“The religious impulse is easier to rebrand than to extinguish.This runs counter to popular perception. Bombarded with poll results about declining levels of church attendance and belief in God, we assume that more and more people are abandoning the faith and making their own meaning. But what these polls actually tell us is more straightforward. They tell us that confidence in the religious narratives we’ve inherited has collapsed. What they fail to report is that the marketplace in replacement religion is booming. We may be sleeping in on Sunday mornings in greater numbers, but we’ve never been more pious. Religious observance hasn’t faded apace secularization so much as migrated – and we’ve got the anxiety to prove it. We’re seldom not in church.”
A blessed Easter season to you, Bethesda! Christ is risen and worship attendance shall fall! With such a late Easter, the Spring might pass quicker than an allergic cough. The end-of-the-school year crunch is upon many. Our youth Los Angeles mission is under two months away. On we go, by faith.
The summer months may bring diminished worship attendance but, if David Zahl is correct, religious fervor will take no vacations. According to him, we are seldom not in church. I’ve been waiting for the release of Zahl’s book since hearing him speak at a conference in October. He contends we are not less religious as a society. To the contrary, we are more religious than ever and about more things.
Zahl focuses on career, parenting, technology, food, politics and romance as replacement religions, but mentions many others that could join the list (sports, exercise, travel, beauty). In themselves, these are generally good pursuits; but a good thing turned into a godthing risks becoming no-thing in the end. Why are we so religious about so many things?
Zahl approaches his answer by updating an old word: “righteousness” becomes “enoughness.” “Righteousness” might sound religious or judgy; “enoughness” feels less threatening. Both words capture the irrepressible human need for selfjustification. Society may no longer relate to Martin Luther’s anxious search for a gracious God, but “people are suffering and dying under the torture of the fantasy self they’re failing to become.” Into this void of not-enoughness, many pursuits promise to fill the absence.
The marketplace for replacement religions is booming. This poses a challenge to the church. I don’t know where you will find yourself most Sunday mornings this summer. The search for enoughness can be equally haunting on vacation or in a pew. But the promise of our crucified and risen savior is given: “My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) With the apostle Paul we may boast all the more gladly of our not-enoughness, because the power of Christ rests upon us. Christ is enough.
Shalom, Pastor Tom