Has Christianity Become a Coward’s Religion?
by Bruce Frohnen
Renaissance political thinker Niccolo Machiavelli castigated Christianity for making its adherents weak. Looking to the next world, he charged, Christians forget their public duties in this world, leaving their communities weak in the face of their enemies. Early Christian martyrs were hardly cowards. There were martyrs in Machiavelli’s day as well, and as I write martyrs are being made every day as pious Christians are murdered by the thugs of the Islamic State. One wonders, however, given some recent trends, whether some Christians in the West—and especially their leaders—have not lost their courage, or even their faith.
A recent Pew Forum survey found that the percentage of Americans who identify with no religion at all has risen to 23%. Those stating that they are “absolutely certain” God exists has dropped to 64%. And there were small drops in religious observance as well. In comparative terms, this is not such terrible news. 89% of Americans continue to believe that God exists, and our rates of religious observance remain miles ahead of our European brethren.*
Christianity in America may be faring better than in Europe, but it is truly frightening to consider where our current trends may take us. I am merely one among many observers who has noted increasing pressures in the United States to force religious believers to keep their faith to themselves, and even to violate it where it conflicts with the demands of secularization and social democracy. The clearest case in point, soon to be argued in front of the Supreme Court, concerns the Little Sisters of the Poor. This order of nuns objects to being forced by the Obama Administration to allow its health care plan to be hijacked to provide contraceptives and abortifacients to employees. The nuns correctly point out that this program is making them complicit in acts directly contradicting their Catholic doctrine. The Obama Administration responds that, because the nuns are being excused from actually paying for the abortifacients (instead the cost will be taken from more general program funds), they have no grounds for complaint—in essence, conscience be damned. The only way the nuns could avoid being forced to act against conscience here would be for them to employ and serve only other Catholics, in effect surrendering any public ministry in exchange for toleration from the state.
One of the more disturbing elements of such rules is their clear intention of marginalizing religious associations, forcing them into a religious closet, safe from the tender eyes of atheists and intolerant adherents of other faiths, as well as the federal government. The real danger here is that religious adherents themselves will internalize this false vision of religion as a purely private pursuit, giving up on their duty to share the faith and speak truth in the face of political and social power. An example of how wrong this can go is provided by the Anglican Church in England, according to a story in the Telegraph newspaper.
The Church of England is set to signal to members that speaking openly about their faith could do more harm than good when it comes to spreading Christianity. Stark new research findings being presented to members of the Church’s ruling General Synod suggest that practicing Christians who talk to friends and colleagues about their beliefs are three times as likely to put them off God as to attract them.“Research” shows that people are “put off” by friends’ and colleagues’ discussions on religion? And what people, exactly? Non-believers.