Our generation is leaving the church in droves. Some thoughts on this.
Sin is a pretty alien concept. It’s even so to me and I was churched and went to a Christian college. For the unchurched sin is even more so. This does not mean nonconformity isn’t punished any less, just that nonconformity to social norms (particularly when they pertain to differences one have no control over) has replaced nonconformity to what the church thought was right. And this is a shame system—there is no possibility for absolution. Ours is a shame culture even as guilt and absolution are trotted out as a smokescreen. So the church’s job with sin is akin to an advertiser who has to make up a problem, convince people that that problem is actually a problem, and offer a solution in the form of a product. In the church’s case salvation and absolution are the solution offered to the problem of sin. But it feels like the church is barking up the wrong tree because what our generation really wants is absolution for our peer-mediated shame which remains outside of the bounds of the Christian story.
The Christian story isn’t all that exciting to us. At Christianity’s inception people (especially Jews) has a concept of sin so a story with forgiveness in it would have piqued their attention. Trying to shoehorn the incarnation story on our generation in attempt to generate raw emotion doesn’t produce the desired results because we don’t feel guilty. We feel ashamed and often possess poor self-image but we don’t connect with the idea that there is some divine Santa whose naughty list we are trying to get off of. Also we have our own stories that we identify with and help form our values. It’s different for everyone but for me some of the stories are Magnolia, To the Moon, and His Dark Materials.
We live in an inhospitable time. Try taking off work to visit a friend in the hospital and you’ll probably get penciled in on the hit list for the next round of layoffs. In America the trend has been individuals (and corporations like the one above) optimizing for personal happiness at the expense of collective happiness. But hospitality is a casualty of ignoring collective happiness. People are out for themselves. Single people go to bars and sleep around. Married people go to church and only talk to other married people. The threshold at which people feel put upon has been receding so natural acts of hospitality are now deemed self-sacrifice and therefore rarely practiced. At a collective level the church does not have the tools to weather loss of hospitality since it is the medium through which everything else flows (edification, encouragement, community, etc..).
The emotional high one is sold in Christianity can more reliably be obtained elsewhere. Christianity is often marketed as giving one an emotional high. Often people will try it and when it fails to give them one they’ll try drugs. If you want the peace that passes understanding get some Ativan. If you want to feel joy snort some cocaine. If you want some spiritual experience light up a joint.
We have an absolute allergic reaction to hypocrisy. We are postmodern and post-postmodern. Authenticity is one of our highest goods. Anything shoehorned on us from the top down is going to get summarily rejected because nothing is the same on the bottom as it is on the top. We work from the bottom up. If we see hypocrisy in front of our noses we abstract up and deem the whole system as not worth engaging. We may not always tell the truth or support courthouses displaying the ten commandments but we prize integrity.