Today’s NY Times opinion piece, The Moral Animal, asks the question of the survival of religion: Why does religion survive — thrive in fact — when it is persistently attacked and ridiculed by naturalism and has been predicted to disappear since the Enlightenment? In a neo-Darwinian world, what makes religion so fit? Rabbi Sacks suggests it because community has higher survivability than individuals. Altruism is fitter than egoism and therefore survives. He notes there is now neurological evidence that we are hard wired for empathy. He argues that religion survives because it binds individuals into groups.
He cites Robert Putnam whose Bowling Alone showed the rising individualism was destroying our ability to form community. More recently his American Grace has chronicled the fact that religious communities still exist. His research showed that frequent church- or synagogue-goers were more likely to give money to charity, do volunteer work, help the homeless, donate blood, help a neighbor with housework, spend time with someone who was feeling depressed, offer a seat to a stranger or help someone find a job. Religiosity as measured by church or synagogue attendance is, he found, a better predictor of altruism than education, age, income, gender or race.
But that doesn’t explain why religion survives. It only shows that it results in altruistic community. Community may be a necessary thing, Darwinistically speaking, but religion isn’t.
It seems to me that religion survives because of what Psalm 19 says:
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.
There is an innate sense of divinity, of justice, beauty, and of community put there by the Living Loving Lord of Advent. It morphs into many different religions which have more or less of the truth. The Word became flesh to reveal the Father (John 1:14, 18), die for our sins and rise to bring newness of life, was exalted above the hostile powers and poured out the Spirit on His Church. We who repent and accept His message and join Him by faith receive forgiveness, new life, join His new community and its mission to bring true shalom to this world.
So at Christmas time, I confidently predict that the worship of the Lord of Creation, the Lord of Advent, the Lord of the community of the Spirit will continue to be worshiped. That worship will be most authentic when it follows the words of our Savior: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. and Love your neighbor as yourself.
This was demonstrated dramatically in Kristina Shevchenko, the 15 year old who was shot at Clackamas Town Center. She “irrationally” forgave the man who shot her and two others. You had to listen carefully to find the reason: she and her Ukrainian immigrant family are strong Christians.
So you will continue to see churches proclaiming Jesus as Lord and doing irrational works of service in our communities . . . and loving, wrestling with, and laughing with atheists who can’t join our worship [yet]