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.
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.”