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Windows and Doors


Faith Forecast for 2009: What We Can Expect From Religion Next Year

posted by Brad Hirschfield

In 2009, we should expect religion to do what is has always done — inspire the very best and the very worst in human thought and practice, especially when it comes to politics and public policy. Faith is like a fire which can either safely cook our food and warm our homes, or burn them to the ground. It’s not up to the fire, it’s up to us. And it’s no different with religion.
As to the degree of influence, according to this month’s polling from Gallop, 67% of Americans see religion as a whole, losing influence on American life at the present time. I hope that they are wrong, but more importantly, so should the people who gave that answer. Why? Because the majority of those same people also stated that they believe religion “can answer all or most of today’s problems”.
Of course statistics, as an old professor of mine used to remark, are used like a drunk uses a lamppost, more for support than illumination. But that having been said, it leaves the faithful among us, especially those who believe faith can contribute positively to American public culture, with a very real question. We need to ask why religion, which most Americans believe can address life’s big problems, is seen as losing influence.


The easy, self-congratulatory, and incorrect answer would be to blame some wicked cabal of secular elites who have it in for the faithful. The real answer probably has more to do with the gap that has opened up between the ethics, values, and wisdom within religion which most Americans still trust, and those religious institutions which people anticipate will have less influence in what may be emerging as a less ideologically driven culture.
Are they right? I don’t know, but a culture in which people appreciate religion as a useful resource in addressing today’s problems while imagining that the influence of religion as an institution is waning, strikes me as pretty healthy. It’s an attitude which privileges people’s spiritual needs over institutional power and ideology, which is always a good thing.
Ironically, if religious institutions could relate to their work in the same way as the folks who responded to Gallop’s survey, they would actually increase their institutional influence. And that might be a trend for which to look in 2009.
Happy New Year!



  • McFlyver

    Perhaps this just means that everyone sees the “wall of separation between church and state” regaining its strength, as it should be…
    And this might also mean that everyone is realizing what the founding fathers did about the individual’s role of personal responsibility in morality, as opposed to having an institution lord it over you.

  • Pavvel

    The poll does not define its terms. Does “religion” refer to so-called “organized religion”? …to the area of “unorganized” religious practice?
    If people answering the poll understood the question to mean “organized religion,” then the answer that it is losing its influence could simply mean that religions’ organized presence has become irrelevant to the lives of many without saying anything about the influence of religious belief and practice of individuals or non-institutional groupings of people.
    The poll appears flawed in other ways too. It seems to be asking people for an opinion about what they probably can never know but only guess at. It might have had more validity if they had asked whether religion’s influence in the respondent’s life was increasing or decreasing, or whether they saw public policy as increasingly or decreasingly reflecting their values and what the source of their values is.
    Peace,
    Pavvel

  • Brian

    “The easy, self-congratulatory, and incorrect answer would be to blame some wicked cabal of secular elites who have it in for the faithful. ”
    Don’t blame the secular types. Why don’t you look in the mirror and see the easy answers should be the Ted Haggards, the Jim Bakkers, the Pat Robertsons, the Fred Phelps?

  • Henrietta22

    Organized religion may be the loser because of lack of credibility in at least part of many Protestant Doctrines that exclude LGBT people as equal in religious rights. It’s very hard to preach love, compassion, and civility in their churches when they can’t be authentic and honest. The fact that some Christians have left churches after many years doesn’t exclude them from their religious beliefs, their charity, and their continued practise of their faith. The Churches are making a huge mistake and pushing people out their doors.

  • Ruvain

    I agree that the use of the words “Faith” and “religion” make the study worse than nothing, except to start discussion.
    “Faith”: I wish the good rabbi would stop referring to us Jews as a Faith. He knows that we are not a Faith and that Faith is a form of Ignorance and we Jews traditionally stand against Ignorance. Jews are sui generis, and the word “People” comes closest to describe us. A Jew does not have to believe in G-d while some Jews believe that the Torah is literally true. I know that the rabbi recognizes all Jews as Jews whether or not they are religious. Thus, I wish he would make clear that Jews are not a Faith. Also, those of us who are religious have a variety of religions. Judaism is not one religion just as Xianity is not one religion.
    I know that the admission that Jews are not a religion is politically imprudent as we get 1/3 representation in all those jokes about a Priest, a Minister and a Rabbi.
    Thumpers: To the extent a reduction in respect for religion reflects dislike for the Thumpers, that is good for America. Values are important. A religious leaders who preach exclusion of Gays and labels them as sinful like Rick Warren and Chabad promote values which we should reject in both secular and religious life.
    Both Xian and Jewish Americans have similar problems with their Thumpers, and if the reduction in religious belief signals a collective rejection of these religious bigots, then let’s re-build the wall between Church and State.

  • LAURA MUSHKAT

    I agree with you and do not agree with the poll at all.
    young and old people I know are becomming more religous as the see things grow worse in the world, as they find this a comfort.
    hugs
    Laura

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