Monday, March 9, 2009

ARIS; A look at the faithful in the USA (updated)

The ARIS -- American Religious identification Survey is released.
Big news:
The percentage of Americans claiming no religion, which jumped from 8.2 in 1990 to 14.2 in 2001, has now increased to 15 percent. ....

Only 1.6 percent of Americans call themselves atheist or agnostic. But based on stated beliefs, 12 percent are atheist (no God) or agnostic (unsure), while 12 percent more are deistic (believe in a higher power but not a personal God). The number of outright atheists has nearly doubled since 2001, from 900 thousand to 1.6 million. Twenty-seven percent of Americans do not expect a religious funeral at their death.
So, organized religion is a big turn-off, not only to the secularists who don't believe, but to many who do. This agrees with surveys from The Barna Group suggesting that Christianity is no longer the "default religion" in the USA. Why do you think think this might be? I have a few ideas. And a big part is that the daily news isn't exactly giving Christianity a good image.

Brazilian Bishop with approval of the Vatican excommunicates the mother and doctors who provided an abortion to 9 year old girl, who was raped and impregnated by her stepfather. The doctors felt it was life-threatening for the child to carry babies to term. The Bishop didn't think that was justification for the surgery. However, the stepfather wasn't excommunicated. Raping a child is forgiveable, it seems. Saving her life isn't.

Item: A ski lift operator shot the general manager of a Colorado ski resort, after announcing he would kill any co-workers who weren't Christian. Ironically, the manager was (and stated he was) Catholic. The killer shot him anyway.

Item: The Roman Catholic Church and the Mormons united in an unholy alliance to attack gay marriage in Proposition 8 and impose their religious values on the public. They used explicitly religious arguments prior to the vote, and stated that gay marriage discriminated against Christians. Following the election the archbishops of San Francisco and Los Angeles told the gay community to shut up and get over it. Other Prop8 supporters complained that gays upset by the vote are no better than terrorists. This has led to considerable anti-religious rhetoric in California.

Item: National Association of Evangelicals fired Rev. Richard Cizik as its vice president for governmental affairs for daring to support civil unions (not gay marriage, mind you, just civil unions).

Even young evangelicals are increasingly put off by the focus on social (sexual) "hot button" issues to the exclusion of other aspects of faith. They are no longer lockstep conservatives. Intolerance alienates young people and others from religion generally.

The irony is that Christianity is based at some level on a pacifist hippie who preached poverty, unjudging love and mutual respect. All of which seems conspicuously absent in the dominant expression of Christianity and indeed religion, in the US. No wonder there's a recruiting problem. The challenge is for liberal Christians to be identified with something conspicuously different than the sex-obsession of the conservative denominations. It may be too late.

I wrote previously on this site
I believe that the knee-jerk response against religion in the political sphere is largely driven as a response to the conservative religionists who are attempting to force their view of morality on all others by "majority rules". (Just think: if "majority rules" ruled, then "activist judges" would never have de-segregated the South). This is because it is the conservatives who are most active in limiting the fundamental rights of others. How do we establish meaningful discourse and protect ALL our rights, when we have such profound disagreements?


Göran Koch-Swahne said...

I think you've nailed it as usual, IT!

Anonymous said...

Thank yhou. Another comment here suggests further that evangelicals may be destroying religion:
I’m not sure that media coverage of fundamentalist Christianity would be enough per se to persuade mainline Protestants that they’re not religious, or students that religion is naturally exclusive; after all, there will always be people in a given congregation who are “more religious than” everyone around them. Instead, perhaps it’s a qualitative difference: because media coverage of evangelical Christianity so closely hews to particular political controversies, evangelism is presented not as religious practice but as a set of explanations and justifications for positions on the issues of the day. In other words, it’s seen as a totalizing worldview. Mainliners who suspect their beliefs deviate from the accepted line could be declining to call themselves “Christian” because they don’t see Christianity as an explanation for everything, and therefore suspect they don’t “deserve” the label. They may continue to go to church, or they may not; the distinction is one of belief.


Erp said...

So should non-theists like IT and me encourage the liberal Christians or not?

I note that the mainline religions lost badly.

Episcopalians/Anglican (so not just TEC) went from over 3 million in 1990 to 2.4 million in 2008. UCC seems to be gyrating (438,000 in 1990, 1.378 million in 2001, back down to 736,000 in 2008).

The Baptists are going to be worried. They increased in overall numbers but most of that was in the over 50s (only 11% of Baptists were 18-29 while 22% of the population is in that age group).

Anonymous said...

it's not just the more liberal denominations. The Catholics are in freefall in the NorthEast :
In Massachusetts, the decline is particularly striking - in 1990, Catholics made up a majority of the state, with 54 percent of the residents, but in 2008, the Catholic population was 39 percent. At the same time, the percentage of the state's residents who say they have no religious affiliation rose sharply, from 8 percent to 22 percent.

The article goes on to say,
The study did not ask New Englanders why they ceased identifying with Catholicism, but the researchers said it was probably some combination of the general secularization of American society with alienation among some Catholics over the sexual abuse crisis and other issues.....

"The huge loss, in absolute terms and as a percentage, of Catholics in New England is the most striking element, as well as the fact that most of them didn't join another religion," said Ryan T. Cragun, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Tampa. "They didn't become Protestant, but they actually dropped out of religion and became nonaffiliated."

Cany said...

I think part of the relative non-affiliation is a direct result of two things (across the board):

1. The perception that religions are, generally, represented by the uber right which comes across as something out of the early 1900s, stale and out of step with secular society, and

2. The fact that many don't believe that religion should enter into policy making at ALL. While the uber right is absolutely theocratic, I think most Americans believe that the lines between church/state and definitely belief/policy should be stark and are noticing they aren't. I think public polling on stem cell research says a great deal about this and speaks to this issue.

So in the end, people are wondering... what does religion have to offer me?

Frankly, it is a good question and one that has to be dealt with by the various churches. I think it goes back to the standard, yes I believe in God, but don't go to church. However, the number of children given NO early theological or church exposure is definitely on the increase and that does bother me.

Anonymous said...

The fundamentalists don't really believe that Catholics are Christians. In fact, they don't believe that Episcopalians, UCC, many Methodists, Lutherans, and Presbyterians are Christians.

Yes, fundamentalist religion is by its nature totalizing.

Even church-going US Christians tend to be pretty ignorant about their own religion and scriptures, let alone those of others.


IT said...

More quotes, this from a reader of Andrew Sullivan:

I have been sickened by the mindless, brutal stupidity of the evangelical movement in the US. They have coopted the term "Christian" to mean "a right-wing ideological nut job who loves war and hates immigrants, gays, and Darwin." I grew up in a faith that led me to read CS Lewis and Thomas Merton, and eventually Thomas Aquinas. Nothing about the "Christian" movement in this country relates to that at all. It is mind-numbingly ignorant and illiterate, and I am ashamed to be of the same religion as them. This makes me a snob, I'm sure. Chesterton said that the main argument against Christianity is Christians -- and I think his point is more true today than when he said it.

Arkansas Hillbilly said...

Hey gang, I need some help here. I sort of stirred the waters with a discussion on this blog

If IT or someone who is much more elliquent than me could assist me in debunking this gentleman's argument, I would greatly appreciate it.

IT said...

I can't help you right now, Arkansas H. I'm as raw as meat in a butcher's window these days and I have to try to get away from the toxic hate of the other side as much as possible. I can't get over that poster at the San Francisco protests last week that said "Dan White = Hero, killed a queer". This whole thing is eating me up and not in a good way.

Besides, you ARE very articulate---and far more effective as a straight married man than I would be in making these points.

I would only add that many of us gay folks are also raising kids, who are well balanced and like most kids, quite straight. THere are numerous studies showing that kids in gay families are perfectly fine, and mainly differ from other kids in being more tolerant and forgiving. BP's kids are decent, caring young adults who walked her down the aisle at our wedding with big grins on their faces.

No one is trying to replace heterosexual marriage,another of their red herrings. No one is threatening to replace the dominant straight culture. We just think that the few percent of the population who are gay and want to marry with all that it entails, should be able to participate in it.

On a lighter note...birds do it too. I don't think they can blame gay ducks on GLBT humans, somehow.

Please, others....go over and support our friend AH on the site he links if you are inclined to enter the fray.

Arkansas Hillbilly said...

I get you, IT. I didn't stop to think. I'm just sick and tired of hearing these jerks telling people things like this.

On a brighter note, so far everything is A-OK with Mrs. Hillbilly and the new Sprout. We'll see the first ultrasound Monday...

IT said...

Thanks, AH. GOOD NEWS about the Sprout. Hope all continues well. Just wait till they're teenagers, though...! (we're currently on tenterhooks waiting for college acceptances!)

Ann said...

prayers for the accepatances

IT said...

Thanks, Dear Ann!

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Prayers for acceptance!