A widely publicized survey on religion in America, conducted by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life, has caused concern in the religious community and in some cases sparked criticism.
The findings from a 2008 Pew Forum study, the "U.S. Religious Landscape Survey," indicate a great deal of flux in church affiliation and attendance, an “openness to a range of religious viewpoints,” and marked differences in religious identification among generations. One overall observation of the study was that “constant movement characterizes the American religious marketplace, as every major religious group is simultaneously gaining and losing adherents.” While more than a quarter of adults have left the faith they were raised in, the number of people professing no religious affiliation has been sharply increasing. At the same time, people do not appear to be giving up their search for the truth.
For some, the most disturbing aspect of this earlier survey has to do with religious awareness. The report affirms that people in America do take religion seriously – over half regularly attend services and pray daily. But contradicting this are the results of a 32-question poll “about the Bible and other world religions, historical figures, and constitutional principles” included in the recent "U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey." The respondents barely answered half of the questions correctly – sometimes even those pertaining to their own faith. Perhaps even more surprising, atheists and agnostics got the best scores. These results prompted Boston University Professor Stephen Prothero to proclaim, “We’re a nation of religious illiterates.”
Responses to surveys may indicate a presence or absence of general knowledge, but they don’t necessarily show what we hold in our hearts. And it’s more than a little unlikely that people no longer possess the fundamental need to understand who they are, how they are made, and what their purpose is.
Indeed, this latest survey points to the continuing search for such answers. Moreover, it’s pretty clear that the world is looking as never before to find healing in myriad forms – emotional, financial, societal, as well as physical.
The fulfillment of that search is best left entrusted to God. “Remember,” wrote Mary Baker Eddy, “that the letter and mental argument are only human auxiliaries to aid in bringing thought into accord with the spirit of Truth and Love, which heals the sick and the sinner” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” pp. 454-455). In her advancing search to understand the Principle by which Jesus healed untold numbers, she studied the Bible constantly, for a period of years. And in explaining her resulting discovery of Christian Science, she concluded that each individual does in fact already possess an irrepressible spiritual awareness of his or her God-given perfection – “a divine influence ever present in human consciousness and repeating itself, coming now as was promised aforetime....” (Science and Health, p. xi). This holy influence is the Christ, the same conviction of our relation to God that Jesus fully embodied. This is a healing power not of ourselves. A gift of God’s grace. An awareness of unchanging good, the truth of creation.
Sometimes the Christ understanding seems completely hidden to oneself or others. The evidence of sickness, war, hatred, fear, crime, poverty, misery, torture, terror, screams that Christ doesn’t exist, can’t exist, has never existed. That is perhaps where so many find themselves these days – bombarded with a conglomeration of sensory evidence that says faith traditions and sacred texts may no longer hold the answers to “the tough questions.”
If so, then that is also where those who profess a love of God and their neighbor, and who have sensed even just a hint of the healing truth, have the privilege of living by example. Rather than lament a loss of faith in society, or criticize people for their lack of knowledge, we might ask ourselves our own questions: Just what are people asking for, searching for? Just what do I have to offer? Does society’s apparent ignorance and indifference to the things of God mirror any unawareness and uncertainty in my own life? The fact is, through our own trust in Truth, we have the opportunity to inspire hope and conviction in others as well.
Even as a boy, Jesus possessed a profound knowledge of Hebrew law and prophecy that rivaled even the learned men of the temple, and the Bible says his teaching was not pedantic but full of authority. Yet factual knowledge was not the sum and substance of what he expected of his followers. He taught the Golden Rule and preached simple-but-powerful lessons about doing rather than saying, loving unconditionally, and nurturing a genuine ability to heal as he did.
“The letter of Science plentifully reaches humanity to-day, but its spirit comes only in small degrees,” wrote Mary Baker Eddy. “The vital part, the heart and soul of Christian Science, is Love” (Science and Health, p. 113). Nurturing this healing spirit, as Jesus practiced it, is a trustworthy means of seeking and finding the answers to life’s toughest questions, for the good of all. It’s activity that will never grow obsolete. And it will yield results that speak for themselves.
From an editorial in the Christian Science Sentinel.