I read two very interesting articles on CNN.com this week. One told of how more of those under the age of 30 are expressing doubt in the existence of God than ever before. The other was a story of the Clergy Project, an effort to help those pastors who want to come out of the closet—and admit they no longer believe in God.
I want to say right up front that I know what I’m going to say is preaching to the fully-robed choir. And I know we could turn this into a good old-fashioned roast, with the evangelical circus as our guest of honor. That is not my intent today. I want to look at one reason why I think so many are ignoring God. And And then we’ll move on to a review of the new album by Rush. And by the end I hope to have drawn all the threads together to make something that somehow resembles sense.
Are you with me?
The Pew Research Center’s survey is not new. As a matter of fact, it’s more than two years old. Why CNN just now deems this “news” is beyond me. Yet it does paint a pretty clear picture that those labeled as Millennials (born after 1981) are less inclined to find religion an important and active part of their life than any other age-based group going back to 1900. More of those in this group are defining themselves as “nones,” meaning they have no religious affiliation. And many are referring to themselves as agnostics or even atheists. Yet these same twenty-somethings express that they are morally conservative. We’re not dealing with heathens and pagans here. We’re dealing with a generation that no longer even sees a need to bring God into the conversation.
Thirty years ago, if Stephen Hawking had said, “There was no need of a God to be involved in creating the universe as we know it,” Christians of all stripes—evangelicals, mainline Protestants, Orthodox, Catholic—would have made a loud noise to show their disapproval of his remarks. And they would have been heard. Today, Millennials hear this, shrug, and say, “Yeah, sure. So what?” I don’t think of these “nones” as anti-God. They just don’t care to even consider him.
In our second story we read about those who have been working as ministers for years, sometimes decades, who are being help “out” as non-believers. Jerry DeWitt, a former Pentecostal preacher who is now an atheist, said in the article, “You can either be honest that you don’t believe … or you can pretend that you do,” he said. “Which is what so many people are doing and that is called faith.” He is leaving out one other choice. You can honestly believe God exists and that he takes a personal interest in his creation even though there is no concrete evidence that proves this. That is real faith, and many people possess it.
Yes, there are many who wear a mask, pretending that their vending-machine god will make life rosy for them, and we’ve talked about the motivational speakers in the pulpits who propagate just such belief. But I don’t think this is the reason so many Millennials don’t believe in God. Instead, I think it is something much deeper. And I do think it is also the reason so many choose to wear a mask instead of looking honestly at their own beliefs. My reason? We have taken the mystery out of faith.
It is very much a part of our modern upbringing. We cannot abide not understanding how something works down to the smallest detail. The telescope allowed us to take apart the heavens, thus erasing the mystery of the planets and stars. Once we were able to explain them, the gems in heaven became simply rock and gas. The microscope allowed us to take apart living organisms, taking away the mystery of how living things grow. It was an easy and natural progression to wanting to take God apart and explain him. What once was a mystery became a doctrine. We became afraid of what we couldn’t explain—it had control over us. And that is one thing we could not allow. So we began to explain how God works, down to the smallest word in the shortest verse. Faith no longer was “I believe because I don’t understand”; it morphed into “My life must line up with my words; if I say the right words, then faith will rise up and God must do thus-and-so for me.” We are compelled to understand, to explain, to know for certain what was never meant to be understood, explained or known. Real faith is considered childish. We fear the dark of the unknown, and have created a god that can be turned around on a pedestal and described from every angle. This god does our bidding, and if ever he does anything differently, we can retrospectively change our doctrine to explain why he did so.
Is it any wonder young people have no interest in our god? They can explain thoroughly just how you get an app on your phone that shows how many miles you walk in a day. That’s no longer a mystery, it’s just a tool. Once God became a tool, he was no longer of interest to them. And we, you and I, are the ones guilty of perpetrating this idea that God can be explained, just as you can explain how a combustion engine works.
Which brings me to what you’ve been waiting for: a mini-review of the new album by Rush, Clockwork Angels.
I have never been a huge fan of Rush, but I love the writings of Neil Peart. His book, Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road, is in my all-time top five non-fiction books. It tells of Peart’s journey to find his soul following the death of his daughter and, nine months later, his wife. It is a gut-wrenching, honest look at how little we really undertand of this life. Now Peart, the lyricist for Rush (as well as an incredible drummer), has penned twelve songs that take us on one man’s journey, a journey to find something bigger than himself.
The songs tell of a young man who had a great upbringing on a farm, but soon the safe and predictable ways lost interest to him. He had big ideas and needed to escape. He walked thru a land filled with angels that are moved by our commands (thus, clockwork angels), anarchists, and evil carnies. Time itself is an enemy on his journey. While searching for the city of gold, he is met by those who will wreck the human soul. In the end he finds one thing that is bigger than he. Love. He can’t explain it, but he knows it is real.
This is the story of the Prodigal. It is also the story of the Millennial, searching for something bigger than himself. If we can take something apart and explain away all of its mystery, it certainly isn’t bigger than we.
How is it that Rush gets it, while we in our Christian world don’t? If we want those of today’s generation to once again bring God into their life’s conversation, then we need to allow mystery to once again prevail. We need to cease our own understand about the things that make up our lives, and trust the Lord with all of our heart. Even when he makes no sense. Even when it seems he is contradicting himself.
We need to once again see that the only thing bigger than our lives is, indeed, love. And love itself is the greatest mystery of all.