Losing My Religion

The younger generation does not seem to adhere to Christian teachings as firmly as the previous generations did. Once an all-pervading monopoly in our society and the foundation of our spiritual well-being, Christianity might be losing its foothold in modern world values. Is religion still important to us, or is it now merely an old-fashioned kitsch doomed to subside just like many other traditions?

Taken+at+St.+Philips+Church.

Tommy Kuo

Taken at St. Philips Church.

The inexorable march of the 21st century is bringing us new world views on a per-second basis, yet at the same time taking things that we once cherished away from the world. Every two weeks a language dies with the art, culture, traditions, and wisdom associated with it. One day the same may happen to Christianity. According to the 2011 National Household Survey, 67.3% of Canadians are Christian, a slight decrease from around 70% in 2001; and 23.9% of Canadians are not religious, up from 16.5% a decade ago. The fall of Christianity in Canada is the most significant in the province of British Columbia, in which fourteen Anglican churches might be shut down because of declining attendance.

In just a few decades, the influence of Christianity on the society and on us has greatly diminished. St. George’s School, once an Anglican Catholic school, is no longer religiously affiliated. Our daily conversation seldom broaches the topic of God (except some overused or maybe misused phrases such as “oh my god” and “god damn it”). Many people leave churches and never make their way back. What changes have occurred that give rise to the decline of Christianity? Is it a blessing or a curse?

The remnants of Christianity of our school can be found on top of the Junior School building.
The remnants of Christianity of our school can be seen from the Junior School building. (Tommy Kuo)

Alternatives available

English teacher Ms. Jennifer Torry, a Catholic, recounted her grandparents’ loyalty to the Catholic Church. They lived in a small house and could barely feed the family, but they still contributed a lot of money to build a church full of gold in their community. “Potentially priorities have changed, and I think possibly people feel less of a need for religion […] People find their own hope […] which is what religion provided,” she said.

At this point, it is worth mentioning yoga practice, which is often regarded as the cultivation for spirituality. When people find faith in spiritual activities, they have a choice to not resort to the mainstream Christian belief. In Vancouver, yoga is undoubtedly a thriving diversion, which may drive people away from Christianity.

Self-centered organisation

Ms. Sylva Pohanka, a language teacher, yoga guru and reiki devotee, put the blame on the nature of Christianity being an organised religion, followers of which are indoctrinated to exclude other existing religions. “I’m spiritual and never religious,” she said. “But I’m not against religion. I really appreciate that Buddhism is open to other beliefs. Christianity can make people narrow-minded because it rejects other religions.”

Another example would be Jehovah’s Witnesses, a non-Trinitarian religious organisation derived and distinct from Christianity. It claims to be the genuine Christianity, and therefore turns against any other Christian beliefs. Followers are strictly required to follow a set of odd practices, some of which include not joining in the national anthem and not receiving blood from other people.

Conflicts with modern values

English teacher Mr. Jeremy Sayers, who is also against organised religion, assumed that the reason why St. George’s School no longer introduces Christianity to students is “because we live in an increasingly diverse community. Vancouver is a very multicultural society. The school recognised that in order to accurately reflect that diverse community they are going to have to include people who were not a part of the Christian faith.”

This can mean that in favour of multiculturalism, Christianity cannot remain dominant and may need to give way in order to create an inclusive and harmonious society.

Catholic students Didi and Jakob, respectively from Jamaica and Germany, admitted that certain Christian teachings do not agree with modern beliefs. “There are things that don’t make sense, just like Abraham lived 175 years. We all know that’s not possible,” said Didi. Jakob directly pointed out that “Christianity is not rational. We need science and reasoning.”

This reveals the long-standing conflict between science and religion. Galileo Galilei, a celebrated Italian scientist in the 17th century, was condemned by the Catholic Church since he disproved Geocentrism, a firmly held belief endorsed by the Church at that time. Now in the 21st century, a time when science is overruling almost everything else, the decline of Christianity may seem justifiable.

The decline of Christianity may also be hastened after The Boston Globe disclosed in early 2002 the paedophile scandal of the Catholic Church. Priests who were not allowed to have sexual relationships under celibacy took advantage of children of humble origin and sexually abused them. What was more shocking was that the sexual abuse case was not endemic to America, but also occurred virtually all around the world, including Argentina, Australia, Canada, the Philippines, the United Kingdom, etc. Such stigma may completely taint the saintliness of Christianity. (On a side note, the word “stigma” originally means a mark created with a chiseled instrument, symbolising the crucifixion wound of Jesus Christ.)

Church pews are removed from the chapel in the Junior School.
Church pews are removed from the chapel in the Junior School. (Tommy Kuo)

Virtues on the flip side of vices

Amidst the criticism of the religion, Christianity is in fact not completely erroneous and wicked. Ms. Emily Rossnagel, teacher of Outdoor Education, thought that “many religions have similar teachings as Christianity, so there must be something right about Christianity.” For instance, many religions believe in afterlife – the virtuous go to heaven, and the depraved go to hell. Ms. Torry said that even though she went to church less frequently, she still retained the moral teachings of the Catholic Church.

The word “religion” came from Latin roots meaning reconnection. Generally speaking, religion allows us to develop optimism and a sense of belonging, thus leading us to a healthier life. When asked why they were still holding onto Christianity, Didi and Jakob unanimously said it was due to family influence. “When there are challenges in my life [and] when I have conflicts with other people, I can go back to prayer. If I don’t have a religion, I can’t talk to anyone,” added Jakob. For Ms. Rossnagel, she felt a sense of community in church. “People not from the same background can come together. You can also meet some really kind people in church.” Reconnection exists in multiple forms; once you lose the connection to the world, Christians believe you can reconnect to God to get your body and mind healed, and reconnect to others who share your belief to develop friendly and long-lasting relationships with them.

Sunday Service is about to start in St. Philip's Church. However, it is hardly a full house, and the attendees are mostly seniors.
Sunday Service is about to start in St. Philip’s Church. However, it is hardly a full house, and the attendees are mostly seniors. (Tommy Kuo)

What we have learned

The decline of Christianity may be even more complex than we think. Despite the decline, the purpose of religion – to teach us to be better people and to make the world a better place – has never changed. Religion has the power to transform a society and its people, in both a good way and a bad way. When our society is flawed and deprived of morals, a righteous religion plays an important role to rectify any mistakes in the system. But as long as we all live happily together and do no harm to the world, does it actually matter what religious beliefs we are holding or should hold?