and maturation within schools we MUST find ways to discuss the spiritual.  Our problem is that so often conversation of the transcendent “mystery” of life, the universe and existence is BOGGED DOWN with religiosity.  In other words, we get into a “pissing match” between religious systems as adherents vie for power and control of the “mystery.”  As I have mentioned in many past posts, dualism (that which poses everything in “us vs. them” realities) is ultimately that which keeps us fearful of engaging in spiritual conversation.  We are so “paranoid” of pushing one particular system or giving religiously biased guidance that we “throw the baby out with the bathwater”…in other words, we get rid of religious exposure to students.  You know what is really a “bummer?”  In the USA, we brought this on ourselves…we used the school system as indoctrination centers propagating one specific religious system for a LONG time.  Because of that we have a pendulum swing against ALL religions.

I sincerely believe that to say that there is a spiritual side of life IN school does not mean that we are promoting religious indoctrination.  I think we have to take it for granted that that side of life exists and NOT demean it.   One of my doctoral students commented to me recently,  “Learning about religions of the world and how people have chosen to express their spirituality is perfectly useful for students in developing their cultural mindfulness, respect, and tolerance; learning a certain religion, religious practices and dogmas of the majority religion group is detrimental to students in schools.”

Again, that last sentence is the reality that the system is reacting against…we can decide and, I believe, MUST decide to find ways to express appreciation for that which is “supernatural” and mysterious within human existence to be fully human.

Another one of my students wrote something that got me thinking – they proposed that maybe there could be Charter Schools dedicated to Religious Studies.  I think it is a provocative idea to explore Charter Schools that take religion seriously.  If we take Charter Schools and dedicate them to medicine, science, music, etc. why not explore the other aspect of the humanities, religion?  I find it extremely interesting to consider the idea that there could be a school where spirituality would be holistically explored.

“A purely secular society simply cannot survive in the long run due to historical and conflictual realities that make up the spiritual being of people on this planet.” 

Secularism, I fear, once fully embedded in culture will lead to a bankruptcy of the human experience.  Existential meaning and purpose (which is the foundation of many people’s religious experience) is beyond the “cold hard facts” of secularism.  Politics do not have meaning ultimately in people’s lives.  Political competition between have and have-nots, the powerful and powerless only takes us backward to a primitive struggle for self, power, and control.

In my humble opinion, Secularism is driven by materialism and sensualism, that being, only appreciating that which can be sensually experienced but has no meaning outside of it.  Again, I find that extremely depressing and ultimately nihilistic.

Inevitably, when the subject of religion and schools is broached, someone is bound to mention the separation of church and state.  Even so, remember, the separation of church and state was not meant to clear the public sphere “deck” of religion but actually PROTECT religion from the interference of the state.  We have reversed that to assume that since education is NOW the state’s prerogative, that we must separate it from religion.  I believe that is a mistaken interpretation of the church/state concept.  Yes, religion can be abusive but the state, bankrupt of any meaning beyond the political and material, is ultimately meaningless existing only for the benefit of itself, not for its constituents.

“Religion is not an unmitigated good; it can be a repository of evil as well.  But that is precisely why religion needs attention.  It has too much power to be ignored, and it is too enmeshed in life to be treated as irrelevant to the choices people make and the ways in which societies organize themselves.”

I would say that the fear of religious indoctrination is unfounded.  I believe that a sharing of ALL of human existence in schools would be productive.  There are other academic disciplines that can be and often are as dogmatic and in-doctrinaire.

One Scholar (Florian) who grew up in a Communist country said, “First and foremost, there is no chance in ever removing religion from the public school system.”  When he wrote that that, “resonated with me immediately because I am, in fact, the product of a communist public school system that for more than 50 years removed and actively fought against any religious education or even referrals to religious beliefs in its curricula.”  We DO HAVE in history specific examples of the futility of schools without religious beliefs and conversations.  We can see very specifically how THAT turned out.

Here are my final thoughts – Political correctness and secularistic globalism are gutting the schools of robust spiritual conversations…overreacting to the past is not a way to ensure a viable future.  In the end, I find myself agreeing with a friend of mine when he articulated something that for me was a “well, duh?”

“I am not going to pretend to know the answer, but I feel as though public schools are doing students a disservice.  Though a good portion of my students have some form of religious or moral grounding there are some whom do not.  I do not know that it is the school system’s job to help students’ build a belief system, but why are more schools not educating students in an objective manner when it comes to the field of religion?  Some of my students whom will choose to go to college/university will get some form of objective teaching, so why not give all students in secondary public education the same opportunity?”