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Catering to the Religious Gene?

Religious Gene

A recent article explored faith and churchgoing in New Zealand. In summary, it traced the statistics from New Zealand’s first ever census in 1853, in which 93% of New Zealanders classified themselves as Christian, to the last census, in 2013. Kiwis affiliating themselves with Christianity had dropped to about half of that – at 48%.

Church-going is, of course, lower than that. In 1853, churchgoing was about 30%, and in 2013 it was 10%.

The article contends the 10% is steady, and so, it argues, we can maintain regular church attendees at 10% of the population and, therefore, as the population increases, the church would actually be growing in number of people attending.

This is not my approach at all.

I want to do more than put to one side the assumption, for which I think there is no evidence, that the 10% will remain steady. What evidence is there that church attendance won’t continue to decrease a percentage point every decade or so?!

What I want to address is the “percentage of the population is religious” approach.

Often I will be asked, “How long have you been religious?”, or, “Were you religious as a teenager?”, and similar questions…

I always balk at the questions. It makes it sound like a minority hobby – trainspotting, or stamp collecting, fishing, or, to change the metaphor, being “religious” is like being left handed [10% of the population is left handed – we don’t know what causes left-handedness – genetics, hormones, nurture]. We don’t know what causes being religious – genetics, hormones, nurture!

And churches seem to buy into this. You know, different churches compete for their share of the religious 10% of the population. Like competing supermarkets, or hobby shops, different denominations or churches compete for the 10% – even worshipping in different shifts for different “religious tastes”. You can do the hobby this way or that way. You can get your fishing gear at Fishing for Less, or The Fishing Warehouse, or Fishing and Hunting.

And I think that something completely different is going on.

And so I approach this quite differently from the 10%-of-people-are-“religious” model. I believe that the person and message of Jesus are not just for “religious” people. I think the person and message of Jesus are for all.

Individuals, society, the world is deeply broken. Express this in any manner you like – people are looking for meaning, for love,… you can also express that in a number of ways. We humans are enfleshed yearning. And Jesus, and his message of compassion and care, is the answer to that yearning. The person and message of Jesus isn’t for the “religious” 10% – it’s for everyone, all 100% of us – however we translate it. Our yearning is fulfilled by taking on the mind and life of Christ – however we express that. The answer is growing to become more Christ-like.

In the words of last Sunday’s Gospel reading, whether people know it or not, acknowledge it or not, Jesus, “Everyone is searching for you” (Mark 1:37).

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5 Responses to Catering to the Religious Gene?

  1. I served as a Police Chaplain for 7 years until health issues meant I had to give it up. Chaplaincy was to the Police themselves, not their clients. Very few were connected with a church. During part of that time I and another priest looked after two churches during their interregnum. I did a lot of pastoral visiting. Overall I had far more in-depth conversations, was posed more curly questions, took more weddings and funerals for the chaplaincy than occurred in the church. People were hungry for positive news. I don’t have any doubt that they were searching for something to fulfil their spiritual hunger. God is Love, and Love (in action) is the answer.

    • Thanks, Heather. Yes – that is my experience also. Often, I think the word “God” gets in the way – a sort of sky fairy who controls the weather… And that view is often reinforced from within the “religious” 10%! God is love; God as love – these are ways forward IMO. Blessings.

      • I’d suggest you’re wrong. It’s not God that gets in the way – it’s church, and (far too often) the control freaks that run it.

        • Thanks, James. I think you are misreading what is being written. No one is suggesting that God gets in the way. We were talking about the use of the word “God”. Not all uses of the word “God” are accurate, helpful, or appropriate. Blessings.

  2. In wandering up George St Dunedin recently I think I overheard this conversation between a Hare Krishna and a passer-by “Some people are so poor all they have is money…” and I think I’ve heard that clearly from the pages of the gospels! Perhaps any religious gene can be squashed or lack of religious gene be graciously overcome by the Giver-of-genes! On another topic, I’ve been thinking of Joseph-of-Egypt recently (actually he would be in my favourite 5 OT characters)… Was he a pillar of faith and confidence during his dark years? Or perhaps not particularly… and yet…! Jonathan

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About This Site Welcome to this ecumenical website of resources and reflections on liturgy, spirituality, and worship for individuals and communities. It is run by Rev. Bosco Peters.

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