Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Imagine There's No More Religion

Three-quarters of Millennialls agree that present-day Christianity has “good values and principles,” but strong majorities also agree that modern-day Christianity is “hypocritical” (58%) and “judgmental” (62%). (PRRI)

Last week, Pew Research released a new survey finding a dramatic decline of Americans who affiliate with a church. That increase correlated strongly with the decrease in the number of Catholics, mainline Protestants, and evangelical Protestants over the past seven years.

Although a majority of Americans still identify as Christian, the decline in their number is widespread, occurring among the young and the old, black and white, well educated and not so well educated, in all regions of the country. In the poll, people were asked if they “identify” as Christian.

There are, according to Pew, now more Americans unaffiliated with religion than either mainline Protestants or Catholics. If the “nones” were a religious denomination, they would be the second largest in America, just after evangelical Christians. If the trend of the last seven years continues, the “nones” will become America's largest religious denomination by mid-century.

Overall, the number of unaffiliated Americans rose from 16.1 percent of the population in 2007 to 22.8 percent of the population in 2014. Pew points out that the shift from religion crosses “all regions of the country and many demographic groups.”

Seventy-one percent of American adults were Christian in 2014, the lowest estimate from any sizable survey to date, and a decline of 5 million adults and 8 percentage points since a similar Pew survey in 2007.

A notable 36 percent of younger Millennials, are not religious, compared with 17 percent of baby boomers and 11 percent of the silent generation born between 1928 and 1945.

It’s not clear that Millennials will become more religious as they age, either. Despite the cliché about people getting more religious as they get older, it hasn’t been happening recently. No generation has become more religious since 2007, according to the Pew data. Baby boomers and the so-called Generation X have become slightly less religious over that time, and Millennials have become substantially less.

Those unaffiliated with religion skew young and younger. Only 11% of the Silent Generation (born 1928 to 1945) identified as having no religion, while among Younger Millennials (born 1990 to 1996) 36% put themselves in that category. College-age Millennials (age 18-24) are considerably more racially and ethnically diverse than the general population. Fewer than 6-in-10 (57%) Millennials self-identify as white, compared to 72% of the general population. Approximately 1-in-5 (21%) identify as Hispanic, 14% identify as black, 6% identify as some other race, and 3% identify with two or more racial categories.

The Pew report does not offer an explanation for the decline of the Christian population, but the low levels of Christian affiliation among the young, well educated and affluent are consistent with prevailing theories for the rise of the unaffiliated, like the politicization of religion by American conservatives.

Imagine the political implications if this trend represents a political backlash against the association of Christianity with conservative political values. The religious dimension of the G.O.P.’s demographic challenge has received little attention in the mainstream media, but beginning with Reagan's 1980 presidential campaign, conservatives and the Republican party have maintained and strengthened its voting bock coalition with white evangelical Christian voters.

The declining white share of the population is a well-documented challenge to the traditional Republican coalition, causing them to increasingly conflate evangelical religious piety with conservative values to motivate that shrinking block of voters to compensate for substantial deficits among nonwhite and secular voters.

Republicans have so conflated evangelical Christianity as a political movement they have literally linked voting straight ticket Republican as a Christian value. Just a few weeks ago, Public Policy Polling reported that 57 percent of Republicans favor adopting Christianity as the officially state religion of the United States, revoking the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; ...".

Why are Americans, and Millennials in particular, turning away from organized religion? Among the reasons, is that establishment religion has become increasingly politicized in recent years; its perceived anti-gay bias is just one manifestation of that trend. As political scientists Robert Putnam and David Campbell tell it in their book, American Grace, the religious right secured a foothold in modern American politics by railing against abortion, contraception, premarital sex, and other supposedly sinful things including, yes, homosexuality. That politicization, they argue, then turned nonreligious voters off of the GOP and religion in general. Indeed, religiously unaffiliated voters have been trending more Democratic for the past 30 years, with a spike in the past decade.

"While the Republican base has become ever more committed to mixing religion and politics," Putnam and Campbell wrote, "the rest of the country has been moving in the opposite direction." Furthermore, the outright hostility to science and technology from now mainstream Republican leaders — on global warming, evolution, and even something as seemingly benign as vaccines — only further impugns religion's credibility with younger voters.

Add to that the Religious Freedom Restoration laws being passed by the Indiana state legislature and other states. These laws are widely viewed as a way for businesses to discriminate against gays, lesbians and transgender people, by refusing to serve them, hire them, and rent apartments to them. Further, these laws allow employers to discriminate women who use birth control, men and women who live together without being married, and more.

It should be no surprise then that solid majorities of Millennials describe Christianity as "hypocritical" and "judgmental.

Republicans Call For Christianity As ‘Official Religion’ of US.

Article title is inspired by "Imagine," a song written and performed by musician John Lennon. The best-selling single of his solo career, its lyrics encourage the listener to imagine a world at peace without the barriers of borders or the divisiveness of religions and nationalities.

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