“Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that. I’m right and I’ll be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now. I don’t know which will go first, rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity .” – John Lennon, 1966
This morning started with some patchy fog and a dreary gray sky, the air still wet and heavy from yesterday’s rain. I went to my go-to place, just in case the National Weather Service got it wrong (again). On the way to my go-to place, I habitually cut through the parking lot of a church situated in the neighborhood across from mine. Over the past seven years, I’ve watched congregants come and go, attending services regularly throughout the week, but mostly on Sundays. The people were always pleasant, saying hello with the usual, “Nice day for a bike ride!” I also looked forward to reading whatever “words of wisdom” were posted on the church sign.
At some point in the past year, I noticed there were less and less cars in the lot for Sunday mass, with virtually none on any given weekday. About that time, a large white truck was placed in the corner of the lot. It was a tree service truck. I wondered why it just sat there day after day, never moving from its spot for many months. Then, as the weather thawed, I was diverted from my usual cut through due to the truck, along with some of its friends, cutting down nearly every tree on the property…and then, nothing…
Last week, several different kinds of trucks were parked outside the rectory entrance and the church sign stood wordless. I realized at that moment the church was now abandoned and someone had bought it to turn it into something else. I almost cried. What happened? Where did all the people go? Why did this church…”die?”
I decided to do some research on this little church. I found an “unofficial” Facebook page with one single post:
“A small friendly church. We could use new members. 10:00 am service. Refreshments and fellowship following the service.”
That pretty much said it all. Google searches gave me nothing…until I found an article written by a women’s group that had used the church’s space for meetings and special events. And I was right – the church had closed it’s doors permanently in May of 2016.
So what happened? This church was erected and functioned for 130 years…130 years! I’ll tell you why – because organized religion is dead in America. Yup, I went there. Americans “identify” with being this or that religion, but how many of them actually practice what they preach?
Seventy percent of Americans identify with being Christian – as of this moment, that’s approximately 228,000,000 people. Albeit, there are different sects of Christianity, but the question I ask is, “Where are you? Why are thousands of churches being shut down each year? Why are Christians not supporting their way of life? Why did you give up?”
Approximately 23% of Americans consider themselves to be “unaffiliated.” There are more atheists (3%) and agnostics (4%) than Jews (<2%) in the United States. And, of that <2% of Jews, .5% consists of people who don’t actually “identify” with being Jewish. What?! It angers me to think how hard I had to work to become a Jew when over 3,000,000 people with a solid Jewish ancestry dating back hundreds of years have decided “I’m no longer Jewish.”
And for those bigoted Americans who fear all those “Muslim terrorists” living in the United States? Less than 1% of Americans practice Islam, along with Buddhism and Hinduism.
And then there’s the almost 16% of “nothing in particular.” What does that even mean?!
Back in the day, America was referred to as a “melting pot,” a term used to describe the assimilation of immigrants to the United States. I had an anthropology professor who would ask us, “Is America truly a ‘melting pot’?” She and I would argue endlessly every time I answered in the affirmative. She believed that America was not a melting pot – that immigrants could come to the States and live as they did “back home.” I adamantly disagreed. Sure, people of varying nationalities and cultural practices could come to America and attempt to continue living their lives without skipping a beat, but, to me, America didn’t just melt your beliefs and practices – it devoured them. I still believe this to be true, as I witness thousands of churches shutting their doors forever due to lack of interest.
Maybe it’s the media we should blame. Celebrity worship has become the latest “religion.” Thirteen years ago, Morgan Spurlock came out with his documentary Supersize Me. In a section of the film entitled “Modern Heroes,” Spurlock shows first-grade students different pictures of men in our history:
These children could not recognize Jesus or George Washington, but every single one of them knew Wendy and Ronald McDonald. How did this happen? Sure, let’s blame the media. They’re the ones pushing this celebrity worship – it’s definitely their fault…right? Wrong! There’s this wonderful element of the human soul known as “free will.” We have a choice here…we don’t have buy into it. And this is where parents have a responsibility…
Except for a very brief period at age 14 when I thought I was an atheist and then “realized” I was agnostic, I was a member of the Catholic church since birth. I was baptized, made communion and full-heartedly made confirmation. I even went to church throughout high school…by myself…because I actually wanted to go. At some point later, however, I stopped going – not for lack of interest, but because I no longer agreed with the doctrines the church was giving me. Hence began my 8-year-long search for a new “church.” Then I met my husband…
As an adult, following my conversion to Judaism, I had a conversation with my mother. She was having a hard time understanding how I could possibly believe in G-d when I didn’t believe that Jesus was the Messiah. By the end of that talk, she finally understood. She was now convinced I still had my belief and faith in G-d, that everything she and dad had taught me was still inside me somewhere.
I think part of the reason my mother had such a hard time accepting my conversion was because she had chosen to become Catholic. Not having been raised with any real form of organized religion, she confirmed her faith at age 14, following the formal steps of catechumens and being baptized and receiving communion in the end. All this years before she met my father, who was born and raised a Catholic. My parents never wavered from their faith. They went to church on every major holiday and religiously attended services every Sunday no matter what the weather. Although they stopped attending services after moving in 2012, they both kept their faith. Faith is what they had at the end of their lives…
I’d like to continue the legacy of their faith. My husband and I have raised our daughter enveloped by Judaism. Faith in G-d has been our survival kit. And being part of an organized religion helps us keep that faith. We are surrounded by people who share the same faith. They add to our survival kit and help us stay strong. And when weakened, these people are our pillar. Organized religion is our life support. So why do so many millions of other Americans not want this in their lives? What happened? Who or what is to blame? I have no answers…
A strange thing happened after taking the above photos of the church – the clouds evaporated, the sun came out of nowhere and the sky turned my favorite color blue:
I thought, “G-d’s trying to tell me something,” but I wasn’t quite sure what He was saying…
“I don’t believe in magic
I don’t believe in I-Ching
I don’t believe in Bible
I don’t believe in tarot
I don’t believe in Hitler
“I don’t believe in Jesus
I don’t believe in Kennedy
I don’t believe in Buddha
I don’t believe in mantra
I don’t believe in Gita
I don’t believe in yoga
I don’t believe in kings
I don’t believe in Elvis
I don’t believe in Zimmerman
I don’t believe in Beatles
I just believe in me
Yoko and me
And that’s reality”
God – John Lennon
“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump