Adieu to a Dying Christianity

The time has come, the Walrus said,
      To talk of many things:
(The Walrus and the Carpenter, By Lewis Carroll)

The time has come, indeed. And some talks are hard. In our changing, threatening, world, there are many issues to talk about. And many are talking about them, and doing yeoman service in confronting and dealing with them. However, by the time we have considered climate change, the environment, sexism, racism, popularism, and injustice of all sorts, there is little time left for considering our understanding of God, religion, and the whole spiritual realm.

Yet traditional religion, whose continued existence is in question, is a primary issue that is largely ignored. Those of us from the Christian tradition are not facing the reality that traditional Christianity, in its liberal expression, is fast disappearing. We need to talk about that.

The situation is dire. Ashleigh Stewart, in the January 6th Toronto Global News, reports that, “United, the country’s second-largest Canadian Christian denomination, accounted for 14.6 per cent of Canadians in 1985. In 1996, that number had declined to 9.7 per cent and to just 3.8 per cent in 2019.” And what is a reality for the United Church of Canada is true for Catholics, Anglicans and all liberal denominations. (For those who do not accept science or modern scholarship the story is different).              

We have witnessed this decline. Over the last half century many have spoken with their feet and wallets, indicating that Christianity is no longer of interest to them. Christianity, beyond scandals – which are horrendous – is rarely a news item. I wrote a Religion column for the local paper for twenty years. But then it was cancelled. Religion is no longer of public interest. It no longer appears on the cultural radar screen. The onflow of history has dictated that the Theistic image of an all-powerful, supernatural, deity, that has nourished the Western world for 2500 years, no longer resonates in a scientific culture.

Gretta Vosper (With or Without God: Why the Way We Live is More Important Than What We Believe, and her other books and life’s work) has tried valiantly to make us aware that the Theistic God is no more. However, the church has brushed her off, painfully and hurtfully, and refused to deal with the theological issue. I remember Bishop Spong, at a local workshop, saying that once an issue is raised it won’t go away. Gretta is the brave prophet who has put the issue on the table, and what she has said and done cannot forever be ignored.                                                           

We now have to face what is for some a challenging issue, Christianity as a living religion has died, or at best is on palliative care. It will carry on for generations and continue doing

much good work. At some places it will flourish and thrive, but be for most of society it is irrelevant.                

With the demise of Christianity we have lost our unifying story. We now, at least in the Western world, have no common belief, story, meaning giving myth, which connects us with one another, the earth, the Ultimate Mystery of the Universe,  and above all with ourselves. We have lost an ultimate meaning to life. Most Westerners are reduced to what Bonhoeffer would call penultimate goals

However, the passing of Christianity does not mean a lessening of a yearning, a desire, a passion for a pathway to the Ultimate. “I am spiritual, but not religious” may have become a cliché phrase, but it expresses what is a reality for many.

Leonard Cohen – a perennial spiritual searcher– in deep conversation with his good friend Eric Lerner, concluded, “To us IT was a certainty not an uncertainty, a certainty that there is something ineffable yet more real in the universe than anything we could touch, taste, … a certainty we could not dispute no matter how hard we tried’ (Matters of Vital Interest. Eric Lerner, p. 8).                 

Cohen, in his haunting music and writing, was giving voice to the reality of our time. The above words give expression to a belief and feeling that expresses a primary yearning that is searching for some image or belief that makes the Ultimate real. He provides a starting point for paying attention to what may be arising from The Ashes of Christianity, (Mary Jean Irion, 1968). Where there has been a death there must be a resurrection.

My attempt in that direction, and my life’s work, is to look at two paradigm-changing minds of the twentieth century, Albert Einstein and Carl Jung.

Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955) is universally accepted as the major scientific mind of the 20th century. Through his essays on Special Relativity (1907) and General Relativity (1915) he has opened the door to a quantum universe. Through the Hadron Collider and the Hubble Telescope, and now the James Webb Space telescope, we are more or less aware of the mystery of the small world and the wondrous vastness of the material universe. We now know ourselves to be woven into the matrix of the universe. We belong to The Universe Story (Brian Swimme & Thomas Berry). We can all, of whatever race, colour or creed, proclaim “I am a child of the Universe” with great awe, humility, and reverence.                

To probe the depths of the spiritual realm I turn to Carl Jung (1875 – 1961). He is not so well known and accepted as Einstein but I believe that in the long course of history he will be seen as equally important. One of my goals is to open the door to Jung’s transformation of religious language from its supernatural images to the language of the psyche, which he saw as both individual and universal. His life’s work was to spell out the dynamics and images of Psychic reality as the myth of the modern world.                                                                                                      

About the time that Einstein was writing Special Relativity, Jung was separating from Freud, believing Freud’s concept of the unconscious to be too narrow. One result of his bewilderment resulting from the separation was to became aware that he had no grounding myth. In a conversation with himself he mused, “In what myth does man live nowadays?  In the Christian myth, the answer might be. ‘Do you live in it?’ I asked myself. To be honest, the answer was no. … ‘Then do we no longer have any myth?’ No, evidently we no longer have any myth” (Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p 171).

Some time later Jung had a dream, for him a frequent occurrence. “The dream depicted the climax of the whole process of consciousness. … It has taken me virtually forty-five years to distill within the vessel of my scientific work the things I experienced and wrote down at that time. … And my works are a more or less successful endeavor to incorporate this incandescent matter into the contemporary picture of the world” (p 191).                                                                                                           

I encourage everyone to read Memories, Dreams, Reflections, and Answer to Job, and to reflect on them for ten years. These works, and all his works, present a paradigm shift from the supernatural language of traditional Christianity to the psychic language of our lives and the life of the Universe.  His work amounts to a resurrection of God for our age. Not an all-powerful supernatural deity up there, but the Psychic/Spiritual realm which is the soul of the Universe, and the shaping voice that lives within each of us.                                                                 

My own attempt to make spiritual sense of our modern world is in my latest two books, The Death and Resurrection of God: from Christianity to the New Story, and The Bible Beyond Religion: Witness to the Evolution of Consciousness.  

“The moving finger writes; and, having writ, moves on” (Omar Khayyam). We can’t argue with the dictates of history. We can seek to slow it up or hurry it on, but history will move on. With the fading out of Christianity, the challenge now is to carry on our search for the unifying story that will give us meaning and truly make us all one. Until then we live in peril of all the daemons that haunt us and our society.


Donald F. Murray, B.A., M.Div., M.Th.; further training in Transactional Analysis, Education Design, Group Dynamics, The School of Sacred Psychology (Jean Houston’s Mystery School), Jungian Psychology. Don is a United Church of Canada minister, educator, workshop facilitator and author enjoying retired life with his partner Emily Kierstead in Truro, Nova Scotia. He served pastorates in the Maritimes for 32 years and as a Program Director and then Executive Director of Tatamagouche Education and Spirituality Centre for 8 years. Having awakened to the-death-of-God in the early 1960s, Don has been an avid searcher. He has authored four books, For Unbelieving Christians (1987), Celebrating Eve (2001), The Death and Resurrection of God: From Christianity to the New Story (2014), and now The Bible Beyond Religion: Witness to the Evolution of Consciousness. With Emily, he enjoys their families, eight children (two deceased) and eleven grandchildren, along with fiddle playing, singing, and a passion for the emerging Universe Story.

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