It is now a common belief that the world is moving away from religion. There are several reasons why this impression prevails.
Financial scandals in the churches, the criminal sexual abuse of children and women by clergy, etc. – the Catholic Church especially has paid dearly for these crimes.
Also, as is well known, our Orthodox Church has also been confronted with this kind of behavior by its clergy, and who knows how many other cases have not been made known.
So according to polls in recent years, believers are abandoning their religions and/or switching to others, or declaring themselves atheists.
And indeed, even before the pandemic, many churches – including ours – were almost empty.
However, an article about a new study published by the Wall Street Journal last week by Byron Johnson, Jeff Levin, Matt Bradshaw, and Rodney Stark presents a completely different picture.
“Data from five recent U.S. population surveys point to the vibrancy, ubiquity and growth of religion in the U.S. Americans are becoming more religious, and religious institutions are thriving.” they write.
The article continues: “Consistent with some previous studies but contrary to widely held assumptions, many people who report no religious affiliation—and even many self-identified atheists and agnostics—exhibit substantial levels of religious practice and belief.”
The news is not good for all religions. For example, Mainline Protestant churches are losing their believers at a massive rate.
At the same time, new churches are springing up, without recognizable identities, which are addressed to all believers – the so-called mega-churches. One of them in Houston, Lakewood church, attracts 100,000 people.
(It is generally estimated that there are 500,000 churches in America).
Meanwhile, the number of atheists has remained stable at between 3-4% for over 80 years.
And the study concludes: religion in the United States is changing, but not in decline. More Americans attend church and support religious organizations today than ever before.
One may ask, how is this possible when churches are rocked by one scandal after another, one crisis after another?
The answer I think – and I hope – is the following:
Today’s believers in general – like today’s Greek-Americans – are familiar with the many scandals that have come to light and that impacted worldly ecclesiastical authority.
Thus, with the passage of time and the confluence of problems, the believer is now able to distinguish religion, faith, and spirituality from the hierarchy of the Church, and from the clergy generally.
So, the Christian seeks answers to his/her concerns and problems in the essence of religion, in the preaching of Jesus Christ, rather than in its human dimension, the clergy, who by their frail nature as human beings have a tendency, despite their training, to fall into errors and sins.
One should not close one’s eyes to scandals, to mismanagement, and at the same time, we, the media, have, by definition, the obligation to publicize them because this serves the interest of the Church and society. As painful as this is sometimes.
“Light,” as they say, “is the best disinfectant,” and leads to improvement, progress – while darkness leads to spiritual and ecclesiastical impasse.