Has Lutheranism caused secularism?

A Danish scholar looks at the influence of Protestantism–specifically, Lutheranism–on modern Scandinavian culture.  Some of her conclusions:

Lutheran Protestants are free from religiosity

For centuries, Lutheran Protestant Christianity in Northern Europe and the US taught our ancestors that there was nothing they could do to make God think better of them. Neither good deeds nor giving money to the church was seen as having importance in the eyes of God.

“For Protestants, life can be good just as it is. Life does not have to be lived in any particular ’religious’ way in order to have a good relationship with God,” says [Matias] Dalsgaard.

Protestants are free from obligations to God. They don’t have to live according to strict rules. Instead they have been charged with a rather nebulous task.

“Protestants are commanded to live an ordinary life together with other people. It is a tough task because Protestants are not told specifically how to do this,” says Dalsgaard.

‘Protestant’ countries have a culture of freedom

Throughout history, Protestant Christians have tried to manage their freedom in the best possible way. Over time, this has permeated the culture in countries that subscribe to the Protestant tradition, even though Christianity has gradually slipped into the background.

In Denmark, Sweden, the UK and Germany, this freedom meant that around 500 years ago, citizens started to become what is termed ‘modern’. It occurred after the Reformation in Northern Europe in the first half of the 16th century.

In this context, ‘modern’ has nothing to do with fashion, but means that people feel more free to make their own decisions without causing others to react negatively to those decisions.

“One could go as far as to say that the Protestant tradition squeezes out religion, because it rejects the idea that something holy exists here on Earth,” says the researcher.

Kierkegaard furnishes a good example

The author has analysed a large number of the most significant Christian texts. But the most important writer referred to in his book is the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard.

“Kierkegaard is perhaps the sharpest existential analyst in the Lutheran Protestant tradition. He is the one who best presents the existential challenges, conflicts and opportunities. That is why I use him as a starting point,” he says.

You shall not know yourself

Kierkegaard describes the situation in which modern people find themselves today. In his book ‘Either/Or’, Kierkegaard introduces a person whom he calls ’the aesthete’. This is a man who cannot find a way to ‘choose himself’.

Kierkegaard criticises the aesthete for not choosing himself. Instead, he avoids himself by constantly acting out multiple roles.

But although you should ’choose yourself’, there is no prescription for what to choose, because you cannot find a core that is yourself.

“The Delphic Oracle – which existed in Ancient Greece – said ‘know thyself’. But Kierkegaard says ‘choose yourself’ – it is action-oriented. You should actively be the one you are, where you are – and not think so much about who you are. This is a task given to us by God,” says Dalsgaard.

via Protestantism has left us utterly confused | ScienceNordic.

This scholar, of course, misses the distinction between orthodox Lutheranism and the liberal, culturally-conforming state church.  Kierkegaard’s emphasis on “choosing” would not seem to go well with Luther’s “bondage of the will.” And, of course, there is nothing about Christ, much less the Law (which destroys all complacency–I thought guilt and gloominess were part of the Scandinavian legacy!) and the Gospel.  Or the Cross.  The notion that one can have the influence of Christianity without Christianity–  “even though Christianity has gradually slipped into the background”–is  ludicrous on the face of it.

And yet, aren’t there some valid observations here?  Lutherans, even orthodox ones, do seem to have less “religiosity.”  And there is quite a bit of the doctrine of vocation here:  “live an ordinary life with other people”; “you should actively be the one you are, where you are–and not think so much about who you are.”

If you died tonight, do you know you would go to heaven? Or do you not care?

“If you were to die tonight, do you know for sure that you would go to Heaven?”  That question, or some variation, has started thousands of evangelism conversations and is the opening line for many evangelism programs (especially “Evangelism Explosion” started by D. James Kennedy).  The conversation then goes on to “how you know,” and it exposes people who trust in their good works, or perhaps are just uncertain, whereupon the evangelist can point to the finished work of Christ and to the free salvation He promises.

Today, though, according to a survey by the Southern Baptist publisher LifeWay, over half of Americans never wonder about that question.  A Christianity Today feature calls this “The Evangelistic Question That Died,” but I’m not so sure that the evidence is that people as a whole are no longer concerned about their eternal destiny.

The breakdown of the survey results is telling:  67% of Americans who never attend worship services have never wondered about whether or not they will go to Heaven.  (Perhaps the general consensus today is that everyone enters some kind of white-light paradise–or that if we just die, that death isn’t all that bad–so worrying about the prospect of going to Hell is no longer as much of  an issue as it once was.  Since those who don’t go to church are the main targets for evangelism efforts, maybe the question is not the best evangelism-starter.)

Meanwhile, 57% of “born-again or evangelical” Protestants also never ask the question.  (But perhaps this is because they have an assurance of salvation. Then again, 43% of them do wonder if they will make it to Heaven, so maybe they don’t have as much assurance from the Gospel that they should have.)  Interestingly, only 34% of non-Evangelical Protestants–presumably those from the more liberal mainline church bodies–never ask the question.  So 66% of “liberals” do worry about their salvation, so perhaps might be open to the conversation!

Significantly, only 36% of those aged 18-29 never wonder if they will go to Heaven, which means that, despite laments about young people leaving the church, this is an issue for nearly two-thirds of them (64%).

The regional breakdowns are also interesting.  In the so-called Bible Belt of the South, 50% of the population never wonder if they will go to Heaven.  (Again, this probably includes both secularists and Christians who know they will get there.)  In the lesser-churched West, the percentage of those who never ask that question is 52%.  In the Midwest, it’s 45%, which means that a majority of 55% do wonder.  And in the ostensibly secular Northeast, supposedly the most secular part of the country, only 31% never ask that question.  Over two-thirds of the population, including New Yorkers and New Englanders, 69%, the largest percentage surveyed, do wonder about their eternal destiny.

 

The Evangelistic Question That Died | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

College does not cause students to lose their faith

Presidential candidate Rick Santorum has been saying that 62% of college students lose their faith by the time they graduate.  Calvin College sociologist Jonathan P. Hill takes a look at the dubious source of that statistic and cites better studies that point to a different conclusion:

We know that some measures of religious belief, and quite a few measures of religious practice, decline as young people move from adolescence to emerging adulthood. In order to decide if blame should be laid at the feet of higher education, we need representative data that follow the religious trajectories of young people as some head off to college and others do not.

And this is precisely what we have. Studies using comparable data from recent cohorts of young people (for example, the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997, the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, and the National Study of Youth and Religion) have found virtually no overall differences on most measures of identity, practice, and belief between those who head off to college and those who do not. The one exception to this is the consistent finding that college graduates attend religious services more frequently than those who do not graduate from college.

This doesn’t settle the matter, though. As is often the case with social-science findings, there are many exceptions and caveats. And there are some differences in student religious trajectories that appear to depend on the religious affiliation of colleges attended. For example, both evangelical colleges and public institutions tend to curb the decline in church attendance while Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant institutions are more likely to exacerbate it.

Over all, though, this is good news for the faithful. College is clearly not the enemy of religion. Students are not abandoning their faith commitments because of their godless college professors.

via Parsing Santorum’s Statistic on God and College: Looks as if It’s Wrong – Commentary – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

In fact, there is evidence that college graduates actually go to church at a higher rate than those who did not go to college.

HT:  Jackie

Only churches can be religious

How to restrict religion given the Bill of Right’s protection of the “free exercise” of religion?  Easy, the secularists in power are finding:  Define religion as only what goes on behind the walls of churches.

That’s what the administration has done in its abortion pill/contraceptive mandate in exempting only church congregations, while requiring church-run hospitals and other ministries to provide that coverage free of charge even when they violate their religious convictions.

Now colleges are using the same strategy, as Greg Forster reports:

The Supreme Court declared in 2010 that public universities must permit religious student clubs to select leaders who share their faith. UNC-Greensboro is now getting around this by declaring that a Christian student club isn’t really religious.

On what grounds? It isn’t affiliated with a church.

Other schools are apparently pursuing this strategy as well. Expect to hear more about it.

via An Arm of the North Carolina State Government Says Christianity Isn’t a Religion » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog.

The next step, as in the former Soviet Union:  Religion is restricted to what goes on inside of your head.

 

 

Santorum’s sermons

People are digging up Rick Santorum’s religious addresses from years back.  And though what he says is pretty conventional to most of us Christians, his sermons are being used to alarm the voting public.  This is about something he said in 2008 at Ave Maria University, a conservative Catholic college:

“Satan has his sights on the United States of America!” Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum has declared.

“Satan is attacking the great institutions of America, using those great vices of pride, vanity, and sensuality as the root to attack all of the strong plants that has so deeply rooted in the American tradition.”

The former senator from Pennsylvania warned in 2008 how politics and government are falling to Satan.

“This is a spiritual war. And the Father of Lies has his sights on what you would think the Father of Lies would have his sights on: a good, decent, powerful, influential country – the United States of America. If you were Satan, who would you attack in this day and age?”

“He attacks all of us and he attacks all of our institutions.”

Santorum made the provocative comments to students at Ave Maria University in Florida.

via DRUDGE: SANTORUM’S SATAN WARNING.

Wouldn’t any of us agree with that?  I’ve heard even liberal theologians with liberal politics talk like this.  And yet, in a political context, from someone running for president, it sounds whacky, if not crazy and dangerous.  But it isn’t!

Santorum doesn’t seem to have moral transgressions in his closet, so the opposition researchers are focusing on his religious beliefs.  (He doesn’t believe in birth control!  He believes Satan is attacking America!)  But whose religious beliefs couldn’t be made similarly scary?  (He wants to eat Jesus and drink His blood!)

He is Jewish, Christian, AND Muslim

Sean Stone, son of the conspiracy-theorist filmmaker Oliver Stone, has converted to Islam in a ceremony held in Iran.  But, he says, that doesn’t mean he isn’t still a Christian.  And a Jew.

A U.S. filmmaker who has a Jewish father and Christian mother today decided to convert to Islam in Iran, where he is making a documentary.

But Sean Stone, 27, son of Oscar-winning director Oliver Stone, insisted the switch did not signal him abandoning the faiths of his parents.

He became a Shiite Muslim on Tuesday and has reportedly chosen to be known by the first name of ‘Ali’, but will not reveal why he converted.

‘The conversion to Islam is not abandoning Christianity or Judaism, which I was born with,’ Mr Stone told news agency Agence France-Presse.

‘It means I have accepted Mohammad and other prophets,’ Mr Stone added from Isfahan, Iran, where the conversion ceremony was carried out.

He is working on a film about Rumi, a mystic poet, and has defended Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the past, reported Foreign Policy.

via Oliver Stone’s son becomes a Muslim… but insists he’s holding onto Judaism and Christianity | Mail Online.

Rumi!  So that’s it.  He has become a favorite in “spiritual but not religious” circles.

Notice that “Ali” assumes that Christianity and Judaism are religions one is born with.  That can, perhaps, work with Judaism, but Christianity has to involve some kind of personal faith.  And yet this is a common perception, I have noticed, that religion is not so much a set of beliefs–which might be in conflict with other religions’ beliefs–but rather something equivalent to ethnic identity or genetic heritage.

Watch for more conversions to Islam from New Age fans of Rumi.  Of course, the Americanized New Age version–which allows for holding many other and contradictory beliefs at the same time, as well as, I suspect, a rather more permissive moral code–will be different from orthodox Islam, just as the New Age versions of Eastern religion are far tamer than actual Hinduism and Buddhism.


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