Old can be ancient, and ancient perhaps sacred, and it is we the living who must assay the difference in value between an artifact and a legacy.
A legacy is a beloved old something-meaningful you happily inherit by clear right of succession. Artifacts only stand for themselves, for “still standing,” have only the value of being their age, and must be held in trust because they belong to nobody. There is also such a thing as a legacy of artifacts, and it is bestowed by one generation on the next of museum-keepers. Is the house of God today a kind of museum? Are priests, then, as atheists argue, artifacts of a spent Judeo-Christian legacy?
Millions of atheists desperately hope — almost to the point of praying — to witness Christ, God The Father, the Holy Spirit, and all Heaven’s angelic claptrap finally go the way of agrarian Stone Age gods. Indeed, the revealed truth of “God is dead?” is, for atheists, their Ol’-Time Religion.
“God is dead.” — an orthodoxy first preached in the Eighteen-Hundreds by German philosopher Nietzsche and Russian novelist Dostoevsky. Geniuses both, to be sure, but even genius can be wrong. A straight-faced Christian tries to respect this deeply-held traditional faith so solemnly handed down by generations of pious middle-class materialists.
Now, of course, the last thing materialists want is a spiritual shock. So their academic scholars often overview human history and professorially dismiss all religions. They label worship as “tribal mass-delusion” brought on either by fear of facing the unknown alone, or for political control over peoples’ lives, or in smug self-justification for whatever the tribes take themselves to be — “God wills it!”
How long something lasts among us is the simplest gauge of its human worth. And what we witness today in Christian churches are two-thousand year old ceremonies still largely intact. Weigh this mysterious survival of religion against what anthropology teaches about “tribal mass-delusions.” They don’t last.
Fads, cults, priestly dictatorships, madness of crowds, “holy” charlatans’ cynical hoaxes, however brilliantly staged — all gutter out fast, often within the first generation. On the other hand, since almost nothing else human has lasted longer among us than religion, ipso facto — sheer endurance proves actual “spirituality” is both true to human nature and invaluable for our well-being. Worshiping god turns out to be healthy and normal. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
The basic insight is anthropological and not theological, which means its religious truth is rooted in observed human nature, not in the supernatural. This is another way of saying religion flows naturally from us. Notice, too, there is a circular and reciprocal legitimizing going on here. A “cult” lasts for centuries, thus establishing it is a true religion, while the historical fact of longevity also demonstrates such a thing as truth in religion exists.
Yes, atheists have always been with us, too, but they forever come in second, since they depend on disagreeing with somebody who already found God first. “The Church of Atheism” is sad empty rhetoric. By definition, the ungodly may convene but cannot hold services. You do not prove there is no Santa Claus by becoming him.
Is Christianity dying? All world religions are our persistent renewal of this ancient, not altogether one-sided dialogue between Man and God, but the permanent human intuition of a divinity protects no single faith. Once-mighty religions can dwindle into a wind blowing trash through a neglected temple. Ancient tongues beseeching lost gods echo uproariously down History’s marble halls. Deities can die. Old folk-tales say the forest gods left Europe on the day an iron ax first bit into green wood. Metal quenched the Immortals. Might not wi-fi quench Christ?
Be that as it may, the fading away of any one religion does not at all prove our theological impulses are inauthentic, only that we are after all essentially fallible. Even the most sublime inspiration sputters. Nothing humans make lasts except what we make of ourselves. And what we become depends on the original means granted to us. And some in every generation are born crippled, some tone-deaf, others color-blind…