The revival of redemption: The future of religion in a secular world

(COMMENTARY) The future of organized religion is not doomed because of secular culture. Though a purely secular culture offers the promise of less moral restraint, many individuals within contemporary culture learn that the loss of objective morals destroys the foundation for happiness and contentment.

When one rejects the disciplines and principles of religion, one loses the premises necessary to understand the world without falling into skepticism and nihilism. Though the ideas of secular culture will continue to dominate the younger generations, I believe that the revival of religion will restore life to pockets of the population, unlocking the gate to new heights of flourishing in the coming years.

Looks can be deceptive. When examining the issue of religion in contemporary culture, many point to facts and figures: they claim religion is dying because the average age of your average congregation is aging, and because young people are increasingly less likely to profess religious beliefs. While these claims are persuasive evidence to some, the underlying reality remains more complicated than what statistics can measure.

For example, the sentiment that religious observance is dying out in the younger generation has been around as long as religion itself. Even in the Bible, and specifically the book of Genesis, we are told of a whole generation that did not fear God, where everyone did what was right in their own eyes. The narrative recalls that God sought to preserve belief in Him through a singular old man: Noah. The contemporary religious scene is fortunate to have a few more representatives and proponents than that.

Likewise, though fewer young people claim to be religious today than in the past, anti–religious and amoral beliefs have dominated the worldview of many for decades. As the biblical author James says that faith without deeds means nothing, a claim to religious belief without practicing it is meaningless, and many have claimed religious identity without practicing it for a long time. As popular culture becomes more comfortable with atheism and agnosticism, more people are willing to claim no religious identity.

Many Americans have claimed Christianity without practicing it for a long time –– their religious persuasions rooted in shallow soil. Deep conviction in religious principles and meaningful relationships with others of faith were lost long before people started to leave church. Belief and community eroded within the culture far before people started renouncing their faith in a public manner. Thus, while less people claim to be religious today than in the past, this represents cultural trends and shifts that have been going on for a long time.

In contemporary culture, everyone is seeking to fill a void. Everyone wants something they believe will make them happy, whether it be a bigger paycheck or a romantic relationship. However, in a materialistic culture, many are beginning to realize that our deepest longings cannot be completely satisfied with “stuff.” As neoconservative writer Irving Kristol noted, “None predicted — none could have predicted — the blithe and mindless self-destruction of bourgeois society we are seeing today. The enemy of liberal capitalism is not so much socialism as nihilism. Only liberal capitalism doesn’t see nihilism as an enemy, but rather as just another business opportunity.”  

One major difficulty about modern liberal capitalistic society is that though it can provide freedom and material prosperity for the individual, it lacks the capacity to provide anything that satisfies the human longing for the profound and transcendent. This is where the potency of religion comes in. Religious belief and practice provide transcendent meaning and purpose in an era where everyone seeks gratification from wealth and status – yet wonders why we are unfulfilled. Maybe we have all gone crazy. More likely, however, we are unhappy because we were created for more.  

As an active member of my church youth group in high school, I participated in numerous mission trips to impoverished areas, domestic and international. As other students and participated in efforts to clean up urban areas and share the message of Christianity, I witnessed the intangible evidence for the power of religiously–fueled compassion. I saw the joy of impoverished orphans in India, despite having none of the things the secular world says constitute happiness. I saw the lives of self–centered teens transformed as they realized for the first time that fulfillment might not come from acquiring for themselves but giving of what they have. Who can corrupt a man driven by the desire to bring others joy?

While the allure of wealth and status continue to twinkle in the eyes of young people in contemporary culture, many have feasted upon it and have left the table unsatisfied. They seek something more substantial, something that refuses to reduce them to an animalistic appetite. If they ask, seek and knock, they may just be filled with the bread of life.