There is an old saying, "the reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated".
Is religion dying?
No. It is growing. Between now an 2050 Christianity will grow by nearly 800 million people. Islam much more than that eventually passing Christianity as the world's largest religions by 2070.
So let's get something straight from the start. And pay close attention to this because you have been sold a bill of liberal goods:Looking at protestants as an example.
The percent of people identifying as protestant in the US, since 1970 has declined from 62% to 51% in 2010. The number of people identifying as protestant has GROWN by a whopping 28 million people. So you tell me? is religion dying? Not by a long shot.
So what IS happening. Putting it into incorrect but almost universally accepted terms, liberal protestant denominations are declining rapidly. But the people are not going from Baptist to atheist. They are going conservative.
Why liberal churches like the Episcopal church has lost nearly 1/2 of its membership since 1970 the conservative Chruch of God in Christ has grown by a whopping 1194%. Evangelical Free Church 790%, Pentacostal Churches 430% and even the very large Southern Baptist Convention has grown by 46%.
So let's lay that to rest. Churches are not shrinking, they are changing. My own group, unaffiliated, Christian and dedicated to ministry to the poor through feeding and medical care, attracts more volunteers on Sunday sometimes than we can use. And there are a few of us old timers but a great many young, educated and at the top of their game. Many college students. And almost all of them in the sciences. Go figure.
And no it is not religion's job to "manipulate" people. That is a cheap shot and frankly anti-intellectual. People are just tired of going to churches that do not do anything except rehash old denominational differences. Greeting, hymn, bible reading, hymn, sermon, collection of money, announcements, hymn and now you are tanked up on righteousness for another week.
People basically want two things. They want to have a relationship with God that allows them to get help with life's furniture when the breaks are beating the boys. They want to see God's work actually happen. Jesus first and foremost preached love for our neighbors and care for the poor and downtrodden. So my church does not have a prayer service on Sunday, we just put people to work, cooking, handing out clothing, caring for pets, and offering a free medical clinic. Of course people come flocking to us for help. We line up homeless people around the block to get food and run our asses off in the clinic seeing some very ill people. There is hardly a week goes by that a life is not saved in the literal sense of the word. But equally, the volunteers, our congregation if you will, come to us in big numbers seeking real Christianity; even if some of them identify as Jews, Muslims or none-of-the-above. We do not collect money either. We don't need it. We have no paid staff, operate on a loaned location, and feed people on what people donate. But not a penny in cash.
For the Christians who might read this consider this Bible verse:
Then a certain ruler asked Him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
19“Why do you call Me good?” Jesus replied. “No one is good except God alone. 20You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not bear false witness, honor your father and mother.’”
21“All these I have kept from my youth,” he said.
22On hearing this, Jesus told him, “You still lack one thing: Sell everything you own and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.”
Notice the Jesus did not ask the man to give him the money or bring it with him. He said get rid of the money THEN come follow Me.
He goes on to say that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. But remember the first part. Sell all you own and give it to the poor, THEN......
So two things. I am sorry that your experience of religion is unfulfilling but I am not surprised. When I went to a mainstream church, I only liked half of the people, a third of the hymns and didn't see the good works, (if any) up close and personal. Sure they "minister" to their own people by Baptizing them, Marrying them and Burying them. Maybe visit them in the hospital.
But if, for you, religion means doing what God wants you to do in service to your fellow man, there is nothing stopping you from doing it. Find a group like ours that actually works with people helping them. We happen to be a church. But maybe you can exercise your faith by volunteering at the local hospital. Maybe you could visit people in nursing homes. Find some homeless guy on the street and buy him dinner. Deliver meals on wheels. But you say that is not religion it is just volunteering. So here is the secret.
Before you leave to do your volunteer work, say a prayer thanking God for the opportunity to do His work and asking him to put you onto someone who needs a little more help. Then help them. Feed them. Heal them. Visit them when they are alone. Whatever it is you do. Then when you are finished you say another prayer for the people you met and thanking God for allowing you to do what you did. That's Jesus' kind of religion for sure.
And here is what will happen. You will get captured. You will come to like the people you are helping. You will find more and more people needing your help and more and better ways to help them. Pretty soon it won't just be Sunday. It will be frequently. And THAT is the very essence of a Christ centered life. Sing a hymn if you want to. I hum Taylor Swift songs under my surgical mask. Heavenly.