Morning Edition recently did a series called Losing Our Religion. Predictably, it focused on the demise of organized religion. The segment I listened to quoted the Pew Research Center’s findings that one-third of people under 30 have opted out of any religious affiliation. They are known as the nones. (To me, the more compelling storyline would have been the other two-thirds who are involved in organized religion—did they not get the message about how untrendy it is? Or, do they represent people who simply choose to live beyond the cultural currents?).
The correspondent had assembled a group of six nones. What they had to say was interesting though I’m not sure the reasons for their lack of faith were any different from what people before them have experienced. One person had lost a brother to cancer and didn’t understand why God allowed this to happen, another wanted to believe but wasn’t not sure he could because of he wasn’t sure faith could be reconciled with science, and another person grew up in an abusive home and had a brother commit suicide. I have no wish to minimize their struggles but simply to recognize that in every generation there have been people for whom being a disciple was more difficult than it was for others. Maybe there are just more who fit in this category today.
And if there are those who have significant obstacles to overcome before they can believe, there are those who see having anything to believe as the obstacle. One person said this, To me a church that would be welcoming would be one where . . . there weren’t these rules about who’s excluded and who’s included and what behavior is acceptable and what’s not acceptable. I’m not sure whether I’m more taken aback by their honesty or the brazenness of this remark. It certainly reflects the consumer approach that is often taken in regard to matters of faith. At a place called Shinar they said the same kind of thing. They said, ““Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth,”(11:4).
Genesis 9:1 tells us, “Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.’” What God had intended for blessing (“fill the earth”), the people at Shinar deemed a curse (“we will be scattered”), so they set about to live independent of Him. They didn’t need their Creator—they would provide their own blessings by building a city, and a tower, and a reputation. And it was all done with a calculated, cold-hearted efficiency that took His gifts (the ability and strength He gave them), and used them to “defy” Him. When it was over there wasn’t much to show for their efforts—an unfinished tower and a world of chaos.
And that’s the story of the First Church of Babel.
If that’s our religion then we need to lose it.
The story about the people of Shinar should remind us, a church that’s all about us is the last thing in the world we need. What we do need is a church where everyone is someone because God is everything.