The Rise in Religiouslike Zeal for Nonreligious Causes

Zeal for religion is diminishing in America today. But there is a new kind of zeal increasingly replacing it—one that replaces religion with secular causes.

The Rise in Religiouslike Zeal for Nonreligious Causes
In his article “America Without God,” Shadi Hamid, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, noted, “From 1937 to 1998, church membership [in the United States] remained relatively constant, hovering at about 70 percent. Then something happened. Over the past two decades, that number has dropped to less than 50 percent, the sharpest recorded decline in American history” (The Atlantic, April 2021).

He also pointed out how the “nones”—atheists, agnostics and those claiming no religion—have grown rapidly and today represent a quarter of the population.

These statistics and social trends would cause most to assume that religious-type devotion is declining in America. But that is not actually true. A dedication and zeal that could almost be described as religious is growing. For many, what used to be a spiritual faith directed toward God has been redirected into political or ideological beliefs.

These new expressions of zeal take on many of the characteristics that traditionally have been displayed in a religious context. As Americans are becoming more detached from the Christian community and biblical ethics, they are finding an almost “spiritual” zeal in partisan causes. Political rallies are often like religious revivals, some with the trappings of organized religion.

Competing visions for what America is supposed to be—opposing philosophies and value systems for our society’s future—have taken the place of the great theological debates of the past.

The search for a higher cause

Human beings have an inherent need to be part of something greater than themselves. In other words, a loyalty or objective that gives life meaning beyond just pleasure seeking and daily survival. In the past, most Americans derived this meaning from a general Christian worldview. But in recent times secular causes have taken the place of spiritual causes.

Instead of looking to God for solutions, a growing number of people look to political causes, or government, for solutions.This is not surprising. As our society drifts farther and farther from God and the Bible, secular causes grow in importance to people. Instead of looking to God for solutions, a growing number of people look to political causes, or government, for solutions.

Causes like nationalism, environmentalism, socialism, liberalism, conservatism, populism, etc., can take on the characteristics of a personal religion. These ideologies can satisfy the natural human need for a religious conviction.

In the article mentioned above Mr. Hamid observed, “After Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died in September, droves of mourners gathered outside the Supreme Court—some kneeling, some holding candles—as though they were at the Western Wall.”

Modern political “churches”

On the political front, you could argue that the United States has two primary churches—the church of the Republicans and the church of the Democrats.

For one “church,” the great doctrines are country, personal freedom, the flag, law and order, the military, gun rights, etc.

The theme for the other “church” is love, rights, equality, inclusion, helping the unfortunate, etc. They carry the mantle of compassion.

We could say that both religions have their evangelists, or champions for their cause—politicians, media pundits and celebrities.

Debated issues between the two sides carry the weight of religious doctrine—antiabortion vs. pro-choice, gun rights vs. gun control, traditional family vs. gay rights, free enterprise vs. labor unions, economy vs. environment, border security vs. more immigration, privatized health care vs. public health care, lower taxes vs. higher taxes, isolationism vs. promoting freedom around the world, etc.

Convictions about these topics can be as strongly held as any religious tenet.

To learn why Christians should stay out of the political battles of our times, read “3 Reasons Christianity and Politics Are Incompatible.” 

A dangerous shift in behavior

With this replacement of religious faith with ideological devotion, we are seeing many Americans sink to new lows in personal behavior. In past times, Americans largely exercised more restraint on their behavior. The general principles of the Bible help keep society more orderly and unified. But today we are seeing improper, unlawful, unrighteous behavior on a large scale. It should be no surprise that the further we drift from the tenets of the Bible, the further we drift from behavior in line with those tenets.

Riot in the Street

It is becoming more common for people to justify disorder and violence if they believe it will further their ideological goals. 

However, today we see people justifying disorder and violence because it furthers an ideology. Storming the Capitol, burning cities, protesting in front of homes of politicians or Supreme Court justices, violence, lying, name-calling—it’s all seen as acceptable because it is for the purpose of “saving America.”

To learn more about this trend, read What's Behind the Protests Around the World?

Americans often elect and empower men and women who don’t even pretend to be virtuous and are pridefully unashamed of duplicity. Yet it is considered okay because they are on the “right side,” or we might say, have the “right religion.”

What is not understood is that the more a society descends into justifying wrong behavior, no matter the cause, the faster its institutions erode and the more dangerous its communities become.

The good news is that you can come out of this trend. You can reject the secular “churches” of society and the bad behavior associated with them.

The best way to do this is by discovering and embracing the true faith of God.

To learn about true biblical Christianity, read "What Is a True Christian?

How to be a true worshipper

In John 4:23 Jesus made a reference to “true worshipers.” These are people who are faithful to the religious values and faith found in God’s Word, the Bible. True worshippers live by a set of values and beliefs that transcend concerns of this present human experience. In other words, they are devoted to the spiritual principles of the Bible over the issues of this world (1 John 2:15; 2 Timothy 2:4).

You can reject the secular “churches” of society and the bad behavior associated with them by discovering and embracing the true faith of God.Instead of looking to political movements for solutions, true worshippers look for the return of Jesus Christ to this earth. Instead of condoning bad behavior because it supports lofty causes—“the ends justify the means”—they faithfully align their lives with the high moral values of the Bible. 

These values are expressed in the Sermon on the Mount, and specifically in what are called the Beatitudes. True worshippers display a spirit of humility, meekness, mercy and pureness of heart. They promote peace, not strife. They stand on conviction to the standards revealed in the Bible, instead of just going along with what’s popular (Matthew 7:14).

Mr. Hamid also noted, “Whereas religion sees the promised land as being above, in God’s kingdom, the utopian left sees it as being ahead, in the realization of a just society here on Earth.”

However, true worshippers understand that no nation on earth can provide what Christ can at His return (Isaiah 2:2-4).

There is nothing wrong with trying to make the world a better place today. True worshippers should do that in ways that align with God’s Word and purpose!

However, a true worshipper should never take on religious fervor for a secular cause that would cause him or her to compromise the way of the Kingdom of God. We are all to follow Jesus’ instructions to pray, “Your kingdom come” (Matthew 6:10).

For more insight on this topic, read “Is Political Activism the Solution to Spiritual Decline?

Topics Covered: News and Trends, Religion, Social Issues

About the Author

Jim Servidio

Jim Servidio

Jim Servidio is a retired pastor of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association. He and his wife, Judy, have two sons and five grandchildren.

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