Pope Benedict's Worry

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Pope Benedict's Christmas message was one of great import no matter one's spiritual bent. He beseeched 10,000 followers in St. Peter's Square not to allow technology to trump theology. "Mankind, which has reached other planets and unraveled many of nature's secrets, should not presume it can live without God."

Implicit in his presumption is the subliminal fear that technology will lead to just that end. Christianity is wilting if not dying in the continent that propelled it to global prominence. Europeans pay lip service but eschew church services. Christianity's muscle is expanding on other continents–South America, South Asia, and Africa. This means Christianity is growing, all right, but not in world financial centers, not in nations housing the world's foremost educational institutions, not in the world's technology hubs.

Is God dead among Roman Catholic and other Christian believers? Of course not. But he is morphing. Western cultures are personalizing God and turning him into her, person into spirit, and customizing religion to fit all shapes, sizes, hair colors, and beliefs. Gone are the days when one could walk into an African Methodist Episcopal church and witness a portrait of a blond, blue-eyed Jesus hovering above a room full of black believers. Gone is America's uniform vision of God as a silver-bearded man seated on a cumulonimbus. Historical evidence places Jesus as a first-century Middle Eastern Jew. This means Jesus probably looked a lot more like Yasser Arafat than a Nordic prince with long, blond locks.

Perhaps Pope Benedict's fears of a God-bereft populace are better explained by today's custom-fit God. The pope wants God to remain as traditional Christianity sees him: the God of the Crusaders–a God whose followers are on a short leash and allowed little by way of interpretation, questioning, or free thinking. Educated believers demand more variety. They are reworking religion to fit their own mores, lifestyles, and cultures. Look at skateboarders for Christ–a huge trend among American teens who worship at home but avoid the megachurches. No wonder Christian leaders are worried.