The mad left will rejoice at the results of a recent US Gallup poll which found that belief in God in this country has suffered a six-point drop since 2017, with only 81% now believing in the existence of God.
Whereas the question posed by Gallup was that of a generic God: “Do you believe in God?” FoxNewsa masthead by Murdoch in the American media, assumed it only applied to the Christian faith and interviewed four Christians leaders to account for the decline.
As explained in another report“Belief in God is highest among political conservatives (94%) and Republicans (92%), showing that religiosity is a major determinant of political divisions in the United States”
Only 72% of Democrats believed in God. When the same question was posed in 195398% of Americans said they believe in God.
The four Christian leaders gave a number of different explanations for the decline of FoxNews.
A Baptist preacher thought the cause was “no time in life to stop and contemplate anything spiritual”; a Lutheran pastor blamed a “lack of dedicated spaces and reserved times, as this leads to the chaos we are currently seeing around us”; a Roman Catholic bishop blamed parents for “weakening religious practice”; but only a Methodist bishop thought the Church itself was to blame “for not ‘nurturing’ the young in the faith”.
In this article, I will refer to Christian and Hebrew deity as “God” and ignore pagans and atheists.
What sets this God apart from all others is the fact that He has revealed much about Himself and what He expects of us in a Book that claims to have been divinely revealed by Him. This is not an easily refutable claim; but if you read it like a history book, you’ll never understand it.
If we accept Fox News’ focus on Christianity, the percentage of the Australian population who identify as Christian has fallen from 50% in 2016 to 43.9% in 2021, with declines across all major faiths. The fall was concentrated among Protestant denominations, with the Anglican Church losing 20% of its adherents and the Methodists 23%.
The fall of Protestant belief is so great and so rapid that the reasons invoked in America do not explain the disaffection. So I’d like to suggest that the theological message the churches are selling is no longer compelling for the reasons I’ll give; and to reverse it, they must stop simplifying the source and return to an original theology.
Perhaps our churches have already begun to reflect on what they need to do to bring about this turnaround. If so, they are planning something good. Paradoxically, they touched on the theological enigma that is at the heart of their theology.
That riddle was the change in Christian theology influenced by a priest called Martin Luther, known as the Reformation. Luther relied heavily on St. Paul to hold that man was saved by faith alone by which he could obtain the grace of God.
Until Luther, the Roman Catholic Church had been persuaded by Saint Thomas Aquinas that the Gospel of John proved that God was reason: “In the beginning was reason (report)…’ and since man was created in his image, God expected man to act reasonably. Man’s salvation, however, could be earned by good works. How would he know that his works were good?
The greatest spokesman of reason, whose explanations of how the virtues perfected the human soul was the Greek philosopher Aristotle, and relying on his supreme understanding of the works of Aristotle, Saint Thomas succeeded to synthesize reason with revelation.
While Luther’s thesis against the sale of indulgences by the Roman Church was correct, his reform of Christianity was an attack on human reason which he called depraved and the “good” works of man utterly worthless. for his salvation. Luther hated Aristotle whose teachings had been synthesized with Christian theology.
Luther quotes Scripture to show salvation by faith; but there are many other passages in the Gospels that praise the virtuous actions of the faithful in the Old and New Testaments, suggesting that faith alone is insufficient. To be human is to make rational choices, and each choice involves deliberation to choose what is best and avoid evil. Perfecting the soul with virtuous habits makes such choices possible.
The Church’s reliance on good deeds taught their congregations the importance of virtue which also served an important function in the political life of the community. When Luther asserted that Christians are saved by their faith alone, he separated Christian theology from Aristotle’s teaching on virtue and vice, which ultimately left the churches unrelated to the daily lives of the faithful and the political life of society.
This result was not immediate and took several centuries to materialize. The theological education of several generations of priests and ministers was one thing; but the resistance of the faithful also had to be overcome.
The problem with Luther’s theory, however, is that it must withstand his criticism of the earlier theology for which St. Thomas (and Aristotle) were responsible. If the fall really upset human reason to the point that, as Luther said, “it is false to affirm that the will can by nature confirm to to correct precept’ and Luther was born after the fall, then Luther’s reason is also reversed and he can never know if his criticism or his theological statement is correct.
Luther’s assertion of faith is not significantly different from that of a medieval Muslim theologian Al-Ghazali who asserted that everything that happens is the result of Allah’s will. That the rational order of nature by which Aristotle understood moral principles did not exist. Everything depended on the will of Allah. Moral principles derive from sharia and not from reason. Al-Ghazali concluded that if man is faithful to Allah, all actions he takes will be justified by his faith. Osama bin Laden agreed: “Terrorism is an obligation in the religion of Allah.
Although he was a devout Christian, the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard drew on Hegel’s historical process to deny an inquiry into Christianity by reason. Once historical evidence showed that Jesus existed, a “leap of faith” was all that was needed.
Most Christian denominations found his act of faith sufficient to confirm salvation by faith as the truth of the New Testament. It also avoids having to worry if the devotees perform virtuous deeds.
Instead of virtuous actions, Australian Christian churches, by identifying God with to like, substitute love for virtue. Like the word, to likehas almost limitless connotations and denotations, it has encouraged churches to engage in many social justice issues like liberation theology, Black Lives Matter, critical race theory, Indigenous title and climate change , in the name of love even if it is otherwise vicious.
Remnants of a natural law teaching emphasizing good works can still be found in the theology of Roman Catholicism, but even there Marxist ideas are gaining ground.
It was once customary in the Anglican liturgy to recite the Ten Commandments, the first five explaining our duty to God, the second five our duty to our neighbour. This no longer happens, having been replaced by love. Yet each of these commandments, at least when known, is important to a good home and, therefore, to a good society. They were instructions on how to live our lives, here in the suburbs, with a weekly reminder from the top of the pulpit.
In those distant times, the good works of many may not have fed millions of starving people in distant lands, nor relieved the flooded cities of Bangladesh; but we were all better people for the little things we did for our neighbors and that’s what’s missing today. If there is an afterlife, maybe these little jobs will earn us an Admit One ticket.
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