Is religion dying in America?

Statistics say religion is dying in America.  In a rural area like Floyd County, such a predicted death can, and will, be discarded by what, those of faith say,  remains a healthy collection of church goers.

But parking lots at area churches seem less crowded.  Restaurants open during Sunday church hours contain large crowds.  They are eating breakfast or lunch and talking about sports, politics, sex and news.

The fasted growing section of Americans are those who answer “none” when asked if they attend church or even belong to a denomination or faith.

The “none’s” literally “exploded in numbers,” beginning in the early 1990s.  The Public Religion Research Institute found about 10 percent of U.S. did not belong to a church or were members of a religious denomination.  Then it increased to 15 percent, then 20 and passed 25 percent in 2016.

Wrote James A. Haught, editor emeritus of The Charleston Gazette-Mail, West Virginia’s largest newspaper:

That makes them the nation’s largest faith category, outstripping Catholics (21 percent) and white evangelicals (16 percent).  They seem on a trajectory to become an outright majority.   America is following the secular path of Europe, Canada, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and other modern places.  The Secular Age is snowballing.

At least 200,000 Southern Baptists leave that denomination each year.

Haught continues:

In the scientific 21st century, it’s less plausible to believe in invisible gods, devils, heavens, hells, angels, demons — plus virgin births, resurrections, miracles, messiahs, prophecies, faith-healings, visions, incarnations, divine visitations and other supernatural claims.  Magical thinking is suspect, ludicrous.  It’s not for intelligent, educated people.

Significantly, the PRRI study found that the foremost reason young people gave for leaving religion is this clincher: They stopped believing miraculous church dogmas.

For decades, tall-steeple mainline Protestant denominations with university-educated ministers tried to downplay supernaturalism — to preach just the compassion of Jesus and the social gospel.  It was a noble effort, but disastrous.  The mainline collapsed so badly it is dubbed “flatline Protestantism.”  It has faded to small fringe of American life.

Haught wrote these thoughts in December 2016.  On January 11 of this year, he wrote:

When I was young in the 1950s, gay sex was a felony – and it was a crime for stores to open on the Sabbath – and blacks were banned from white schools, restaurants, hotels, pools, neighborhoods and jobs – and it was a crime to buy a cocktail or look at something like a Playboy magazine – and a desperate girl who ended a pregnancy faced prison, along with her doctor.  Our mayor once sent police to raid bookstores selling “Peyton Place.” Now all those Puritanical strictures have vanished.  Human progress occurred.

It’s true that the bizarre Trump era is the worst of times.  But I have blind faith (perhaps fueled by wishful thinking) that Trump will fade into the muck from whence he came, and intelligent statecraft will return.

These thoughts do not come from an editor of the so-called “journalism élite” in New York or Washington but from a grizzled 87-year-old newspaperman up in Charleston, WVa.  His latest book, Fading Faith: The Rise of the Secular Age, argues that religion is dying.

In 2016, Haught wrote:

Overwhelmingly, 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump — a twice-divorced vulgarian who calls women “pigs” and “slobs,” brags about extramarital affairs, and boasts of grabbing females by their private parts. He rarely attends church. Nonetheless, strong evangelical support propelled him to the White House.

Can anyone explain this bizarre contradiction? Does it mean that evangelicals care little about sexual morality and family values taught by their churches? Are they more devoted to Republican conservativism than to their church maxims? This paradox smacks of cognitive dissonance, the confusion suffered when opposite beliefs clash inside a person.

Robert Jones, head of the Public Research Institute, wrote The End of White Christian America, which details of fall of religion in America.  Megachurch pastor John Dickerson, author of The Great Evangelical Recession, says “evangelicalism as we knew it in the 20th century is disintegrating.”

“A majority of young people raised as evangelicals are quitting church,” Jones says. “In coming years, we will see the old evangelicalism whimper and wane.”

1 COMMENT

  1. Doug, after reading this article I felt extreme sadness; as if I had suffered a terrible loss. Even though you and I both grew up in a church-going family, I held no religious beliefs from a teenager through adulthood. Some of my agnostic, or even atheist views came from my own rebellion against everything and anything that I had learned at home growing up. The sheer lack of love alone taught me that nothing, absolutely nothing could ever be trusted. If I desired attention, I could only receive it using extreme tactics–the wrong tactics. Those wrong tactics propelled me into a life I thought I deserved. A life that I thought was meant for me. As a person who is now approaching the Autumn of my life, I have changed most of my views on life, love, trust, acceptance and faith/belief.

    I often wondered who I could have been, what my life could have been if only I had been loved as a child. Growing up at home I learned indifference, anger, fear, guilt, dislike, jealousy, division, and hatred as a way of life from the inside of a family unit, not as an outsider who had seen how the normal family operated.

    In the last many years, I have raised six children–three of my own and three step-children. (As well as 17 grandchildren and 1 great grandson). The same sort of family you and I grew up in. The differences, the challenges, personalities, ex-wives, ex-husbands, family dysfunctions, lack of direction and the definite lack of trust made life nearly impossible at times. Somehow I made it through and have a very diverse group of people that I call “my family”. None of us are who we could have been, none of us are who we wish we were, but we are all here as a group of people to serve a divine purpose.

    Through an epiphany, I have come to know Jesus Christ. That same epiphany has led me to know that I am who I am supposed to be, not an unnecessary blight serving no purpose other than taking up space. The children I have raised are not who I wish they were, nor who they wanted to be, but they are also serving a divine purpose–we are GOD’s children. We are in the right season for a purpose that is yet to be revealed.

    We must have faith and trust in something. That something for me is a life abundant here on earth and an eternal life with my Lord when I am called home. I do not have a religious bone in my body, but I do however, have a true trust in the Lord, my GOD Jesus Christ with whom I will continue to walk in faith until my time here is over. I believe in my Christian walk, I do trust in each and every word that is written in the Bible, and I do have faith in an eternal life–this does not make me religious, it makes me a child of GOD.

    I am a voracious reader and have over the course of the last year read the Bible multiple times and have consumed every piece of christian writing that I can find. I know that you value reading and learning, so have you read the Bible, understood the Bible, listened to the Lord when he speaks? Do you know the value of discernment? I hadn’t and didn’t until he spoke to me and brought value to a life I thought I had wasted. My life has only just gotten started, a life with a purpose. A life filled with light and more love than I could ever, ever have imagined.

    I pray that you look to the Bible for words of encouragement and find something other than this repugnant worldly life that many are living. When I was very young, you were my idol, that one person who was so different and aloof that I dreamed of being similar to when I grew up. Well, I did grow up, in a world that was ugly, lonely, frightening and I nearly allowed it to destroy me. I spent much of my life, even up to the age of 50, wondering why I had to grow up in the family that I had. I still don’t know why, but I do know that there is a reason and some day I will know the answer to my question.

    I believe that some day, after I leave this world behind, I will never feel lost, lonely, unloved, unwanted, frightened or unnecessary ever again.

    John 3:16 For GOD so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have ever lasting life. (This is on Daddy’s grave stone, and I do hope that he is in Heaven waiting on me).

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