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Millennials Are Leaving Religion And Not Coming Back 
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 Millennials Are Leaving Religion And Not Coming Back
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Millennials Are Leaving Religion And Not Coming Back
Millennials have earned a reputation for reshaping industries and institutions — shaking up the workplace, transforming dating culture, and rethinking parenthood. They’ve also had a dramatic impact on American religious life. Four in ten millennials now say they are religiously unaffiliated, according to the Pew Research Center. In fact, millennials (those between the ages of 23 and 38) are now almost as likely to say they have no religion as they are to identify as Christian.

For a long time, though, it wasn’t clear whether this youthful defection from religion would be temporary or permanent. It seemed possible that as millennials grew older, at least some would return to a more traditional religious life. But there’s mounting evidence that today’s younger generations may be leaving religion for good.

12/12/19
https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/mi ... ket-newtab

FYI: This web site is known for sophisticated analysis of polling data...
:omg4:


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Sat Dec 14, 2019 8:52 pm
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Post Re: Millennials Are Leaving Religion And Not Coming Back
The fact is, religion has to change in order to become relevant in the modern world.

While religion insists on sticking to its prevailing medieval evidence-free concept of God as a supernatural entity, it will continue its death spiral. A new view of religion as compatible with science regards all ancient texts as contestable and fictional, but still finds them immensely valuable as sources of meaning, purpose and identity.

I had a chat this week with three young Mormon missionaries about this theme. The Book of Mormon is generally considered insane because of the Mormon insistence on testifying that it is literally true. Once this false premise is removed, people can be free to consider this as a work of literature, with profound moral meaning. The same applies to the Bible and other mythological texts.

The pernicious myth that has given modern religion both its impetus and failure is the insistence that its stories are literally true, even though in the case of the Gospels there is an excellent case that it was all originally intended as allegory, with literalism only coming on the scene due to the ascendancy of a corrupt orthodox priesthood.


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Last edited by Robert Tulip on Thu Dec 19, 2019 8:56 pm, edited 1 time in total.



Sun Dec 15, 2019 9:55 pm
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Post Re: Millennials Are Leaving Religion And Not Coming Back
Robert Tulip wrote:
The pernicious myth that has given modern religion both its impetus and failure is the insistence that its stories are literally true, even though in the case of the Gospels there is an excellent case that it was all originally intended as allegory, wit literalism only coming on the scene due to the ascendancy a corrupt orthodox priesthood.

That is a contention, but open to question. That there were certain communities who didn't value the stories for their realism seems to be true. But that this was the case universally seems very unlikely. The Church is given an exaggerated power to enforce literal belief for 1,300 years, after which Protestants got into the same act, supposedly. Literal belief is what the people preferred, as well as beneficial for churches. It was two-way.

The shift to viewing these materials allegorically would mean that the cultus is hollowed out, and that would cause the institution to lose its influence as people see less reason to support it as something apart from the flow of secular society. It's institutional survival that's at stake. There still would be some continuation of less-literal churches as worship organizations, for example the very liberal Christian churches that hang in there at least for now. How long that can last, with millenials unlikely to join up to express lukewarm beliefs, is what we'll find out.



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Post Re: Millennials Are Leaving Religion And Not Coming Back
And then you have the Hindu world view that, in direct contrast to Christianity, postulates the idea that religion is an intensely personal matter between you and whatever form of God you choose to worship. There is no single sacred book that compels a Hindu to obey its rules or face divine wrath or eternal damnation. The sheer freedom of being a Hindu and the variety of options that Hindu worshippers have is enviable. As a millennial myself, I find myself drifting towards the Hindu idea of religion and spirituality.



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Tue Dec 24, 2019 2:16 am
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Post Re: Millennials Are Leaving Religion And Not Coming Back
DWill wrote:
That there were certain communities who didn't value the stories for their realism seems to be true. But that this was the case universally seems very unlikely.
Elaine Pagels, author of The Gnostic Gospels, explains that there was a basic tripartite social division between the spiritual, the religious and the materialist. The spiritual Gnostic communities regarded all religious texts as symbolic, the religious saw them as literal, and the materialists did not care. The ratio appears to have been Orwellian, 1:10:90, like between inner party, outer party and proles in 1984, on the social model of Plato’s Republic. So the fact that the spiritual Gnostics who could understand religious allegory were a tiny minority says nothing about the accuracy and coherence of their view.
DWill wrote:
The Church is given an exaggerated power to enforce literal belief for 1,300 years, after which Protestants got into the same act, supposedly. Literal belief is what the people preferred, as well as beneficial for churches. It was two-way.
Yes, literal belief provides personal emotional comfort as well as the social consensus that underpins military security, especially for people who are illiterate and ignorant. But those values of comfort and security have nothing whatsoever to do with truth, which the text of the Bible asserts is the highest value.
DWill wrote:
The shift to viewing these materials allegorically would mean that the cultus is hollowed out, and that would cause the institution to lose its influence as people see less reason to support it as something apart from the flow of secular society.
That is a purely speculative claim. The real “hollowing out” is of the type we see from televangelism, where a moronic literalism gains widespread popularity, and aggressively resists any challenge to its simplistic emotional beliefs. This is despite the incoherent hypocrisy such beliefs entail, when assessed against the Biblical text itself.

The irony in your comment is that you see philosophical coherence as posing the risk of institutional collapse, when it is precisely the incoherence of religion compared to modern science that has produced the wide and growing contempt for it. Religion will only survive if it manages to find a coherent story, which does not mean asserting supernatural claims that conflict with the evidence of natural physics. Those claims have to be reinterpreted as symbolic.
DWill wrote:
It's institutional survival that's at stake.
As Jesus said, the institution will not survive if it builds its house upon sand rather than rock, or if it accepts weeds as the equivalent of wheat, or if it crucifies those who speak truth to power, or if it presents a nicely painted exterior that conceals inner rot. There is a basic tectonic stress between the institution and its message that was partly articulated in the Protestant Reformation and needs to be fully resolved with a spiritual earthquake for the church to gain intellectual respectability.
DWill wrote:
There still would be some continuation of less-literal churches as worship organizations, for example the very liberal Christian churches that hang in there at least for now. How long that can last, with millennials unlikely to join up to express lukewarm beliefs, is what we'll find out.
Millennials are even more unlikely to join up to express blatantly false beliefs, except for a small brainwashed minority. This equation between the liberal and the lukewarm has been a problem in modern Christianity, due to the basic confusion of liberal ambiguity, wanting to respect traditional faith while also wanting to respect modern science.

My view is that there will be a collapse in the traditional faith paradigm as people start to debate its assertions more openly, but this discussion is stymied by the hangover of Christendom with its bullying intimidation of heresy that prevents such debate occurring within a religious context.

I went to Christmas Eve worship this evening, and the thing that really struck me about the story considered on its own terms was that Mary must have known she was giving birth to a royal baby, and yet she had no one at all to help or welcome her, a completely absurd circumstance. What sort of society allows a cultural king to be born in an animal feed trough?

It illustrates that the entire story is fictional, designed to support the moral parable that the last will be first, by having the King of the Universe born in the most indigent and excluded situation imaginable. It is not designed to present a plausible story about events that could have actually occurred.

The cause of the plausibility is solely that the Roman Empire found it expedient to enforce literalism at the point of the sword, a process that has severely traumatised the fallen and corrupted dominant mentality of the Western world ever since.


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Post Re: Millennials Are Leaving Religion And Not Coming Back
Mr. Tulip wrote:
As Jesus said, the institution will not survive if it builds its house upon sand rather than rock, or if it accepts weeds as the equivalent of wheat, or if it crucifies those who speak truth to power, or if it presents a nicely painted exterior that conceals inner rot. There is a basic tectonic stress between the institution and its message that was partly articulated in the Protestant Reformation and needs to be fully resolved with a spiritual earthquake for the church to gain intellectual respectability.

Wow! I don't see how that earthquake is going to happen though. One example of the inner rot is mega-churches moving away from literalism, but not towards the truth. Many of them reject Jesus' teachings about wealth and the poor, moving in an opposite funhouse mirror direction where a prosperity gospel claims the wealthier you are, the more God has blessed you, and giving money to this church will earn you monetary rewards. It's amazing how many combine a death-like grip on belief in a 7 day creation of the universe and the near extinction of Noah's ark, but when it comes to Jesus admonishing them to give money, clothing, and shelter to the poor they're like "F-that, the lazy poor will always be with us so why help them?"

I've long felt that basing a religion on a literal interpretation of the bible is a sandy foundation as you say. Soon after you start reading it as literal truth, you see errors and inconsistencies so the whole thing falls apart quickly. At least that was my experience, but that does not happen to most believers. Many read the bible every day, a few reading the whole thing every year and they don't see any problems with it. But perhaps this study of millennials indicates that foundation is sliding away. I gather you're suggesting that once the foundation and rot are washed away by drastically declining attendance, perhaps something better can be rebuilt. That's possible, but as I noted with the prosperity gospel, it could also get worse.


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When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; even though you multiply your prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood.
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But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.
Exodus 21: 23 - 25


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Tue Dec 24, 2019 11:03 am
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Post Re: Millennials Are Leaving Religion And Not Coming Back
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
That there were certain communities who didn't value the stories for their realism seems to be true. But that this was the case universally seems very unlikely.
Elaine Pagels, author of The Gnostic Gospels, explains that there was a basic tripartite social division between the spiritual, the religious and the materialist. The spiritual Gnostic communities regarded all religious texts as symbolic, the religious saw them as literal, and the materialists did not care. The ratio appears to have been Orwellian, 1:10:90, like between inner party, outer party and proles in 1984, on the social model of Plato’s Republic. So the fact that the spiritual Gnostics who could understand religious allegory were a tiny minority says nothing about the accuracy and coherence of their view.

I'm only commenting on the historical aspect, Robert. Are the many variations of Gnostic belief better, more coherent, healthier, by comparison to the standard Church version? That's hard to generalize about, I would think, and to define, but perhaps. You seemed to suggest that the triumph of the Jesus-story-as-history view was all due to corrupt priests seeking to cement their influence. But the predominance of followers naturally wanting a solid, no-nonsense, literal version created a wealth of opportunity for such priests. I was reading E.O. Wilson, a strong critic of present-day literal and supernatural religion. He nevertheless stresses the important role religion played in group selection, giving groups definite boundaries which created strong feelings of belonging in members. The literal parts of belief that seem so strange and silly to us were the separators between groups, and those groups who tended to be more lax would have a harder time keeping their identities.

I tend to have Landroid's skepticism about a return to institutional religion after the literal edifice has crumbled. For many young people, it is already in ruins, but are you seeing church buildings going up to embody some sacralized leavings of the old Christianity? The only growth industry in religion continues to be one that offers defined benefits such as wealth and answered prayers, along with secure walls between the righteous and the worldly.



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Post Re: Millennials Are Leaving Religion And Not Coming Back
LanDroid wrote:
Wow! I don't see how that earthquake is going to happen though.

The church has had a way of re-inventing itself in response to the challenges of an era. The fundamental appeal of a religion based on grace and forgiveness remains within its sacred texts and its core rituals. I do think that the church as an institution has lost tremendous appeal for Millenials and later-borns, but its reinvention is not mainly in terms of metaphorical vs. literal reading but in terms of authoritarian vs. enlightenment approaches to child-rearing and spirituality.

Literalism is one variety of authoritarian approaches, but once you have gotten over the appeal to authority as a way to structure your life, the need for literalism falls away quickly and other things come to the fore. As churches (and synagogues, and to a lesser extent, mosques) organize themselves around a non-authoritarian approach to raising children, the need for an authoritarian approach to spiritual truth drops away.

LanDroid wrote:
One example of the inner rot is mega-churches moving away from literalism, but not towards the truth. Many of them reject Jesus' teachings about wealth and the poor, moving in an opposite funhouse mirror direction where a prosperity gospel claims the wealthier you are, the more God has blessed you, and giving money to this church will earn you monetary rewards.
Well, there seem to be many variations possible on grace and forgiveness, and the prosperity gospel preachers are one that appeals to a certain kind of person. The fact that it is difficult to pass on to children as a workable philosophy means it is likely to evolve into a kind of cult, with a recruiting process based on preachers who can charismatically spin the message, but with inner contradictions so severe that people drift away almost as frequently as new adherents are attracted. Would that the words of Jesus were enough to pull people into a thinking relationship with meaning in life, but don't get your hopes up about that one.
LanDroid wrote:
It's amazing how many combine a death-like grip on belief in a 7 day creation of the universe and the near extinction of Noah's ark, but when it comes to Jesus admonishing them to give money, clothing, and shelter to the poor they're like "F-that, the lazy poor will always be with us so why help them?"
Good observation. But again I would emphasize that this worldview is built on a threat-based incentive system, which requires authoritarian belief structures. Don't underestimate the ability of professional clergy to adapt the threat system to the social system.

LanDroid wrote:
But perhaps this study of millennials indicates that foundation is sliding away. I gather you're suggesting that once the foundation and rot are washed away by drastically declining attendance, perhaps something better can be rebuilt. That's possible, but as I noted with the prosperity gospel, it could also get worse.
The big selling point of the authority-based system is sexual mores. But the urgency of self-control (or obedience) in sexuality is getting to be a harder and harder sell. A meaning-based spirituality, on the other hand, has the pursuit of fulfillment to offer, and in a more educated and affluent society that probably works better. It is certainly more suited to evolving in whichever ways work best for the demands of an education-based economy. My observation over the last 20 years suggests that fulfillment is actually a powerful motivator, with the ability to overcome addictions (at least for some) and to pursue a flexible approach to achieving family harmony.



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Post Re: Millennials Are Leaving Religion And Not Coming Back
Hi Harry! Merry Christmas! Nice to see your comments. Here is my response to DWill.
DWill wrote:
Are the many variations of Gnostic belief better, more coherent, healthier, by comparison to the standard Church version?
Far from it. The chaos of Gnostic thought is well illustrated in the New Age movement, which is mostly grounded in emotional folk traditions rather than logic and evidence. My personal view, however, is that Gnostic spirituality provides a rational kernel of truth that sits behind the bewildering variety of both orthodox and heterodox beliefs. The challenge for theological scholarship is therefore to identify and excavate this original authentic kernel as the most probable historical basis of the extant literature and known events. I suspect this authentic seed of faith is more to be found through rigorous analysis of the canonical New Testament, interpreting God as the orderly structure of nature, rather than through study of the Apocrypha.

An example of the confusion is around the standard view that Gnostics hate the world. There are undoubtedly many who interpret things in that way, both on the allegedly Gnostic and the literalist sides, but the confusion arises with completely differing ideas about what we mean by ‘the world’. Some mean the natural universe, while others just mean the constructed society of human culture.

The danger in jumping from condemnation of the evil of the world to the false assumption that nature is evil illustrates how spiritual tendencies can easily be unhealthy. We see this unhealthy tendency in the assumption that hedonistic lifestyles are justified by an apocalyptic theology.
DWill wrote:
That's hard to generalize about, I would think, and to define, but perhaps.
The generalisation is in my view not yet available as a coherent and compelling explanation of how Christianity began. I think there is much good work happening toward such a paradigm shift. I had an interesting debate this month with Richard Carrier on these themes, with me arguing that astrology was central to the original Christian framework but was deleted by orthodoxy, and Carrier completely rejecting that view, arguing instead that any astrology was a later import into Christian theology. My argument is that in the ancient world astrology was the framework of the natural order of the cosmos, and found its way into the blueprint of Christianity via Greek philosophy, seen in the strong correlation between the Christian system and the observable structure of time provided by visual observation of the precession of the equinoxes. Carrier totally excludes such argument, saying instead that the pesher reinterpretation of the Old Testament provides a fully sufficient explanation of the Christian texts, without any of the natural cosmology provided by astrology.
DWill wrote:
You seemed to suggest that the triumph of the Jesus-story-as-history view was all due to corrupt priests seeking to cement their influence. But the predominance of followers naturally wanting a solid, no-nonsense, literal version created a wealth of opportunity for such priests.
Yes, and I think that opportunity illustrates my point about the priority of emotional security over rational coherence within religious faith. In the absence of simple coherence, people will go with a system that delivers security. The astrology of precession was far too obscure and had too many unwelcome cultural links to provide an acceptable ethical story for the social growth of early Christianity. This whole natural cosmology therefore had to be systematically eradicated in order to construct what you call the “solid, no-nonsense, literal version,” with the astrological origins remaining only as ambiguous fugitive traces within the surviving texts and symbols.
DWill wrote:
I was reading E.O. Wilson, a strong critic of present-day literal and supernatural religion. He nevertheless stresses the important role religion played in group selection, giving groups definite boundaries which created strong feelings of belonging in members.
Yes, Wilson is superb. Tribal identity is a highly adaptive group trait that will defeat any logical claims that do not generate a mass following, as a law of memetic cultural evolution. The Mosaic links in Christianity involved strong hostility to pagan traditions, generating a new cultural unity that enabled the Romans to use Christianity as the binding security doctrine of the late Empire, a framework that carried over into the whole history of Christendom.
DWill wrote:
The literal parts of belief that seem so strange and silly to us were the separators between groups, and those groups who tended to be more lax would have a harder time keeping their identities.
Yes exactly, Gnostic mystery teachings held by a secret elite do not generate the group cohesion that is delivered by simple belief in shared creeds with strong focus on personal morality.
DWill wrote:
I tend to have Landroid's skepticism about a return to institutional religion after the literal edifice has crumbled. For many young people, it is already in ruins, but are you seeing church buildings going up to embody some sacralized leavings of the old Christianity? The only growth industry in religion continues to be one that offers defined benefits such as wealth and answered prayers, along with secure walls between the righteous and the worldly.

What I call an Aquarian New Age Christianity that reconciles faith and reason has not yet been articulated in any publicly acceptable way. However, I see this as inevitable, since saving the world will require the integration of all the elements of existence that are conducive to human flourishing.


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Post Re: Millennials Are Leaving Religion And Not Coming Back
I caught the tail end of a lecture by Karen Armstrong on CSPAN. She has a new book out The Lost Art Of Scripture - Rescuing the Sacred Texts. This is related to literal vs. more expansive interpretations of religious texts. The NYT review by Nicholas Kristoff linked above begins with the exact verse that started my journey away from belief in the bible as literal truth (around age 19) and towards agnosticism.
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“Too many believers and nonbelievers alike now read these sacred texts in a doggedly literal manner that is quite different from the more inventive and mystical approach of premodern spirituality,” Armstrong writes. “Because its creation myths do not concur with recent scientific discoveries, militant atheists have condemned the Bible as a pack of lies, while Christian fundamentalists have developed a ‘Creation science’ claiming that the Book of Genesis is scientifically sound....Not surprisingly, all this has given Scripture a bad name.”


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When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; even though you multiply your prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood.
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But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.
Exodus 21: 23 - 25


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Post Re: Millennials Are Leaving Religion And Not Coming Back
Mandy123 wrote:
And then you have the Hindu world view that, in direct contrast to Christianity, postulates the idea that religion is an intensely personal matter between you and whatever form of God you choose to worship. There is no single sacred book that compels a Hindu to obey its rules or face divine wrath or eternal damnation. The sheer freedom of being a Hindu and the variety of options that Hindu worshippers have is enviable. As a millennial myself, I find myself drifting towards the Hindu idea of religion and spirituality.

Hi Mandy, have you lived in India? I have never been there but find Indian culture fascinating. Their ancient social traditions and rituals are intimately entwined with Hindu faith, with far more depth than in Western countries.


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Post Re: Millennials Are Leaving Religion And Not Coming Back
Robert Tulip wrote:
Mandy123 wrote:
And then you have the Hindu world view that, in direct contrast to Christianity, postulates the idea that religion is an intensely personal matter between you and whatever form of God you choose to worship. There is no single sacred book that compels a Hindu to obey its rules or face divine wrath or eternal damnation. The sheer freedom of being a Hindu and the variety of options that Hindu worshippers have is enviable. As a millennial myself, I find myself drifting towards the Hindu idea of religion and spirituality.

Hi Mandy, have you lived in India? I have never been there but find Indian culture fascinating. Their ancient social traditions and rituals are intimately entwined with Hindu faith, with far more depth than in Western countries.

I've never been there either but India's been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. I'm particularly fascinated by their concepts of dharma, karma and moksha and have been exploring these for some time now. Hindu philosophy is wayyyy deeper than most people realize.



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Post Re: Millennials Are Leaving Religion And Not Coming Back
LanDroid wrote:
I gather you're suggesting that once the foundation and rot are washed away by drastically declining attendance, perhaps something better can be rebuilt.
I prefer to see things in a more positive light than this sequential dependence on collapse of the old implies. The new can be built regardless of what old institutions may do. It is more that the Gospels actually do provide an underlying coherent framework for the salvation of the world, without any need for supernatural mythology, and that the positive task is to uncover this hidden coherence.

For example, ideas such as that God is Love can be grounded in a physical perception of the cosmos as filled with grace, in a way that gives precedence to the laws of physics over theological imagination. Cosmic natural order has provided the amazing ability for our fragile planet to generate the astounding complexity of modern humanity, and this should be read as the implicit meaning of the Gospel miracles, read entirely as parables.

Yes there is a need to dwell on the negative, explaining history in terms of a fall from grace and promise of redemption. The rise of Christianity as a delusional system reflects this overall claim that human existence has become alienated from reality, the key idea of the fall into corruption. Yet even this story of a vision of transformation has a profoundly positive content, even while condemning Christendom as overwhelmingly corrupt and deluded.

History changes by constructing a new vision in the midst of a decaying old order. Saint Paul explained this in his ecological theology in Romans 8:18ff
Quote:
the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in this hope we were saved.

Paul says the world is pregnant with a New Age, even while the Old Age dominates with its perverse bondage to decay. I interpret this against the precession framework to apply both to the transition from the imagined Age of Aries to the Age of Pisces in Paul’s day and to the current emerging transition from the Age of Pisces to the Age of Aquarius. The moral challenge is to construct a coherent New Age vision tha builds on the evolutionary precedents of the past. That means combining the positive vision of how the Gospel story provides purpose and meaning within a modern scientific framework together with a negative critique of how the Gospel was twisted by the politics and psychology of Christendom to produce a hopelessly deluded outlook with no prospect of enduring against the withering onslaught of modern knowledge.

I agree with the article that young people today rightly see the church as having failed its moral duty of trust, with religion under a cloud of suspicion in terms of its ability at moral instruction. Taking the analysis further, the sense of betrayal is irrevocable and unforgivable for the current doctrines of the church. Forgiveness requires repentance, and for the church, repentance means accepting that all its past doctrines have included a sick admixture of political corruption that has to be systematically analysed and removed before the institution can be rebuilt.


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Post Re: Millennials Are Leaving Religion And Not Coming Back
Robert Tulip wrote:
Hi Harry! Merry Christmas! Nice to see your comments.

Hi Robert. Nice to be around again, for at least a few days during vacation. I am now a teacher in the U.S. and my experience in international schools was not a good preparation for working with ordinary students. So I am generally immersed in work in an effort to adapt my methods. Next school year I hope to regain a life.

In the meantime, Merry Christmas, Jolly New Year, and general Happy Holidays to everyone here.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Here is my response to DWill.
As usual, I will feel free to jump in to this interesting conversation.

Robert Tulip wrote:
The chaos of Gnostic thought is well illustrated in the New Age movement, which is mostly grounded in emotional folk traditions rather than logic and evidence.
I am fascinated by the process of seeking symbolic versions of people's emotional priorities, and the amazing inventiveness of teachers and leaders in matching doctrines to desires. It's all mediated by a fundamental motivation to have our doctrines be true for everyone, and not just fit our own emotional priorities.

For a very long time now, culture has had to negotiate difficult issues of group norms (our group does not eat shellfish, our group does not allow marrying first cousins) in tension with individual autonomy (people seek their own priorities against those of the group, people marry outside the group, immigration and emigration reflect outside events, etc.) The ways this gets sorted out seem to have major sociological implications.

As modern life has shifted toward explicit rationality as a way to adjudicate these competing claims, requirements of emotional harmony have correspondingly been demoted. (Essentially, rationalism is giving the same "Get over it" message to emotions that dominant mores have long given to alternative mores.) So it isn't too surprising to find people who simultaneously reject the dominant cultural traditions of the past and embrace "irrational" elements cadged from marginalized and displaced traditions of the past. I enjoyed a recent talk with a student considering following Wicca, but nervous about rejection from her parents if she does so.

Robert Tulip wrote:
An example of the confusion is around the standard view that Gnostics hate the world. There are undoubtedly many who interpret things in that way, both on the allegedly Gnostic and the literalist sides, but the confusion arises with completely differing ideas about what we mean by ‘the world’. Some mean the natural universe, while others just mean the constructed society of human culture.
The danger in jumping from condemnation of the evil of the world to the false assumption that nature is evil illustrates how spiritual tendencies can easily be unhealthy. We see this unhealthy tendency in the assumption that hedonistic lifestyles are justified by an apocalyptic theology.

We all have competing impulses within our sexuality. Rationality urges us to sort these out, and have established patterns for negotiating them. Other -isms have taken other approaches in prioritizing particular aspects (family commitment, male dominance, individual self-expression, etc.) Much of the tension with "the world" comes from rejection of dominance systems and the privileged role granted to masculine aggression within those frameworks. Since masculine aggression is easily associated with "human nature," we get an easy equivalence between nature itself and the evil in dominance systems. Or at least that's how I read the gnostic confusion of world with nature.

Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
You [i.e. Robert] seemed to suggest that the triumph of the Jesus-story-as-history view was all due to corrupt priests seeking to cement their influence. But the predominance of followers naturally wanting a solid, no-nonsense, literal version created a wealth of opportunity for such priests.
Yes, and I think that opportunity illustrates my point about the priority of emotional security over rational coherence within religious faith. In the absence of simple coherence, people will go with a system that delivers security.
I tend to sort out this early literal/metaphorical tension in terms of the great motivators of the early church. On one hand there was a Pauline trajectory of seeking to spread the message of God-worship (monotheism, in some sense) to the entire world and it's internal motivation in terms of Messianic eschatology. On the other hand there was a Jamesian, Palestine-based trajectory of emphasizing commonality and koinonia, seeking to restructure a radical social shake-up based on the prophesied Peaceable Kingdom in which all could draw directly on the spiritual blessings of mutual care.

The two trajectories are not in contradiction in any sense. Both pushed people toward a spiritual, rather than a formalistic, understanding of the forces at work. I suspect the mythology that grew up around Jesus' death and the Resurrection event were literalized in a very natural process, not requiring any suppression of metaphorical readings. The metaphors told people a lot about what the fundamental trajectories were seeking and how the Great Spirit was helping to bring these about. The metaphors were thickly integrated into the fabric of the early church, whether in the Eucharistic ritual, or in the Kingdom parables, or in the judgement stories, or in the evolving interpretation of the meaning of Jesus' martyrdom.
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
The literal parts of belief that seem so strange and silly to us were the separators between groups, and those groups who tended to be more lax would have a harder time keeping their identities.
Yes exactly, Gnostic mystery teachings held by a secret elite do not generate the group cohesion that is delivered by simple belief in shared creeds with strong focus on personal morality.

Yes, but I find it hard to justify a sort of "any belief would do" approach to understanding these fragmentations. Probably the "strict and clear" vs. "metaphorical and tolerant" approach did a lot of sorting out, but it would not have taken any deeply penetrating insight to recognize that over-zealousness about particular beliefs (iconoclastic statue-breaking, condemnation of eating meat from the pagan temples, where it had been presented to idols, etc.) could undermine the very spirituality and peacefulness that were the sources of much of Christianity's appeal.



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Robert Tulip
Thu Dec 26, 2019 1:55 pm
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