Post-Christian America

We live in an unprecedented time in America. Churches are shrinking faster by the year. American society increasingly marginalizes Christians. You might be looking around America these days and find yourself asking: What happened?

Post-Christianity happened.

  • What is post-Christianity, and how did we get here?
  • What does it mean for you?
  • What does this have to do with the Benedict Option? (Don’t know what the Benedict Option is? Read this.)

What is Post-Christian?

Let’s start with a quick definition:

At its most basic, post-Christian describes a culture that was once Christian and no longer is.

Post-Christian is different than pre-Christian, which is a culture that has not thoroughly heard the Christian gospel.

A post-Christian culture heard the gospel, became Christian, and then stopped being Christian at some point. Prime example: America.

Before America Became Post-Christian

Of course, before America could be considered post-Christian, America had to be considered Christian. And for most of American history, Christianity was the foundation of American society.

As recently as the middle decades of the 20th century, over 90% of America’s population considered themselves Christian. Along with the overwhelming number of self-identified Christians, American’s laws, cultural norms, and morality were based on Christian thinking. Furthermore, institutions – such as schools, businesses, and the government – widely supported a Christian identity.

There was also a social benefit to being a Christian. In essence, everyone in town knew each other from church, which created a mutual trust and shared social capital. You could rely on people in your time of need, and they could depend on you. There was likewise a social expectation of being Christian. Not identifying as a Christian carried a negative social cost.

So our laws, our morality, our businesses, our education, and our social expectations all supported the Christian faith. For much of American history, it was more difficult NOT to be a Christian than it was to be a Christian.

Obviously, there were dissenters. There have always been atheists, agnostics, and followers of other religions in America. But until recently, these groups were incredibly small minorities. The relevant fact here is that people dissented from society’s Christian moral foundation. The default religion to opt-out from was Christianity.

Becoming Post-Christian

America slowly moved from its Christian foundation over a long period. The full switch to a post-Christian society, however, was rather recent. There have been many, many attempts to answer precisely how and exactly when America became post-Christian. The short answer: it is still up for debate.

And that debate is another article for another time. But what is not up for debate is that America has officially become post-Christian. Look at how far society has moved away from a Christian worldview:

  • The collapse of the American church
  • Sexualization of culture
  • Anti-Christian bias in media
  • Businesses and laws that favor anti-Christian morality
  • Consumerism and materialistic greed
  • Breakdown of the American family
  • End of biblical anthropology (the dissolution of male and female)
  • An education system that pushes an alternate morality
  • Omnipresent internet with its advertisements, pornography, and addictive content
  • Laws and judicial decisions decoupled from Christian moral thinking

Christianity and American culture also disagree on some fundamental philosophical questions. We disagree about the sources of ultimate truth, the meaning of essential words like “love” and “justice”, and whether human nature is fallen or fundamentally good. These are not superficial disagreements.

We must recognize just how post-Christian America is. It is very different to interact with society from a position of cultural strength than it is from a position of weakness. Yes, there are parts of America where Christianity is still the main cultural force. But Christians in large swaths of the country – not to mention many professions – are operating from a position of profound weakness.

Post-Christianity and You

So, what does a post-Christian America mean for you and your family? At the very least, it means that it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain a strong Christian faith and public walk.

Secular society sees us as backward

As this article and this article have made clear, America has entered into a new phase. A large and growing percentage of the population does not hold to or even know core Christian beliefs and morality. Alarmingly, many are becoming downright hostile towards the Christian faith.

In short, our faith has become offensive to the modern secular mind in post-Christian America.

In post-Christian America, we Christians are pressured to conform to the patterns of the world. There is a steady drumbeat to “update” the faith to better fit with modern society, to make our faith so private that it only exists behind closed doors, or to just leave the faith behind altogether.

And so, when Christians try to live our faith in public, we stand out as a counter-culture. Unfortunately, we are a counter-culture that secular American society views with increasing suspicion, or even with growing hostility.

Living our faith now comes with actual costs

Given the growing animosity to Christian beliefs and practices in America, living a public Christian faith in many parts of the country now comes with actual costs: the possibility of losing jobs, losing friends, facing public scrutiny, and social shaming.

This, of course, does not even come close to rising to the level of the persecution many Christians experience in other countries. Thousands of Christians are killed for their faith every year. Countless more are harassed, jailed, or otherwise have their lives and livelihoods jeopardized for their faith in Christ. But the idea of Christian faith causing difficulty in your life is a new concept for most Americans. Our costs might not be as high, but they are legitimate.

Post-Christian America is an Opportunity

Despite all that I just said, I want to be optimistic. There is a real opportunity that comes from the displacement of Christianity from its position of cultural preeminence. Here’s why:

When Christianity was the default option of nearly all Americans, many people were called Christian who did not actively choose to become Christian; they were just born into a Christian family. Consequently, their faith often meant less to them since they never meaningfully chose faith. Their lives didn’t reflect the values Jesus taught his followers to demonstrate.

However, in post-Christian America, that is no longer the case. There is no social pressure to be a Christian. In reality, there is more pressure not to be a Christian! So, fewer and fewer Americans will casually stumble into faith. Being Christian will not be the default option, but the opt-in option. Those who choose to pick up their cross and follow Christ will do so with the full knowledge of the costs. The upshot is that while there may be fewer Christians, those who call themselves Christians will mean it more than ever.

The Benedict Option for Practical Daily Living

So, what does this have to do with the Benedict Option?

The Benedict Option is a strategy for Christians to survive and thrive in a society that no longer supports Christian beliefs. Christians must be intentional about living our faith in a post-Christian America. It is too difficult to do battle with a post-Christian society alone.

The Benedict Option is about living intentionally near other Christians and mutually encouraging and supporting each other to be disciples of Christ. In practical terms, this looks like raising and educating your children together, employing each other, and lending support in hard times.

In most of American history, Christians did not have to go out of their way to live among other Christians; nearly all your neighbors were Christians no matter where you lived. That is no longer the case. We must now decide to live and work and raise our families among other committed Christians.

Jesus never promised us an easy life

We always knew faith could be difficult. Jesus teaches us that the world may hate us because of him, but that there is joy in the struggle:

“Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.”

Luke 6:22-23a NIV

In post-Christian America, everyone who chooses to be a Christian in public will have to count the cost and be willing to pick up our cross daily. Our faith will have to mean enough to us that we are ready to sacrifice status and ease of life when we proclaim the One we follow. That is the witness of a vibrant, living faith that shines far brighter than vague, default Christianity.

Our next step

We have the opportunity in post-Christian America to witness to a faith we choose daily in the face of opposition. And the Benedict Option can help us think strategically about practical, day-to-day living in the opposition posed by post-Christian America. Let’s get going. Let’s start intentionally creating communities that can form Christians into disciples of Christ who can daily witness in the world and yet not conform to that same world.