This post is in particular response to Patrick Mongeau’s recent post, “Is God Dead?”
by Ingrid Rodrick Beiler (b. 1981)
The title of Patrick’s post of course alludes to Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous quote, “God is dead,” which first appeared in print in 1882, one hundred and two years before Patrick was born. I will leave it to those better educated in philosophy than me to elaborate on the meaning of the quote. My point in citing its date of origination is simply to highlight that the idea of religion’s imminent disappearance is not new.
While I agree with Patrick that a large segment of our generation in the United States and the Western world has concluded that all faiths or religions are in essence the same, I think the prediction that these views will soon hold sway among everyone overlooks the diversity of our generation.
First, to my own experience with faith: While some Christian denominations are losing many of their young members, evangelical congregations and ministries tend to be very young. At my own church, I estimate that half or two-thirds of the members are in their thirties or younger. My previous church experiences have been similar—and these have been in Norway and Massachusetts, that is, solidly outside the Bible Belt. Moreover, evangelical denominations in general are experiencing growth in the United States and elsewhere. I state this not as an endorsement of everything evangelicalism represents, simply as evidence of a trend.
Second, to my experience with friends and acquaintances: Through a friend who is a French Muslim studying in DC, I have had the opportunity to attend some Muslim student events locally. Representing immigrants and native-born Americans, these students may interpret their religion in varying ways but continue to identify as distinctly Muslim. At least the ones I know personally also hold onto Islam as uniquely true rather than equal to all other faiths. In addition, as an ESL teacher who lives in a primarily Latino neighborhood, I meet many Catholics, young and old, who help to sustain their local congregations. Latinos are of course a growing demographic, who play a significant role in shaping American Catholicism.
So, in conclusion, I don’t think we have seen the last of religion defined by distinctive beliefs. While religious beliefs and institutions will continue to evolve in the 21st century, I don’t expect Nietzsche’s declaration to reach fulfillment in this century any more than it did in the last.
Ingrid Rodrick Beiler is an adult ESL teacher and M.A. TESOL student, who lives in Washington, DC. She is from Oslo, Norway, and Chelmsford, MA.