A couple weeks ago I posted about atheism and the view among scientists as to whether or not they believed in God or a "higher power", as opposed to claiming strict atheism. My friend Will (who has a curiously detailed understanding of Taco Bell and its workings) mentioned that atheism is becoming more acceptable as a world view.
He is in fact correct. It is becoming easier and trendier for people to label themselves atheists. One facet of this is the growing phenomenon of the "practical atheist". This is a person who is a part of a religious institution out of habit or heritage, that is impacted little or not at all at the personal level by the teachings of their religion. For example, a person that grows up in church but never really internalizes the teachings of the church, never cultivates a relationship with Christ, and lives a life that is no different than a non-member of a church, could be called a practical atheist. For all practical purposes, they may believe in God in their head, but in their life it makes no difference.
More and more of these people are realizing that if their religious heritage has no real bearing on their lives, than their lives would be easier without it. So, they are declaring themselves "atheist", or agnostic at least. Even if one of them would not formally declare themself an atheist, they would probably admit that God is not to be found in their life.
This speaks to the urgency of parents and church leaders to help cultivate the relationship with Jesus Christ that is at the heart of the Gospel. Although I would not wish anyone to leave their church tradition if they found it unuseful, who could blame them? I understand completely why they would do so. The fact is, it is much easier to discard a regiment than it is to discard a relationship. I start working out and then quit about five times each year. But I have never left my wife once in ten years.
To leave a relationship requires the counting of the cost of broken ties, hurt feelings, and the tarnishing of memories and experiences together, not to mention loneliness and regret. Sadly, for so many people, church is no more useful to them than a crash diet or an exercise gadget. And what, ultimately, could be more useful than a relationship with the creator and sustainer of all things?