The Invisible Jesus

By Abigail Baumgartner Growing up in a small, conservative suburb in Michigan, I was always used to an imperious sea of white Christians with an occasional wave of diversity. At my primarily Caucasian high school, we were taught to be very accepting of all cultures. We practiced acceptance in a seemingly odd way: by avoiding every mention of religious words or phrases.

I will never forget when I was a junior in high school and our chamber choir teacher prevented us from singing the word “savior” in the traditional Christmas carol, Silent Night. This abolition of the mention of Jesus in a song that was clearly about his birth simply stunned me! It wasn’t as though we were praising the Lord, we were simply singing a traditional Christmas hymn. I remember going around the classroom asking students their opinions on our instructor’s idea of making Jesus “invisible” in regards to the music we sang.

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"Some students thought it was odd, but the majority of them shrugged it off their shoulders; they weren’t troubled one bit. This idea of the “Invisible Jesus” is seen very commonly today in modern society, especially in the ways in which America is becoming more liberal. According to an article by Joan Shipps, 75 percent more American 12th graders in 2014 than in 1970 believe that their religion is “not important at all” in their lives.

Why has this demographic changed so drastically in the span of 44 years? Many sociologists believe that adolescent religious development is triggered by influences in the home. In some cases, the effects of it can be positive or negative. In one case, Noah, a friend of mine from back home, was raised in a very

Catholic household and forced to attend Sunday school classes. By the time he was in middle school, he strained against his parent’s influences and as he put it, “I felt the need to discover for myself what my purpose in life was.” As a freshman in college, Noah now regards himself as an atheist and states that he is “always searching and welcoming new possibilities.”

In the case of another friend of mine back home, Hadley, her family never practiced a specific religion. They never attended religious services, they never prayed together and they never even spoke of God. Because of this, Hadley regards herself as agnostic, because she never knew what it was like to be religious.One of the major contributions to the decline of religion in modern American adolescents is the prevalence of technology. Since the introduction of the iPhone in 2008, Americans have slowly been spending more time in isolation with their eyes inches from their screens rather than engaging in real-life interactions. This idolization of technology replaces the God of All who told his children, “You shall not worship any other gods before me.” Taking this First Commandment into account, does this mean that the majority of Americans with smartphones and Instagram accounts are sinners? Hopefully this is not the case. But as more and more improved versions of smartphones are being invented, a large percentage of modern American youth are running away from God’s open arms to climb back under the covers of their protective and discriminating LED screens.

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Being a first-year student at North Park, I have noticed a drastic change from home compared to here. At North Park, there is no dominant race and everyone is tolerant of everyone else’s religious beliefs and customs. One is free to practice their religion in private and in public and there is a strong Christian emphasis in many organizations all around campus.

In a way, I feel as though many students act as survivors in a battlefield, rising up from the ashes of a Godless society. They join together to praise the name of Jesus and regard him as a visible entity, not a forlorn ghost. Many students, whether they be male or female, seem to place their faith in God as a top priority in their lives. Pastor Judy is highly regarded as a sort of celebrity all over campus, my roommate is involved in multiple religious leadership groups, and my RA regards herself as a child of God and cares about everyone on our floor by doing the good works of the Lord. Unlike in my hometown, there is no judgment against others of differing faiths, even if they are someone of no faith whatsoever.

Although religious affiliation among modern American youth is steadily in decline, universities like North Park are here to show that there are still modern young adults who are willing to pull Jesus out from the shadows and praise his name while still accepting the other percentage of youth who still regard him as invisible.