Walking Our Faith: Why don’t more Americans find meaning in a relationship with God?
Walking Our Faith
“Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Savior, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant — I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ — God’s righteousness.” — Philippians 3:7-8 The Message
For Lent this year, I gave up watching evening political TV shows. It turned out to be so easy that a week after I started, I called Comcast and turned off TV altogether. Now I only stream PBS to keep up with my beloved “Masterpiece Theatre.”
I’ve made some, though less dramatic, progress with my Lenten promise to cut back on social media.
I wanted to create a new habit of morning prayer to replace the 30 minutes I usually spend scrolling through Instagram when I wake and before I even get out of bed.
Surprisingly, I’ve been successful with this new habit. As soon as I wake, I get out of bed, let the dogs out, make a cup of coffee, come to my big chair and begin morning prayer.
Perhaps the ease of breaking the TV habit and the relative ease of beginning morning prayer has everything to do not with my willpower but with the meaningfulness I find in both activities.
Recently, I read a statistic that said that up until 1998, 70% of Americans said they believed in God and went to church on a regular basis. Nowadays, that number is less than 50%, and 25% of Americans say they are unaffiliated, atheist or agnostic.
Some might call this a reflection of the church not keeping up with our society in matters of race and sexual orientation or an overall secularization of society. They might point to the broad secularization of Western Europe where many churches stand empty, functioning more as museums than places of worship.
Each generation believes they are pioneers of technology soaring above their parent’s generation in knowledge and ethical and moral superiority. A consequence is an inevitable rejection of their parent’s religious beliefs.
I don’t believe we’ve outgrown our need for organized religion or for God. I would argue we need God now more than ever as we — like every generation previous — face moral and ethical challenges unique to our development as a society.
Each technological breakthrough brings with it the need to reassess the way we relate to one another. Today it is social media, but in generations past it was the telephone or the printing press. Each increased the speed and democratization of how information spread.
I don’t believe breakthroughs in technology disprove God’s existence. I believe that as we understand the magnificent intricacy of the universe, we gain the opportunity to be thrilled by the further revelation of God’s infinite complexity rather than turning our back on God.
And yet, despite our technological advances, each generation struggles to implement the most elemental lesson of God’s command that we treat one another with love and respect. We can look to countries that embraced atheism and see how they failed to create better societies for their citizens.
It was easy for me to turn off the TV, and likewise easy for me to discover the pleasure of morning prayer. Each choice provided greater meaning to my life.
If numbers of churchgoers and believers are declining, is it because they did not find meaning in their church or their beliefs?
As I attend 8 a.m. Mass on a weekday and later Zoom into evening prayer at 5 p.m., I join others who find deep meaning and community in these practices.
Will you take 10 minutes and answer this question: What does God mean in my life? Do I find meaning in my current religious practices? If you choose to be an atheist, how does that choice bring meaning to your life?
I believe the question we should ask is not why more Americans don’t believe in God or don’t go to church. God exists whether we acknowledge him or not. And we have created churches to suit every taste, from dance halls to living rooms.
The real question is: Why don’t more Americans find personal meaning in a relationship with God? How do we create a meaningful, personal relationship with God?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on these questions so we can discuss this topic further.
Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson’s column “Walking our Faith” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Anderson is the author of 10 novels and nonfiction books on faith. She has lived in Breckenridge since 2016. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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