Monday, January 30, 2012
Already Gone by Ken Ham & Britt Beemer
Already Gone by Ken Ham and Britt Beemer examines a current problem in the Western Christian church that too many Christians would rather not think about: Christianity has been losing its young people. According to Ham, most churches in Europe have been abandoned, and in some cases turned into other businesses, as a number of photos in the book demonstrate. Ham has sat in the great cathedrals of Europe, where only small gatherings of senior citizens regularly attend. What's worse, Ham and Britt Beemer believe that what has occurred across Europe and Britain is now happening right now in the United States.
What is it?
According to initial surveys, young people in their teens and twenties gave a variety of responses, ranging from their beleif that a loving God would not send anyone to hell, to the conservative position on gay rights, to percieved hypocirsy in the church. There seemed to be no root cause, like, say, the theory of evolution, which Ham and his researchers could pin the blame on. Indeed, these responses tend to reflect changes in the overall social climate of the West, and not to any single factor. However, unsatisfied with this, surveyers turned the matter over to Beemer, who, according to Ham "probed and probed and probed."
What her extensive research uncovered surprised the researchers. Young Christians were not, by and large, deserting the faith after they left home for college; they had actually left long before then--hence the title of the book.
That's right. Most of these kids, although they may have still attended church along with their parents, quit beleiving in high school, middle school, and even elementary. While a single, specific cause remains elusive, the authors, in general, blame the secular worldview taught as fact in the public schools and the media. According to the perceptions of most kids, public school is where you go to learn facts; Sunday school and church and all about spirituality. In fact, kids who attend Sunday school proved MORE likely to doubt the Bible than those who didn't. It may well be, although Ham would hesitate to frame it quite this way, that in comparison with the facts learned in science and history class, the Bible's tales simply appeared to be myths.
It is hardly surprising what Ham, an outspoken creationist, and driving force behind Kentucky's Creation Museum, proposes to remedy the situation: a greater insistance on the literal truth of all scripture in all areas.
Now as an unorthodaox Christian myself, I hardly endorse this position. There are indeed problems here, not only contradictions between science and literal Genesis, but moral problems as well. As our understanding of morality, indeed, appears to be advancing, literal interpretaions of Old Testament atrocities (and there defense by consevatives as inexpicably "right" because God supposedly ordered them)are increasingly apt to lead young people to doubt. And it is doubtful indeed, short of raising one's children in a bubble, that the secular world can forever kept at bay. In fact, I would suspect an even greater desertation of young folks from conservative churches if more emphatic insistence in Biblical literalism continues.
However, the observations of Ham and Beemer are indeed case for alarm. As much as I would hate to admit this, science does tend to erode religious faith in many cases. Science deals with observable physical realities of the universe while religion is concerned with the spiritual and the moral. Yet the vast majority of practicing scientists, I have read, are athiest or agnositic, with religious beleivers like Franicis Collins belonging to a minority. Darwin himself lost his own religious faith as a result of what he discovered during the voyage of the Beagle. These may easily be blamed on the attitudes of humans and how they percieve both science and faith as antithetical. However, the fact remains that knowledge of the natural world inevitably tends to raise doubts concerning the supernatural world, and therefore spirituality and faith in more than a few human minds. Attempting to "secularize" the faith does not seem to be the way to go, either.
And the vast, empty cathedrals of Europe are indeed mute testimony that something is wrong.
So what are Christians to do? Are we caught in a "lose-lose" situation?
I do not really know enough at this point to answer this question definitively. However, I do believe that if Christianity is indeed evolving into something other than the tradtional church, as some contend, that may not be necessarily a bad thing. Ham himself admits that some chruch tradition are not Biblically based. In fact, the church, as an intitution did not exist in the earliest days of Christianity.
This raises questions about the church as an institution as a whole, and what is it that conservatives are most eager to conserve, as I'll explore in my next post.