Christianity in the United States is Dead, but not for the Reasons you Think

Christianity in the United States is dead, but not for the reasons you think. It has nothing to do with declining membership in the mainline or even in megachurches. You don’t need a single statistic about worship attendance, or any reports about the “nones” and their disillusionment with the culture wars to tell Christianity has no pulse – although our obsession with such statistics is a good indicator how far progressed the decay is.

Here is all you need to know: in a country where 78.4% of people call themselves Christian (that’s about 246,000,000 people), over 50,000,000 people don’t have enough food. Assuming total overlap of these two demographics (unlikely) that still means that only 1 in 4 Christians would have to find 1 hungry person to feed and we would have 0 hungry people in this country.

Not enough evidence Christianity is a corpse? Try this: in a country that considers itself 4/5 Christian we have over 3% of our adult population in prison or on parole. We are only 5% of the world’s population, but have over 25% of the world’s prison population.

Want more? What are you a necrophiliac? Here: led by presidents who often publicly proclaim their Christian faith and supported by overwhelmingly Christian legislators, in the past decade we have initiated military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan (as well as Libya and a few other places our drones are roaming) which have killed at least 150,000 people by the most conservative estimates (actual figures are probably much higher).

I could offer lots of other examples (such as the amount we spend on Christmas versus the cost of eliminating world hunger) but you get the point. If by Christianity you mean the way of life that Jesus of Nazareth demonstrated and encouraged his disciples to propagate, then it’s been dead in this country for a long long time and we’re finally starting to notice the stink.

  • Tom Paine

    The kingdom is at hand. But the kingdom is not here. Is there a huge gap between the way Christians live and the way Christ called us to live? Absolutely! Is it time to write those who claim him off? No. If we hear the call to live a more just and gracious life, then it is our calling to urge others to it as well. Our problem is we are ready to “bury the dead” instead of trying to “heal the sick.” Maybe your goal is to have them call out, “I’m not dead yet!” :) But I find too many giving up instead of engaging. As Jesus said, the harvest is great, but there are not enough workers.

    • aricclark

      I’d love to hear some Monty Pythonesque “I’m not dead yet” shouts.

      I’m engaged in a bit of hyperbole, but I think it is warranted. The scale of the failure here doesn’t allow me to say something milder like “we just need to try harder”. The truth, as it appears to me, is that the vast majority of those of us calling ourselves Christian are nothing of the sort. It has become little more than a label for the dominant culture with a bit of squishy metaphysics and some public rituals attached.

      A second aspect of this post is that I’m trying to point out how the kind of stuff we spend a lot of time talking about when it comes to conversations about the state of Christianity in our country, things like membership and trends among the younger generations, are a huge distraction. The way to measure the health of our faith is in its works of justice and mercy, not in its appeal to the unchurched.

  • Dwain DePew

    Jim Wallis of the Sojourners community tells of counting passages in the Old and New Testament and finding the most mentioned topic is financial justice and responsibility. Prayer comes in second.

  • Rich

    Nicely outlined… no argument I can think of to counter it. Glad you are trying mouth to ear resuscitation out there in Fort Morgan. JH Yoder is pretty fab, eh? Riane Eisler is my latest tack. Best of luck.

  • Tarah Van De Wiele

    Thank you, this is excellent and appropriately painful to read. I’m an 8 as well : )

  • Robert Davidson

    Where are you getting the figures 78.4% Christian. Definitely not up here in New England, where places like Boston and Providence are faithless majorities. Check out Barna Cities/

    • aricclark

      You can click through the link to see where the figures come from. It is the latest Pew Forum poll on the religious landscape of the US. Over 35,000 adults from around the country. There will obviously be regional variation.

  • Robert Davidson

    Where are you getting the figures 78.4% Christian. Definitely not up here in New England, where places like Boston and Providence are faithless majorities. Check out Barna Cities/

  • Stonebec

    I stopped being a Christian many years ago and now am a Deist. As for feeding the hungry or people in prison, I help support several families caught in the pinch as best I can and support a person recovering from cancer and all the treatments and surgeries and supplies involved by sending money every month and trying to get her paroled to live with me. I do not have a large income but it is enough for me and thee. I do not talk about these activiities because the few times I have, the response has been “You are such a good Christian” – not person, but ‘Christian’. What gives the Christians the perogative to be the only humanity conscious people in the world. I have experienced more inhumanity from self-professed Christians than any other people in my life.

    • aricclark

      Christians don’t get a monopoly on moral consciousness. My experience like yours is that Christians are just as capable of cruelty and indifference (maybe more so) than other people. As a Christian, however, it isn’t my place to chide people of other religions or no-religion. This is a getting the log out of our own eye first situation.

      • Us Indian

        I can bet you Christians cannot do what the Buddhist are capable of doing to the minorities in Sri lanka or the other IndoChinese nations, or as much as Hindu fanatics have been doing forever to the minorities in India or for that matter of fact for the Muslims all around the world, or the atheists in the communist countries in this world. Instead of making blanket statement, I dare you to name something like I did above that Christianity has done in the last century. Please don’t go about saying UK and US and all these secular countries….you have to get better than that.

  • Anonymous

    Dont buy it. The poorest states have the highest obesity rates, and one is much more likely to be obese if he/she is below the poverty line. America is a land of food, even for the poor. That is why you never hear reports of Americans dying of starvation. Do some Americans have irregular access to food? Yes. To healthy food? Yes. To food? Only in very unusual circumstances.

    I live where the majority of people live below the poverty line. If any of them do not eat, it’s because they choose not to eat. Food stamps are as easy to come by as oxygen. And those stamps are used to buy junk food. Or the food stamps are exchanged on the street at a .60 exchange rate for cash. That cash is then used to buy tobacco and alcohol. I get my groceries where most people use food stamps. I see it every time I shop. I can feed a family of four for $10 a day. Rice, beans, greens, chicken on sale. This is how people for centuries have survived on far less money than what the poor have today. It’s not how most whom I see shop with food stamps shop.

    50 million Americans dont have enough food? Outrageous. 49.9 million Americans who say they don’t have enough food set their priorities which do not include getting enough food.

  • Jesus Christ

    We are so lucky to have this much self-congratulation and self-righteousness bound up in one irrelevant package preaching to the already converted!
    And Jim Wallis is about as “Progressive” on gay marriage as Pat Robertson, Dwain. Guess he can’t get too far ahead of Black and Hispanic Baptists and Pentecostals on that “Justice” issue.
    As an atheist, I’m glad you and the Fundiegelicals get to argue over who has the better invisible friend; now please go away and let the reality-based try and deal with the massive funding gaps left in the budget because both you and the “Creationists” are still scared of losing your tax breaks.

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  • Charis Varnadore

    Not to mention the money we Christians spend on micobrewed beer and WoW games. I love the pub menatlity as far as location and community, but just give me the house brand on tap.

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  • Tom

    Christianity is dead? Christianity will never die. Citing broad statistics of a secular society (what the Bible calls ‘the world’), is a non-sequitur. What is has been called Christianity and what is Christianity are two very diffrent things. The body of true believers has always been few and scattered, throughout history. You would understand this is you actually read the bible. Read the bible; it is very enlightening.

    God will bring you into judgment, Aric. Let’s hope you get over yourself soon, so that you might have the eyes to see and the ears to hear the real Jesus.

  • Us Indian

    150K killed by Christians? What are you on? Muslims fascism and intolerance is the cause of all those death. So by your account if a sunni kills a Shia and bunch of others, then it is US’s fault? Why, even pimple on Sadam’s nose was US’s fault…why not? You cannot inherit other’s sin, as much as another man’s positive action. Each one will be judged based on his own action. Additionally, its not the Christians who send the soldiers to war. It was the country USA, which has the separation of church and state that contains in addition to the 76%, the remaining 24% as well.