“The U.S. Public Becoming Less Religious,” reads the headline from the new Pew Poll Religion in America series. The share of Americans who profess to believe in God has dropped from 92 to 89 percent since the Pew Research Center conducted its last Landscape Study in 2007. That said, the U.S. is still home to the highest percentage of believers in any advanced nation in the world.
But the bad news for churches isn’t simply that Pew finds a modest decline in belief, but that so many Americans are embracing something called “general spirituality.” You know, the “I’m-a-spiritual-person-but-I-don’t-believe-in-organized-religion” crowd? This means that one of the largest growing trends in American faith is replacing moral codes with soppy platitudes and feel-good aphorisms.
As a non-believer — unlike some people, I’m willing to commit — I shouldn’t really care that people who condemn “organized religion” often do so because any kind of orthodoxy feels uncomfortable, icky, or archaic. Although I might not have any skin in the game, (other than the skin that is singed from my flesh as I burn in the eternity of the flaming tombs if I’m wrong) this exodus sounds like bad news. Established churches help a free society thrive as they strengthen communities, families, and civil society in general.
More than that, as a political matter, the consistency and stubbornness of those churches are their most attractive features.
Religion, after all, is, by definition, an organized collection of beliefs, cultural systems that try to make sense of existence. These traditions, which often come with a couple thousand years of intellectual experience, tend to defend long-established mores against the vagaries of culture and ideology.
And these days, it’s these people who can be counted on to counterbalance the most zealous, intrusive, faith-based force in the nation. Or, let me put it this way: There’s only one denomination in the country that censures this atheist for not accepting all its moral codes, language, and ideas — and it’s not the Methodists.
But Pew’s “Nones” — which includes atheists, agnostics, and people who believe in God without any specific religious affiliation — now comprise 28 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning adults, up from 19 percent in 2007. In other words, DIY “faithers” outnumber Catholics, Evangelicals, mainline Protestants, and black Protestants on the left. So it’s probably not a coincidence that Democrats are becoming less religious and more progressive simultaneously, or that liberals often see established, orthodox churches as the enemy.
So the clash between the faithful in America — those far more prone to see the Constitution as protecting their way of life — and those unmoored from tradition is inevitable … mostly because of the deep misunderstanding about what religion often means.
The Pew Poll found, for instance, that the number of evangelical Protestants who agree with the statement “homosexuality should be accepted by society” jumped 10 percentage points between the 2007 and 2014 studies — from 26 percent to 36 percent, according to Pew. When hearing this news, Jay Brown, head of research and education at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, told the Washington Post: “Despite attempts to paint religious people as monolithically opposed to LGBT rights, that’s just not the case, and these numbers prove that.”
Actually, it’s worth pointing out that Brown is unintentionally arguing that religious Americans are far less monolithic than his own progressive secularists — who rarely, if ever, wander far from the ideological strictures of faith.
Moreover, when religious people say, “homosexuality should be accepted by society” they could mean a range of things that have absolutely nothing to do with supporting LGBT “rights.” Liberal-heavy Houston voters, for example, rejected a transgender-rights bathroom bill by 70 percent. I imagine most citizens of Houston “accept” that transgendered people should not be drummed out of society, though they do not support every concocted “right” thrown at them by a coercive government.
But if these trends continue, more and more people will confuse “rights” with “acceptance.” For older generations, ones that have the strongest religious ties according to Pew (people who still believe in things like girls and boys bathrooms) will be treated like a bunch of yokels for turning to scripture rather than The New York Times op-ed page. And Millennials, who have comparatively low levels of religious belief and affiliation according to Pew, will also be the most likely to embrace socialism and state coercion in the pursuit of social justice. If this is true, Democrats will surely continue to radicalize. Now, I don’t believe your views about God should have anything to do with your views of individual liberty and coexistence, but they sure seem to.