I think one of the interesting issues that this latest anti-Hillsong conspiracy theory brings out is that many people, particularly Atheists, are disappointed that secularisation hasn’t panned out quite how they expected it. They expected that secularisation spelled the death of God, or the death of Christianity at least, and are now quite miffed to see it is not fading quietly into the night. Moreover, it seems the forms of Christianity that are thriving in secular environments are far more activist than those that are not, so if anything it must seem that the situation is getting worse. So what is really going on?

My contention is that secularisation has affected religious institutions in much the same way as deregulation has affected Banking institutions and Telecommunications institutions. It hurt those used to state protection; it helped those used to state suppression.

In the same way as the Commonwealth Bank and Telstra suffered losses of market share as their monopolistic grip over the financial and telecommunications industries in Australia was broken up with deregulation, so too the churches with the strongest ties to the state have often been the ones to suffer the most significant declines in membership as secularisation started biting.

In fact, if you look at the census data, relationship to the state seems to be one of the most reliable indicators of church decline or increase. The Catholic Church is the only exception (but different things are going on there). What this seems to suggest is that while secularisation may well spell the death of state-sponsored Christianity, it does not spell the death of Christianity as a whole. Quite the contrary, it points to a new era of state-independent Christianity, of more marginalised but more market-responsive forms of Christianity competing in an open market of religious and irreligious ‘isms’ where Atheism is only one of many options.

Now, some of these forms of Christianity will no doubt pander to the lowest common denominator, and yes we are seeing some of that already. But just as sophisticated products have their niche in an open market I also expect sophisticated forms of Christianity will have their niche too. And I expect the same can be said for other religious and irreligious options too. This boutique end of the spectrum is where I would like to locate myself.

But for people who thought the future was comfortably godless I suppose this must seem very threatening.

8 thoughts on “Secularization does not spell the death of Christianity

  1. The whole thing makes sense, honestly. Historically speaking, this is the way it ALWAYS worked: post-constantine, after the church had tied itself to the state, it either became the state or was destroyed. But those churches that didn’t tended to thrive in the localities in which they’d been planted. The best indicator of their thriving, though, was whether or not they sent out missionaries and whether they stayed decentralized. Kinda like today.

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  2. I think one of the things that goes along with all this though is that, while state sponsored churches are perceived as “boring”, they are at least perceived as “respectable”, at least in terms that the general public is used to.
    But state independent churches tend to be neither. So you easily get the general public flipping from whinging about traditional churches being moribund and “irrelevant” one minute, to whinging about innovative churches being so “uncouth” and dangerous the next. I think that’s a reality we just have to learn to expect.

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  3. And a lot of Christians, whether in the declining trad chs or the stronger contemporary ones, are trying to get Christians into politics, so that our great country’s Christian traditions are maintained. That doesn’t make the church attractive. I think what political power the church has is best used advocating for the voiceless, than advocating for ourselves.

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  4. Eric, I take it from the link that you’re talking about Australia? Had to check your link. I’m not so sure the average Aussie thinks we have that crash hot a Christian tradition to be honest. I get the impression Christianity is mostly viewed in terms of staid moralism; that our traditions owe more to neutered Christianity than anything else. We’ve never had a spiritual revival as such that’s worthy of the name. And, to play devils advocate, how is getting into politics to help the poor any less getting into politics to maintain our tradition?

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  5. John, what makes you think I am necessarily talking of diy spirituality here? State independent Christianity can be just as corporate and organized as state sponsored Christianity. The organization I mentioned at the start of this post, Hillsong, is a case in point. They’re very organized and authority very much comes into their thinking. In fact that’s one of the complaints leveled against it.
    And on another level, even the more anarchic forms of Christianity can never be truly said to be diy because we all acknowledge Jesus as master. On that level it could be said Christianity is intrinsically anti do it yourself, more so than Adidam.

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  6. Matt, Hillsong belongs to the tradition of show-biz started by P T Barnum. Based on the premise that there is more than one sucker born every mniute. It is soap opera only and as phoney as soap opera too. Collectively induced mass hysteria.
    It is also a modern version of the USA revivalist tent phenomenon.
    Christianity as it now exists is very much a do it yourself “religion”. To my mind the reference I pointed you to explains how/why. That reference also describes the essentially secularised common mind that informs most if not all forms of contemporary religion.
    Elsewhere and altogether Adi Da points out that the process (or sadhana) that is True Religion can only be engaged in the company of and via the instruction of a living breathing Realizer–one who can shout at you, test you, cajole you and kick your arse if necessary— dead guru’s cant kick arse is a famous quip of Adi Da—and its true.
    One of the best descriptions of the self-understanding and discipline required to live in the company of a living Spiritual Master is in the book The Chasm of Fire by Irina Tweedie. Irina describes how her sadhana was an all encompassing demand and a complete offense to all of her presumptions about herself.
    A traditional example is the biography of the Tibetan Saint Milarepa and the ordeal he had to go through to be fit to receive the instruction and guidance of his Spiritual Master Marpa. And of course the biography(ies) of Saint Theresa of Avila. No dilettantish dabbling allowed for or described in any of those three books.
    The self-guruing unmastered ego will always automatically reduce the Divine into a self consoling image of him or her self—it is what all egos do, all of the time.
    Adi Da recently wrote that the ego is incapable of being mastered, does not want to be mastered and always resists being mastered—is constantly at war with the Divine.
    The Realizer provides a living demonstration of that greater reality and is in a unique position to instruct his or her devotess and disciples.
    What is the secular disposition? It is a way of being in which what is considered real is entirely out “there” and in which all “inside” or subjective reality is considered delusional. Science, or rather scientism as a “profoundly” reductionist ideology, is always appealled to as the arbiter of what is real and possible. Some conventional religionists even appeal to science to verify religious propositions.
    See for instance Science & Religion:
    http://www.adidam.org/download/Religion%20and%20Science.pdf
    At the religious level it relies on “reason” to “prove” the existence of “god”—as in the benighted American Thinker and Stand to Reason etc etc.
    Western culture altogether has always had a strong bias to an entirely secular disposition. This is implicit in the concept of the Divine as being wholly other—the great other.
    In a recent essay Adi Da pointed out that it was only a matter of time and history before this concept of the Divine would INEVITABLY be discarded altogether and that as a consequence the mind of western man would be entirely secularised. And by extension the entire now “westernised” world.
    Scientism or materialism now rules everywhere. It is a nieve presumption, and a devastating one. It is fundamental to the present day destruction of civilization and life altogether. Scientism constantly hammers all of us that “reality” is entirely and only out “there”. Every square inch of our “culture” is saturated with this out “there” presumption and message.
    All appeals to greater experience and to unique individuals has been denounced.
    The materialistic tendency in the West began to become big time during the Renaissance and essentially solidified by the time of Nietzsche–hence his famous god is dead.
    The Reformation also had a “profound” influence on this secularising process.
    Tradition and authority were thrown out. But even that Tradition was only half-baked. One was left with nothing but the book, which served for a little while until the book itself was analyzed and found to be mostly untrue.
    Therefore, what connection is there to Reality and Truth? The local pastor is just as much over whelmed by the prevailing reductionist scientism and he or she is also full of his/her own unresolved problems and complications.
    The loss of the Sacred is the effect of this scientism. We are all mad now you see. This collective madness will only be corrected by Saints and Realizers. That is the way it has always been, and that is the only way it will change, now and in the future. The only cure is the Invasion of the Divine into the human realm, through Saints and Realizers of various degress of Realization.
    This understanding is common to traditional Hindus and it is also implicit in the veneration of Saints in the Catholic Tradition. Although this concept was degraded and debased by the previous Pope. Some of his “saints” were dubious to say the least. More to do with right wing patriarchal authoritarian politics—father knows best.
    Put in another way the Renaissance was a time when Western man turned from the Sacred or devotion to the Divine to the “glorification” of the “individual”. It was signalled in many ways. J S Bach used to sign his works “To the Glory of God”. That tradition soon disappeared. All of the arts were similarly affected and the culture altogether. William Blake lamented this disaster and also predicted its inevitable outcome.
    It all happened gradually,a bit at a time. But it was an inevitable outcome of the concept of the Divine as wholly “other”.
    All kinds of historical incidents reinforced the disposition. Fundamental to it all is the divorce from the Whole, and. therefore from the Divine, or the Sacred, and investment in the separate position, the solidified egoic position.
    The creation of this new civilization required that everything be renounced that had anything to do with investment in the whole, anything that had to do with going beyond separate self, anything to do with participation in the great Unity. Civilization is no longer about ones participation in the great Unity and That Which is its Source, but it is about one’s aggressively manifesting ones individuality in competition with others and requiring governments, politics, economics, everything, to do the same, to be based on that principle of separation and to reinforce it. Now the entire world is involved in an endeavour to glorify the individual dissociated from the whole—the social whole, the universal whole, the natural whole, the Source, the Divine Source, which Realizers know is True and Real.

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  7. “Christianity as it now exists is very much a do it yourself “religion”. To my mind the reference I pointed you to explains how/why.”
    To be honest I don’t think Adi Da has a very good grasp on Protestantism at all. Protestants place much authority in the teaching of the Apostles. It’s one of the cornerstones of the movement. It’s one of the things other paths criticize us for. Hardly DIY.
    “One of the best descriptions of the self-understanding and discipline required to live in the company of a living Spiritual Master…”
    I have a living Spiritual Master. Jesus.
    “True Religion can only be engaged in the company of and via the instruction of a living breathing Realizer”
    What are you going to do when Adi Da no longer breathes?

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