There are billions of religious adherents worldwide. Most adopt the tradition of their culture with little questioning. However, among those billions of adherents there is a small but growing group of disaffected. They find many of the claims of the traditions untenable from the worldview that they find compelling. They can not longer in all honesty say the creeds of dogma. They have embraced a personal intuition about how reality works based on the best human knowledge and learning can offer. Many try to cling to their traditions while silently disavowing many of its supernatural claims. Often they can no longer tolerate this duplicity and leave their traditions all together. They still remain committed to their core intuitions that there is a God who loves them but they have great difficulty finding a community within which to celebrate and expound on that deep belief.
So how do the traditions respond to this trend? It’s not as if the disaffected can go unnoticed. Survey after survey shows a persistent decline in church membership. Why are people leaving the church? There can be many reasons. The most common is irrelevance. Others include unbelievability of claims. But why is traditional religion considered irrelevant or unbelievable? The historic grip that the traditions had on adherents was the threat of hell and the promise of eternal life. Apparently that grip has lost its power. There can, obviously, be many other reasons. However, whatever the reasons the church should be obliged to response. Has it? Not really. The traditions have failed to respond to the “protests” of these disaffected. Instead they may be considered apostates who need to return to the faith. Arguments are mounted to try to dissuade the disaffected of their skepticism. Does this work? For most, No. The thing about enlightenment is that there is no way back. It’s like child learning that there is no Santa Claus. No contrary argument can reverse the insight. So if the attempt to return the lambs back into the fold fails, they become abandoned and forgotten. Instead many of the disaffected forge out on their own to find a spiritual bearing for their sacred intuitions. This may lead to the religion or philosophy section in bookstores, the Unitarian Universalists, or other unsystematic approaches to religion. This can and often leads to further disenchantment with religion. It may also deprives these noble individuals of the benefits of faithing communities where their faith can flower and be productive.
It’s time for the traditions to step up and remember those who protest. For as Tillich says it is in protest that the idols of religion are destroyed and the Spiritual Presence becomes powerful again. Today there are many theologians who ignore this protest. They go about their studies and explications that amount to nothing more than nuancing the very propositions that the disaffected find so untenable. This does nothing more than support the idolatries of the past. If the theology of the future is to remain relevant to those who are the true seekers it must embrace their protest and forge new ground. It can do this and still remain faithful to the core intuition that reality is of God and that God loves us.