In truth, the decline of American religious practice can be traced not to the intransigence of America’s religious institutions, but to their desperate attempts to “reach out” to young people by forsaking key values. Values alienate. Behavioral requirements alienate. Talk about sin alienates. Talk about heaven and hell alienates. And so religious institutions decided not to focus on such uncomfortable but eternal truths in order to fill pews. Major religious institutions across the United States decided that it would be more effective to draw constituents with honey rather than vinegar – forgetting, of course, that religion isn’t either. Religion is fine wine: it may taste bitter when it first hits the tongue, but it is rich, sweet, and beautiful when you know what you’re drinking. Religion without standards is kumbaya happy talk, requiring neither God nor church.
Churches, in an effort to avoid losing government-guaranteed tax-exempt status, stopped speaking out about secular assaults on religious freedom. They stopped speaking against candidates who embraced the murder of the unborn or the corruption of the marital institution via governmental embrace of “alternative family structures.” Instead, they suggested that church was for barbecues, get-togethers, date nights, and the occasional Psalm-reading session.
Americans quickly realized that the churches had shifted focus from providing eternal truths to providing transient community-building exercises. And they realized that it’s a lot more fun to go to the beach on a Sunday morning than to sit on uncomfortable wooden benches.