When I was a young man in the 1960s and early l970s, it was bandied about and was fashionable to say that “God is dead.” At one time, as a response to this saying, I saw buttons that read “God is not dead; he is alive and well in Mexico City.” Times have greatly altered and in fact religion, so to speak, has made a comeback and has even in the United States gained some power that it formerly lacked. Specifically, with the election of Jimmy Carter, who pronounced himself a born-again Christian, Christian belief in its conservative Protestant form has gained some acceptance. Further, with the election of Ronald Reagan, Evangelical Christianity allied itself with the Republican party on certain social issues, specifically abortion and homosexuality.
Since that time, however, many people have identified themselves as atheists. This is certainly true in Europe, which has become significantly secular and non-Christian in its outlook. This development has also been advancing in the United States with the culture’s great emphasis on material possessions and wealth as a measurement and criterion and measuring stick of worth and value for many people. Secularist, agnostic, and atheistic beliefs are held by many people, particularly in the fairly well-educated wealthier classes of the West. It would appear that Christian belief has a great appeal to the poor and less to those with some material wealth. One can conclude that the reason for this is that when one has some sum of money, he or she is less dependent on religious faith, since wealth creates some degree of spiritual independence.
Nevertheless, at least for the better-educated upper middle class people for most of the Western World, religion and Christianity, the person of Jesus Christ and his message, have become irrelevant and unacceptable. I heard one colleague of mine, a lawyer, say that religious belief and dogma are fairy tales. Many young people I meet have pronounced themselves to be atheists.
The church and specifically the person and claim of Jesus Christ to be the Son of God or, better put, connected to God and his promise that those who accept him will have eternal life, is irrelevant to many people in the Western world.
It is, however, a fact that the Church and Jesus Christ continue to reemerge and reinvent themselves in the world. For 60 years, the Orthodox church was suppressed in Russia. It has reemerged there today and many people attend religious functions in the Orthodox Church as well as in Catholic and Protestant churches. For every declining mainline church in the West, there emerges in the inner cities of the United States street churches. For every non-believing Westerner, there is an African who is daily being baptized by a missionary. I once knew a Jesuit Priest from Nigeria who told me that he went into the countryside baptizing over 100 people a day.
The church is experiencing enormous growth in Africa, Asia, and South America. For every clever secular westerner who laughs and mocks at the claim of Jesus of Nazareth and his promise of eternal life and freedom from sin, there occur in societies other than the West all over the world every day a church being built, a Christian community meeting, and new forms of Christian belief emerging.
What can one say about Jesus? Much as the elite laugh at the claims of Jesus Christ, he continues to reemerge everywhere and in every place. One can conclude that much as the world would like to discount Jesus Christ as the Savior and Redeemer of all humanity, he cannot be suppressed but will be found in other places and at other times in different, new, and reinvented ways.