“It all started when they took prayer out of schools.” I have heard that a lot over the years. It’s the primary reason for any perceived increase in depravity in our American culture. It’s the reason that our churches are in decline. It’s obviously the reason our youth are growing up to be leaders who work to subvert the Christian worldview rather than protect it.
Or, is it?
I think the abdication of prayer in schools came more as an entailment of something other than the objective of a few ambitious activists. I am convinced it is a sign of societal unbelief on a large scale.
A person may choose to believe or disbelieve something because he has been taught to do so by influential people. We all strive to teach our children to adhere to the truths we present to them. Don’t we, Christian parents, want our kids to believe in God and His incarnated form, Jesus? I could ask similar questions of the Atheistic parent and his respective worldview or the Muslim parent.
But America has changed — in a big way.
The advent of technological communication and global travel has turned the American Melting-Pot into a haven of pluralistic thought. Add to these advances the stresses we are seeing globally regarding religion and the refugee problems, and we see the West becoming increasingly pluralistic in nature. Gone are the days of living one’s whole life surrounded by a community that thinks, believes, and acts in accord with a shared, and largely uncontested, worldview. Today, ideas and worldviews are in constant tension, and that reality has consequences.
This is why, “Why?” matters. More specifically, this is why it is important to give answers for the “why” questions that are constantly being presented to our Christian youth. Why do we Christians think we are right and they are wrong? Why did God make people if He knew they would rebel and go to Hell? Why is same sex marriage wrong?
If Jesus was just one of several options to be right with the Creator, we might be having a different discussion. But let’s be clear: Christian kids are growing up to reject the propositional claim that Jesus is the only way — and they are doing this in large numbers. Philosophically, they are rejecting the notion of true objectivity in favor of a softer, more relational way of seeing things. The exclusivity of Christ is seen as a harsh doctrine and unkind to anyone who happens not to believe the biblical narrative. If we do not provide answers to the questions our youth are asking, someone else will do it for us.
How did we get to the place that the Western Church hemorrhages its youth? Ask a hundred sociologists that question, and you might get as many answers. Let me paint a picture for you to help you understand our predicament and what our Christian kids face. To do this we need to look back a bit into our history.
There was a time when Christianity was uncontested in America. In this time, children were taught to read from the Bible, they were encouraged to adhere to Christian principles and they received higher education through Christian institutions like Harvard, Yale, Princeton and such.
In time, the Christians of America began to divide along denominational lines to the point that contention was largely unavoidable. The pursuit of correct doctrine became sticky and disagreeable. In an environment like this, leaders became ardent defenders of their particular Christian denomination, but not so much of what C.S. Lewis called “Mere Christianity.” A lot of Christian argument was, primarily, an in-house issue. We neglected the voices outside of the Christian faith, like the Atheist or the Muslim, probably because they were small in number and had a relatively insignificant effect on our lives. But they were there, and they were not idle.
Eventually, through neglect and perhaps even indolence on the part of those responsible to teach the American believer, the nominal Christian would find himself unable to adequately defend the Christian worldview against all comers. This ineptitude would be passed on to subsequent generations, further diluting the power of the Christian to prevail against an intellectual challenge. The result would be an increasingly self-styled and nostalgic faith. We would become ever more willing to divide, but less able to tell you why our denomination was preferable, let alone defend against a growing secular tide.
In 1925, the Scopes (Monkey) Trial revealed something that many suspected and paved a way for a new kind of war against Christianity. It was a watershed moment. No longer did unbelievers need to rebel against biblical teaching only to endure the scorn of the majority. Now they had a defense of their own. Darwinism and science, loaded with naturalistic ideas, could be articulated in such a way as to reveal just how out of touch the average Christian was with the real world. Even though William Jennings Bryan (a Christian) won the case regarding evolution being taught in a Tennessee school, believers lost the position of intellectual high ground in front of a watching world. Christians could still rule the day as a majority, but we would no longer be seen as the ones possessing a superior understanding of the truth. We won the battle but seemed to have lost the war. Believers looked ignorant and inept — especially when it came to higher learning. That trend has continued relatively unchecked to the point that nearly all of academia today is hostile to the Christian faith, believing Christians to be ignorant and naive.
Now, place yourself in the shoes of the average Christian youth today. You hear from a young age that God loves you and Jesus died for you. You probably pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” in a Bible camp somewhere. You hear that a believer must have faith in Christ to be right with God — unbelief is the path to destruction. But the educational system bombards you from elementary school through college with Atheism, Darwinism, Naturalism, and Postmodernism. Teachers and professors unpack, very purposefully, a wholly different worldview than what you were taught at home, claiming that Christianity amounts to believing in “fairies, pixies, and the flying Spaghetti Monster.” They challenge you to defend your faith in the face of tremendous peer pressure and a large consensus that opposes the Christian worldview. You feel dreadfully out gunned and completely unprepared for the spiritual and intellectual hostilities that are presented to you in the world today.
When a young Christian in this worldview crossfire is forced to critically evaluate what he believes to be true, what will he think? Will he question the reality of God’s presence? Can he see God? Does he hear God?
When God, in the minds of our youth, starts to resemble an imaginary friend, is it shocking that they begin to doubt His reality? In light of Christianity being presented to them as a personal relationship with God, might they conclude this “relationship” is a lot more like an imaginary one than a real one? After all, it doesn’t resemble any of the human relationships that they are acquainted with. When they ask the Church these provoking questions, what is its counsel? Are they told, “Just believe?” or perhaps, “You need to read the Bible more,” or “You need to pray more?”
If a person does not know why he should hold on to Christianity as true, then his faith is blind — and blind faith does not test well when challenged.
In time, they reject the faith of their fathers for something more intellectually satisfying, and perhaps a lot less guilt ridden. Consider that Christianity holds people responsible for their actions and sins. Naturalism/Atheism imposes no such guilt over a person for his promiscuity. That allure alone can undermine a person’s faith if his or her convictions are weak.
If this scenario repeats itself enough, the population will be altered sufficiently enough to remove the bulwark of Christianity’s influence in our society. When Christianity becomes a worldview of preference in the minds of Americans and not the Truth (primarily because we cannot defend it), we will have paved the way for our own children’s exodus from the Church. In a social environment led by non-Christian liberals and conservatives, who separate the Faith from real life, a Madeline Murray-O’Hair would certainly be able to lead the charge to remove prayer from schools — and she did. But that act wasn’t the cause of all our problems. It was merely an indicator that we had let something happen in our homes. It wasn’t the activist who foisted her plans on us. We had long prepared the ground for competing worldviews to flourish.
Today, we are in an ideological struggle for worldview supremacy in America. This is why, “Why?” matters. Who will teach our youth that one cannot live in an ideological vacuum? Abandoning the Christian worldview simply means that another has been adopted. Who will teach them to test the competing worldviews that are vying for their affection?
We are commanded, by God, to teach our young what is true and what is false. We cannot do this if our kids see Christianity as our moral preference. It is both a true and defensible worldview. Gone are the days of a “Christian” America that will foster Christian perspectives in spite of our parental negligence. We must return to the roots of our faith and join our forebears who influenced Rome and the hostile world of their time. We must take our stand for Christ and win our children to do the same. You will have a hard time doing that, if you cannot provide their “Why?” questions with profoundly convincing answers.