By Ed Rybarczyk
When I pray for my three grandchildren, what do I want? That they give their hearts and souls to Jesus, that they have a real and personal relationship with Him, that they center their entire lives around His revelation, beauty, love, and holiness. My own Christian identity is so precious to me that as a grandfather I naturally want my grandkids to embrace Christ with the same heart-felt fervor as do I. But it can’t stop there. My grandkids will face far greater challenges to their faith across their lives than did my baby-boomer generation.
Western culture is changing so swiftly that much of the Church is being overwhelmed. For various reasons – the Covid shut-downs, the alienating power of social media, the ongoing fragmentation of the social order (strangers are to be positively feared now), the politicization of everything, the shallowing out of the church experience – Americans are attending church less often, as a population, than ever before. Gallup Poll reveals that Americans were attending church, in pre-Covid years, at a 34% clip. Since Covid? It is down to 30%. Specifically among Protestants, since 2020, Gallup notes that regular church attendance has gone down from 44% to 40%. For Catholics? That situation is worse: from 37% to 30%.1 But that’s just the church-attendance way of assessing this slide.
More grievous to me, as a former full-time theology professor? The worldview slide that is at work inside of American culture. Gallup recently found out that Americans believe the moral state of our nation is trending down at a quick pace. Moreover, that perception of moral-decay trending downward is felt among Independents, Republicans, and Democrats.2
And then there are the millions of self-identifying Christians who are steadily abandoning standard biblical teachings. Gallup notes in a recent study that the percentages of Americans who believe in religious entities (God, the devil, angels, hell, and heaven) is itself trending down. Since 2016, Gallup reveals, belief in those five Christian realities is down some 3% to 5%.3 Again, this is a rather simplistic way to assess the trends at work amongst us, but it is indicative of something.
Let’s slice the cheese even more thin. How are people living their lives? Assessing reality? What do they think is ultimately real? What are their goals, impulses, yearnings, and dreams? What guides their daily decisions? What do they believe unites us as fellow citizens? Now we’re asking questions that get down into the soul of the matter. Because whether folks admit it or not (often they do not admit it), or whether folks are aware of it or not (and often they are not aware), something is guiding their decision making. Something is the center of their worldview, their orientation to life, their evaluative powers.
Aristotle once famously wrote, “horror vacui,” or in English, “nature abhors a vacuum.” Something always rushes in to fill a gap, an emptiness, a void. By definition, inside a void there is no structure, no resistance, no there-there to halt movement or intrusion. As our culture steadily (and now even with gleeful celebration) abandons its traditional Christian moorings it is not nothing that is rushing in to fill that vacuum. No, it’s the “something” rushing in that is dissolving and deconstructing a formerly, if tacitly embraced, Judeo-Christian worldview inside both culture and the Church. That something? An evolution-based perspective on life’s origins. And its effects go deep and wide. This post-Christian orientation to life is energetically re-shaping social institutions like education, law, politics, economics, and now even theology departments. But let’s keep our focus more narrow.
Let’s take something as prevalent as the human mind. Proponents of evolution tell us that every organic thing that exists is present owing to this formula: chance + accident + enough time + coping techniques = something. You give reality enough time and owing to chance and/or accident and/or survival techniques and something will have (actually did, as it turns out) result. (Never mind asking questions about the nature of reality such that that magical formula can actually do what its proponents suggest.)
And so? The human mind is not something intentionally designed by a master creator; it is the result of millennia-on-end’s worth of trial and error. The mind is not something that really and actually exists, as inherent to what it means to be human, but is instead merely the way human materialistic physiology has learned – again, across the many centuries – to cope, and to survive. The mind is not something given to us by our Creator so that we can, like Him, think, share consciousness, or process reality. No, behind the human mind – so say the ardent Evolutionary nihilists – there is finally. . . nothing.
So what? What does this mean for my grandchildren? Yours? It means that the game has changed. Big time. It means that as family members we cannot, and as members of the body of Christ, we cannot any longer assume that a Judeo-Christian worldview is prevalent, or even tacitly accepted, by our culture; not even here in spectacular Idaho. Our children and grandchildren will not grow up in an environment where biblical teachings are widely embraced. Our public institutions – schools, city halls, state and local governments, a sort-of-free-market economy, and families – are now all steeped in a materialistic philosophy that denies there is any inherent dignity to being human. The ruling orientation to life is that the ultimate there-there is a nothing. And so the void must be filled with power. That rush-to-power is why everything is getting politicized.
And all that? Presents an enormous challenge to me as a grandfather. More broadly? It presents an enormous challenge to the Church as the body of Christ. How will we respond?
1https://news.gallup.com/poll/507692/church-attendance-lower-pre-pandemic.aspx (dated 6/26/2023).
2https://news.gallup.com/poll/506960/views-state-moral-values-new-low.aspx (dated 6/9/2023).
Ed Rybarczyk (Ree-BAR-check), Ph.D., is both an ordained minister and a retired History of Theology professor. He now produces and hosts the Uncensored Unprofessor podcast @ uncensoredunprofessor.com. He can be reached at [email protected].