Many today are forsaking traditional Christianity, continuing a trend that’s been accelerating for decades in the Western world. Statistics show that each succeeding generation is becoming less religious than the previous one. As society is increasingly secularized, traditional Christianity has a significantly smaller cultural impact, and religious organizations are quickly losing social authority.
This cultural transformation and abandonment of religion is reflected in what’s happening to places of worship. As The Wall Street Journal reported several years back, “churches are being closed by the hundreds, deconsecrated and rehabilitated as housing, offices, restaurants and the like, or just abandoned” (Daniel Dennett, “Why the Future of Religion Is Bleak,” April 26, 2015).
Considering the large numbers of people who have no religious preference and those who identify as Christians but do not attend church, what consequences does this have for society? And what is the pathway to leading people out of darkness and confusion and into the light of truth and righteousness?
“Nones” becoming the new normal
According to a 2018 Pew Research Center survey of 15 Western European countries, most people identify as Christian yet few go to church. For example, out of those who say they are Christian in the United Kingdom, only 18 percent attend church on a regular basis. In Canada it’s merely 13 percent. In Australia the figure stands at 17 percent, and in New Zealand just 15 percent go to church services consistently.
The least religious nations in Western Europe are the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, followed by Germany, Switzerland, Spain and Austria. In France, half of the population is non-religious or atheist. And looking over to the Jewish state of Israel in the Middle East, it may be surprising to learn that 65 percent of its citizens consider themselves non-religious or atheist.
The number of people who claim no religious association—called “nones” in reference to selecting “none” when answering survey questions about their religious affiliation —is increasing in many countries. For example, according to Australia’s ABC News, “All states and territories are at or above the 30% ‘none’ national figure, led by South Australia at 40% and Tasmania at 38.3%” (Gary Bouma, “Religion in Australia: What are the Implications of ‘None’ Being the New Normal?” June 28, 2018).
In the United Kingdom, “The avowedly non-religious now make up 48.6% of the British population” (Harriet Sherwood, “Nearly 50% Are of No Religion—but Has UK Hit ‘Peak Secular’?” The Guardian, May 19, 2017).
While many Americans say they believe in God, increasing numbers have lost all interest in organized religion. A 2021 Gallup poll found that membership in religious organizations in the United States had further tumbled to just 47 percent (down from 50% in 2018 and 70% in 1999). This was the lowest percentage the organization reported since first asking the question more than 80 years ago.
The drop in church membership corresponds with the upsurge in “nones.” Research shows that these religiously unaffiliated people make up 20 to 25 percent of U.S. adults, although some of them believe in a “higher power” or seek “spirituality,” besides those who are simply agnostic or atheist.
In a 2018 Pew Research Center study, a sample of 1,300 such people gave the following responses when asked why they chose not to identify with a religion: 60 percent questioned religious teachings; 49 percent opposed positions taken by churches on social and political issues; 41 percent disliked religious organizations; 37 percent didn’t believe in God; 36 percent considered religion irrelevant; and 34 percent disliked religious leaders.
An earlier Pew study found that many religiously unaffiliated people had been raised in a religious faith before abandoning it later in adulthood. “About half of current religious ‘nones’ who were raised in a religion (49%) indicate that a lack of belief led them to move away from religion. This includes many respondents who mention ‘science’ as the reason they do not believe in religious teachings. Others reference ‘common sense,’ ‘logic’ or a ‘lack of evidence’ or simply say they do not believe in God” (Michael Lipka, “Why America’s ‘Nones’ Left Religion Behind,” Pew Research Center, Aug. 24, 2016).
Subjugating the Bible to scientism and personal morality
It’s obvious from these facts that people increasingly reject the authority of the Bible. Many feel this is justified on the basis of science. But real science, an investigative method to arrive at truth, has been confused with scientism, which amounts to faith in the academic scientific community and its unproven ideas.
A Pew survey found: “The view that science and religion are often in conflict is particularly common among Americans who are, themselves, not very religiously observant. Some 73% of adults who seldom or never attend religious services say science and religion are often in conflict” (“Perception of Conflict Between Science and Religion,” Oct. 22, 2015).
The Barna Group, a U.S.-based faith and culture research organization, conducted a study to learn why nearly 60 percent of young Christians had disconnected from church after age 15. Many responses were related to science: “‘Churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in’ (29%) . . . [and] ‘Christianity is anti-science’ (25%)’” (“Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church,” BioLogos, June 5, 2017).
Despite the many claims that science and the Bible are at odds, this is categorically false. The genuine findings of science in recent decades have been highly supportive of Scripture rather than antagonistic toward it. Be sure to read the articles in this issue of Beyond Today magazine that highlight this critical point.
Appallingly, organized Christianity itself is culpable in its own demise, increasingly accepting evolutionary concepts and not taking the Bible for what it says—watering down or forsaking eternal truths and key moral values to fit in with society.
Many churches have long disregarded the authority of Scripture. They avoid uncomfortable talk about repenting of sin, stressing tolerance and acceptance. By not standing up against moral laxity such as abortion, extramarital sex and gay marriage, churches have become a reflection of worldly values, losing any principled influence.
As church members realized that less was required of them, many decided they no longer needed the church to guide them—so they left. Such churches have proved by their works to be false, fruitless and faithless (2 Timothy 4:4). While the Church of God continues in its mission, standing firm on biblical truth and teaching it faithfully (1 Timothy 3:15; compare 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 4:2), society at large continues its push away from God.
A May 2021 study by Arizona Christian University found that a stunning 43 percent of Americans ages 18 to 36 are either atheists or apathetic towards the existence of God. In practical terms, they have taken it upon themselves to determine right and wrong. A July 2019 Pew study found that 67 percent of Canadians said it was unnecessary to believe in God in order to be moral and have good values.
However, the Bible informs us otherwise. As it reveals, our Creator has already decided what is good and evil and documented it in His commandments and other scriptural teachings. When people attempt to decide for themselves what is right and wrong, they usurp God’s role.
The apostle Paul wrote of his countrymen, “For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God” (Romans 10:3, emphasis added throughout). And these were people who actually believed in God. In addition, Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.”
Family: the chain for passing on morality broken
Also devastating to generational instruction in Christian faith is the disintegration of the family in the West. A 2019 survey by the American Enterprise Institute found that children raised by divorced or separated parents received less robust religious experiences during their childhood. And only 28 percent of Americans brought up in households with divorced or separated parents attended religious services.
The example of a loving, committed marriage—with God at its center and where the Sabbath and all of God’s other laws are faithfully observed—is invaluable to children’s spiritual development. As Malachi 2:15 states: “Didn’t the Lord make you one with your wife? In body and spirit you are his. And what does he want? Godly children from your union. So guard your heart; remain loyal to the wife of your youth” (New Living Translation).
The Bible gives the following crucial instruction to parents: “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7).
This is a duty for both parents. But sadly it often falls to the mother alone in broken homes with absent fathers!
A 1994 Swiss survey discovered that a father’s religious conviction was the primary factor in determining if parents’ religion will be carried on by their children. If the father is non-practicing and the mother is a steady church attendee, only 2 percent of their children will become regular worshippers and 37 percent will attend sporadically. Plus, when the children become adults, more than 60 percent of them will stop church attendance entirely.
It’s vital that a father fulfill his responsibility to set an example of spiritual faithfulness that his children will want to emulate. Showing and teaching them that their Creator and His way of life are extremely important must be one of his principal duties. Ephesians 6:4 encourages fathers to “bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.”
Tragically, both fathers and mothers are neglecting or outright rejecting their duty of teaching God’s ways. Should it surprise us that young people who grow up with no biblical moorings end up looking to themselves for direction?
Self-seeking and confusion
In the largest study ever conducted about Americans’ religious involvement, researchers at San Diego State University found that millennials (born from 1981–1997, ages 24-40 in 2021) are the least religious generation of the last six decades and possibly in the nation’s history.
The study’s author explained that one of the reasons is “rising individualism in U.S. culture,” pointing out that “individualism puts the self first, which doesn’t always fit well with the commitment to the institution and other people that religion often requires” (“Millennials: The Least Religious Generation,” ScienceDaily.com, May 27, 2015).
Of course we must define individualism. If it means not going along with the crowd when the crowd is wrong, that’s good. But if it means being self-centered, that is contrary to God. As the Bible instructs: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).
Sadly, it’s very easy for people to decide morality for themselves when so many influences and resources are only a mouse click or screen press away. A study published in The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion found that the more time people spend on the Internet, the less likely they will affiliate with a religious tradition or believe that one religion is more acceptable than another.
While the Internet has value, God’s Word, the Bible, is priceless. Yet according to a 2020 study by the Barna Group and the American Bible Society, only 9 percent of U.S. adults read the Bible daily. Rather than spending time searching the Internet to explore religious ideas, people would benefit much more by reading and studying the actual Word of God.
There are so many wayward influencers around seeking to lead people astray. Even some who promote and use the Bible can be part of this confusing mix. We need to know what the Bible actually says.
Also vying for our loyalties are political ideologies and systems. Again, we must look first to God and His Word, which tells us that the whole world has been deceived by Satan the devil (Revelation 12:9).
God’s truth is marching on
As people seek to determine for themselves what is right and try to construct an ideal humanly designed society, they are oblivious to the fact that God long ago set in motion a blueprint to establish His government on earth. Today, in a society filled with countless forms of counterfeit Christianity and quasi-religions, God’s Church faithfully proclaims the incredible message of His soon-coming Kingdom (Matthew 24:14; 28:19-20).
God is calling people to come out of the evils of human society and its corrupting influence (2 Corinthians 6:17; James 4:4). They are to prepare to “reign on the earth” with Jesus Christ in His future government, when “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ” (Revelation 5:10; 11:15, English Standard Version). At that time, a wonderful, peaceful society, devoid of religious confusion and corrupt influences, will be available for all people.
And although many people are forsaking any form of Christianity today, it’s important to understand that Jesus Christ said He would build His Church and it would prevail (Matthew 16:18).
Traditional Christianity has failed in remaining faithful to the Word of God. We hope you are coming to recognize that the United Church of God, the publisher of Beyond Today magazine, does preach truth grounded in the Bible!