The Death of Religion


In August of 2007 I wrote an article on Christian Atheism. At the time I was seeking to describe the strange phenomenon of modern Christianity – one in which life as we live it and life as we say we believe it are two separate things. This is not a problem of hypocrisy but of shipping Christianity to an off-shore location in which all significant spiritual activity is accomplished somewhere other than where we live.

Thus salvation is something accomplished in history (on the cross) or in the mind of God (a forensic or legal atonement) or anywhere other than here and now. Sacraments become memorials, a testimony to Divine Absence rather than Divine Presence. Initiation into the Church is accomplished by an “ordinance” which is simply viewed as a sign, a public act of obedience in which nothing happens (except perhaps in the off-shore location).

The result of this bifurcation of faith is an empty world in which we may speak of the “death of religion.” Modern Christians have a relationship to faith much the same as they have a relationship to a political point of view. Indeed, in many modern churches, the substance of the faith is itself the subject of political debate. What God would have us do as sexual creatures, for instance, is a matter of cultural perception and persuasion – not revelation. Such approaches to Christianity only guarantee that modern Christianity in America will be just that – American. Churches become the constitution at prayer (with all of the various views of the constitution represented by denominations or various wings thereof). We become a nation of red Church, blue Church, neither of which have any relation with The Church, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all.

This also makes the Church into a political instrument, or politics into a churchly instrument. Thus the victory of one party or the loss by another is seen as a victory of religious significance. Both major parties this election season embraced “faith,” and generally found themselves embraced in return.

But the truth is that Christianity with an off-shore Christ is not Christianity at all. Christianity that can be affected by a shift in the political winds is no Christianity at all. The ship of the Church was launched against the tide of Roman paganism and against the wind of growing state dominance of all life. The blood of many thousands was shed before the winds changed and allowed a certain freedom to the Church – and yet the Church against the tide and against the wind was stronger when the winds and tides changed than when it began its journey. For the Church sails upon a tide and wind blowing in this world oblivious to the political weather of kingdoms destined to fail.

The ability to repent and to walk in union with the Divine Light of God is as available in the Gulag as it is to the middle-class American who enjoys almost unlimited freedom. For “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17).

The death of religion, of the true Christian religion, occurs when the God who became flesh and dwelt among us, is seen as the God who has removed Himself (having accomplished His work here) and is found only in the distance of theological thought. It is little wonder that in the sterility of Christian atheism the vacuum of a true spiritual life should be filled with the vacuity of the political life.

The Republican party is dead. The Democratic party is dead. Neither of them can give you life. They belong to a world that is passing away. What remains is what has been established by God and still sails before the winds and on the tide that obey His voice.

There is a Kingdom of God, found in communion with the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. It is not removed from us but has come among us. It breaks forth in human lives and burns with spiritual fire in the sacraments of the Church. It heals the sick, raises the dead, casts out demons and gives freely what it has freely received. It knows no economy other than the fullness of God who causes the barren woman to be the joyful mother of children, who brings forth water in the desert and changes water into wine.

Religion is not dead – only the false pretense of religion begotten in the delusion of the modern world.

“Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered. Let those who hate Him flee from before His face.” And all these enemies live in me and in us all and God must arise in us and drive the enemy from within us. His Kingdom come, His will be done. Let the ship sail straight and true and know the Wind that blows where it will.

Glory to God for all things!

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.


38 responses to “The Death of Religion”

  1. fatherstephen Avatar

    A late night posting. I’ll reread it in the morning.

  2. Raphael Avatar

    Darkness has become Light, division Unity, and death Life.

    Kyrie Eleison, Kyrie Eleison, Kyrie Eleison.

    Glory indeed!

  3. Steve Avatar

    Praise God for late night wisdom!

    That was absolutely brilliant. The “offshore” image hits the nail right on the head.

  4. […] “There is a Kingdom of God, found in communion with the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. It is not removed from us but has come among us. It breaks forth in human lives and burns with spiritual fire in the sacraments of the Church. It heals the sick, raises the dead, casts out demons and gives freely what it has freely received. It knows no economy other than the fullness of God who causes the barren woman to be the joyful mother of children, who brings forth water in the desert and changes water into wine.” [ –MORE– ] […]

  5. Margaret Avatar

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen! I really need to be reminded of this proper — and really the only truly right — perspective. May God bless all you do!

  6. Ezekiel Avatar

    Father, Bless!

    Well, you HAVE blessed with this well written post.

    Indeed, Glory to God for all things!

  7. Dean Arnold Avatar
    Dean Arnold

    “A late night posting. I’ll reread it in the morning.”

    It turned out to be very good. Don’t edit it.

  8. Brantley Thomas Avatar
    Brantley Thomas

    Father Bless!

    I have re-read this article about 5 times now, and it becomes more compelling with each read. At the risk of heaping coals on your head, I must say that this is probably one of the most profound summaries of the state of modern Christianity I’ve ever read.

    May God grant us perspective, humility and love to deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow Him.

  9. […] November 5, 2008, 2:07 pm Filed under: Uncategorized Father Stephen writes about the Death of Religion or rather, the non-death of an externalised Christianity that is as far removed from the life of […]

  10. luciasclay Avatar


    Thank you for a wonderful thought. Similar to what the Father at the Parish I attended Sunday said. The Kingdom transcends governments. What happens on Tuesday, though important, is not what we put our hope in. “Put not your trust in princes, in sons of men in whom there is no salvation.” 2nd Antiphon

    And to repeat the sentiment of the monk of St. Saba, “We have been here since the fifth century and have seen many political situations.” Though indeed the Church, not the monestary, has been here far longer than that.



  11. luciasclay Avatar


    Another comment if I may be so vain, regarding what you are saying above. Its incredible to me. The difference between modern religion of my protestant background and of the Orthodox that I am learning of is so very different. Your post explains it well.

    What I find most shocking is the implications of the Orthodox view. The idea that there was a reason for the death, descent into hades and return from there. That it was not just to fulfill an abstract legal penalty requirement. What has recently dawned on me, in a small way, is how the incarnation seems to have been important not just for the even at the cross and tomb but also so that the way for Diety to enter humanity was accomplished.

    Christ in us as Christ is in God. The very basis of the Church and of our sanctification or theosis. The indwelling. The ultimate completion of that union when all is made new.

    I do not understand it very much at all, despite thinking I understood it for many years. The part that has dawned on me is overpowering.

    There is no comparison in my Protestant past.

    The partaking of the eucharist, taking Christ into us, is so critical to this. It is mind boggling. Once this idea is lost, only then does the sacrament of communion become a trivial event to be held monthly, quarterly, or perhaps during a midweek service and then only as a symbolic gesture without any real idea why we do it.

    Despite my babbling I feel speachless. Like I’m trying to say something but its not coming out.



  12. […] Read the entire article.                            ← The Holy Mountain       […]

  13. Robert Avatar


    I know what you are saying. It is overwhelming but in a good way! I have recently become Orthodox after 24 years as a Protestant.

    I am encouraged by your experience.

  14. Karen C Avatar
    Karen C

    Dear Father, bless! I’ll add to the chorus of AMENs!

    Lucias, babble on! I was Protestant all my life and I’m closest to 50 in terms of my next BIG birthday! 🙂 That is to say, I understand what you are talking about, and it continually defies human expression. What God has done in the Incarnation and in bringing us to birth in His Church is so huge, it cannot be contained, and yet somehow it IS, in our frail humanity–as in Mary’s womb, made more spacious than the heavens. The very Presence and fullness of Christ feeding our spiritual hunger in the humble elements of wine and bread. . . . In my warped imagination (and reflecting my quirky tastes in science fiction), I think of the “Tardis” of “Dr. Who” fame, a space ship of modern pop culture fiction that together with it’s “time lord” pilot transcends normal temporal boundaries and is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. Forgive such an absurd and inadequate connection (but I can’t help but see hints of divine Truth in almost everything I encounter, and especially in the stories that humans make up to entertain themselves)! Viva la one-storey universe! Glory to God for all things!

  15. jwickes Avatar

    Thank you for your voice of simple sanity, Father.

  16. shevaberakhot Avatar

    Just as Christ preached to the souls in Hades after the crucifixion and death, so too do we, when we take His Body & Blood in a worthy manner. The last supper was no afterthought. Kyrie eleison. Glory to the King!

  17. david p Avatar

    I agree with Fr Stephen. I became Orthodox after 60 some yrs going to a Luth church, college, seminary and work in the Luth Church. I wanted a more sacramental, sacred and Trinitarian view of life rather than a Sunday thing. Many blessings.

  18. Timothy Avatar


    Thank you, Father, for this excellent post. Would that all Christians could be attentive to the truths you speak here.

  19. Phil Avatar

    Father, this is a minor masterpiece.

    Why I find this so important is because ideas have consequences. Protestantism, whether intended or not, telegraphs the idea that commitment to Christ is a one-time act, that, as you say, leaves the rest of the work offshored elsewhere.

    If the message of the Apostolic Church, though – that we are asked to strive, and deny ourselves, and combat the passions throughout this life, i.e., to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” – is true, isn’t that important? And what are the repercussions of not living that way?

    As a Protestant, I did not feel the urgency to do those things. Now, I do (although my performance is still miserable).

  20. Raphael Avatar

    In a very real sense, the old religion (with it’s offshore “Christ”) has to die (or be destroyed), before the Christ of God, can arise within.

  21. Wonders for Oyarsa Avatar

    I had trouble parsing this sentence:

    “For the tide and wind upon which the Church sails blows in this world, oblivious to the political weather of kingdoms destined to fail.”

    It took me a while to figure out what you meant. Perhaps you should rephrase it thus:

    “For the Church sails upon a tide and wind blowing in this world oblivious to the political weather of kingdoms destined to fail.”

    I don’t know why this is easier for me, but it is.

  22. fatherstephen Avatar

    Thanks for the suggestion. I hope it parses better now.

  23. Malorie/Natalia Avatar


  24. […] Christian brother sent me a link to a blog by Father Stephen.  I wholeheartedly recommend reading what both of these men have to say.  Father Stephen […]

  25. Ioannis Freeman Avatar

    I suggest that the separation of word from meaning underlies the appearance of a so-clled atheistic Christianity. This separation of word from meaning may, alone, be the source of feelings of despair that many Christians suffer todat.

  26. molleth Avatar

    Well said, well said, well said.

    I generally tend to be conservative, politally (while being sympathetic to much on the liberal side), but have been absolutely astounded by the MANY end-times emails fw-ed to my inbox by my conservative friends. They are sobbing, they are grieving, they are CERTAIN that because the US elected a Democratic president, the end times are upon us, America is doomed. *True* Christians voted for the Republican candidate, and the evil fake Christians didn’t, and so on and so forth the prophecies and the diatribes on how America is now Dead (all because of a Democratic president) and on and on the laments go.

    It really bothered me, grieved me, worried me, and, well, now I’m starting to get angry. Since when did the Gospel become dependant on political parties? Since when did our faith become something that requires party affiliation in order to be legit? Since when does government determine the depth and strength of our life in Christ?

    I think that believers have the right to agree and disagree on political matters. Absolutely. It’s just that these have crossed the line. Or maybe just exposed how badly the line has BEEN crossed already.

  27. Visibilium Avatar

    Some sort of ordering is essential to human life in this world, and, for many, the State, by default, fills this role. Christ himself accepted the State. Far from being dead, modern political life is much more vibrant and alive than it was in Christ’s day.

  28. fatherstephen Avatar

    I don’t think we are using the word “dead” in the same way.

  29. Aaron Haney Avatar

    I thought of this post yesterday while passing a large and beautiful church in the ritzy part of Nashville. The steeple was extremely tall and slender, pointing dagger-like into the sky (or if we want to continue the modes of travel metaphor, an effeminate rocket ship). It struck me that it is pointing “up there” or “out there”, ie, somewhere else. It seems God was extracted from the eucharist and jettisoned into deep space.

  30. mic Avatar

    Father Bless!

    Fr. Stephen, have you written before directly concerning faith and works? Not necessarily a faith vs. works type of thing but maybe something on their synergy???

    Thank you Fr.


  31. The Scylding Avatar

    I became quite despondent after several fruitless interchanges with fellow Christians on a webpage, where everybody who dares to disagree with their cherised political beliefs are demonised – indeed, it was suggested that I’m near-heretical for suggesting that it appears that they worship certain political documents, and that as Christians that ought not to be.

    Thus it was a needed balm to read this piece.

    But it is unfortunately also true that many who confess the Real Presence of our Lord in Holy Communion, or that believe in the work of God in baptism etc., still submit to the same deceptions as those who have removed God to the realm of the ethereal.

    We should not glory in the fact that we believe “correctly”, whether we are Orthodox or Lutheran (my case) or whatever. Rather, our attitude should be – there, but for the grace of God…

    Thank you once again for this piece

  32. bekkos Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    Thanks for this post.

    The net result of the recent billion-dollar, eighteen-month-long elections is that I am spiritually exhausted. Perhaps others have had something of the same experience. Not only exhausted by the long political process, but exhausted, and disappointed, by the Christian response to it. You are absolutely right that, when Christian churches become politicized and start sounding like the spiritual recruiting arm of this or that party, they begin to partake of the odor of death.

    Many Christians are unhappy about the results of the election, some going so far as to see Obama as a kind of Antichrist figure. It is pretty clear, for instance, that the American Catholic hierarchy is glum. What the response of the American Orthodox hierarchy is it is harder for me to say; my completely non-scientific hunch is that the Greeks tended to lean towards Obama, and the OCA towards McCain. As for myself, I voted for Obama.

    It is possible, of course, that, in voting for Obama, I sold my soul, that a vote for McCain was an automatic vote for Christ, and a vote for Obama an automatic vote against Him. It is possible, but, on the whole, it seems to me unlikely. While I disagree with some of Obama’s policies, he has impressed me as a man of decency, moderation, and intellectual honesty. And, while I was prepared to give Senator McCain the benefit of the doubt, the way he conducted his campaign convinced me that he was not the man to be President of the United States during a time of national crisis.

    None of this is saying that either the Democratic Party or the Republican Party provides answers to eternal questions or a key to eternal salvation. It is difficult enough trying to provide answers to temporal questions, given the present mess the world is in. Yet I hope it is not the intention of your essay to imply that a love of democracy, a desire to see it work, a sense of joy and pride when an ancient racial barrier is overcome, a love of the Constitution and a desire to preserve it — that all of this has nothing at all to do with the love of God in Christ, and that the people in whom such desires strongly operate have simply exiled Christ to a buoy somewhere out in the sea. I sense that that is the reaction that many Christians have had to the election. Such a reaction strikes me, not as faith, but as cynicism; and if that cynicism has been rewarded by being sent to the political doghouse, it deserved nothing better.


  33. fatherstephen Avatar

    I think your point is quite apt (indeed my newest post, written just before I saw your comment is a criticism of cynicism – which I admit is a temptation quite present to me). I think it is not at all improper (and I agree) that it is significant when an ancient racial barrier is set aside. And I think it is fine to love the Constitution.

    I think, however, that the framers of the Constitution did not think democracy (or the form they set forth for our republic) was the best way to solve problems, but the best way to avoid tyranny.

    I will pray gladly and heartily for anyone in office today and the future, and will ask that God give them wisdom for a world that is indeed facing great difficulties.

    And despite my caution, I will work at guarding my heart against the temptation to cynicism – better to hope in God.

    Thanks for a good word.

  34. […] religions of the world and indeed Cultural Christianity do not see the Adonai in Jesus, as Peter and David […]

  35. st upid Avatar

    i see the kingdom from time to time
    as though down a long dark hall
    its far away between here and there
    and the shadows eagerly fall

    i think a candle would suffice
    its flame would dispel the gloom
    and make the hall a brighter one
    revealing it all in the same room

    …thank you for this blog father stephen. it was a blessing to read today…

  36. Steve Avatar

    This Resurrection is none other than God in the Person of Jesus Christ. Great article Father.

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