Evangelical Christianity on the wane—or not?

I’m confused.  I’ve just finished Tanya Lurhmann’s When God Talks Back, an anthropological study of the practices of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship, an evangelical sect comprisingly mostly well-off and intelligent people. (The review of the book by Joan Acocella in The New Yorker is right on the mark.)  In her penultimate chapter, Luhrmann talks about the explosion of evangelical Christianity in America:

In 2005, Newsweek found that nearly 40 percent of Americans said that “the main reason” they practiced religion was “to forge a personal relationship with God.”  There are still theologically conservative Christians who do not believe that God will speak back; they still hold, as they put it, that revelation is “closed.” But probably half of the conservative Christians in America are experientially oriented. Membership in charistmatic congregations has exploded since the 1960s.”  (p. 311).

She goes on to suggest that supernaturalism is increasing because the faithful want to talk to God—they want a personal relationship that includes miracles, in which God intercedes in their lives and answers prayers. They don’t want Sophisticated Theology™.

In contrast, an opinion piece in Sunday’s New York Time,The decline of evangelical America,” suggests otherwise.  It’s by John Dickerson, an evangelical minister, and he bemoans the emptying of evangelical pews.  The times identifies the author:

John S. Dickerson is the senior pastor of Cornerstone Church and author of the forthcoming book “The Great Evangelical Recession: Six Factors That Will Crash the American Church … and How to Prepare.”

And he reaches precisely the opposite conclusion as Luhrmann (whose book was published this year).  Dickerson:

In 2011 the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life polled church leaders from around the world. Evangelical ministers from the United States reported a greater loss of influence than church leaders from any other country — with some 82 percent indicating that their movement was losing ground. . .

. . . evangelicals, while still perceived as a majority, have become a shrinking minority in the United States. In the 1980s heyday of the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, some estimates accounted evangelicals as a third or even close to half of the population, but research by the Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith recently found that Christians who call themselves evangelicals account for just 7 percent of Americans. (Other research has reported that some 25 percent of Americans belong to evangelical denominations, though they may not, in fact, consider themselves evangelicals.) Dr. Smith’s findings are derived from a three-year national study of evangelical identity and influence, financed by the Pew Research Center. They suggest that American evangelicals now number around 20 million, about the population of New York State. The global outlook is more optimistic, as evangelical congregations flourish in places like China, Brazil and sub-Saharan Africa.

But while America’s population grows by roughly two million a year, attendance across evangelical churches — from the Southern Baptists to Assembles of God and nondenominational churches — has gradually declined, according to surveys of more than 200,000 congregations by the American Church Research Project.

And so on. What is Dickerson’s theory for the decline? That “evangelicals have not adapted well to rapid shifts in the culture,” and by that he means the secular trends of supporting same-sex marriage, abortion rights, etc.  But Dickerson lays the greatest blame at the door of evangelical hubris—the tendency of evangelicals to chastise and proselytize rather than just comport themselves according to the dictates of Jebus:

I believe the cultural backlash against evangelical Christianity has less to do with our views — many observant Muslims and Jews, for example, also view homosexual sex as wrong, while Catholics have been at the vanguard of the movement to protect the lives of the unborn — and more to do with our posture. The Scripture calls us “aliens and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11), but American evangelicals have not acted with the humility and homesickness of aliens. The proper response to our sexualized and hedonistic culture is not to chastise, but to “conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God” (1 Peter 2:12).

But such humility is impossible for evangelical Christians—at least as long as they ground their faith on the claim that salvation comes only through accepting Jesus as one’s savior.  The other side of that coin is that those who don’t will go to hell (70% of Americans believe in hell, by the way).  And the idea that those who aren’t with you will fry forever is deeply repugnant to non-evangelicals.  It goes against the arc of increasing morality that Pinker so clearly demonstrates in The Better Angels of our Nature.  The proper response to a faith that says, “Believe as we do or boil in molten sulphur” is “you’re insane.”

And so Dickerson’s prescription is impossible, for evangelical Christianity demands a stance that alienates more liberal believers, and the alienation will only increase.

Now I’m not sure who is right about the spread of evangelical Christianity—Dickerson or Luhrmann—as I lack the time to do the research.  But it’s telling that Dickerson sees the waning faith as an opportunity:

Some evangelical leaders are embarrassed by our movement’s present paralysis. I am not. Weakness is a potent purifier. As Paul wrote, “I am content with weaknesses … for the sake of Christ” (2 Corinthians 12:10). For me, the deterioration and disarray of the movement is a source of hope: hope that churches will stop angling for human power and start proclaiming the power of Christ.

Well, I applaud his call for a withdrawal from politics (the Vineyard Fellowship, after all, does virtually no political or social work: that’s one of Acocella’s criticisms of Luhrmann’s “neutrality” about the sect).  But the power of Christ cannot withstand the inexorable tide of secular advance. I f believe with all my heart that some day America will end up like Scandinavia: virtually godless. I won’t live to see it, but I’m confident it will happen, and the trend is in that direction.

 

h/t: Greg Mayer

60 Comments

  1. Posted December 17, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    But such humility is impossible for evangelical Christians—at least as long as they ground their faith on the claim that salvation comes only through accepting Jesus as one’s savior.

    Indeed, if you give even the slightest bit of credence to the Gospels, you have to come to the conclusion that there is nothing more important than spreading the “Good News.” It was Jesus’s final message to his creation, after all.

    Of course, in said message, he also told the true believers how to properly identify themselves to skeptics: by healing the sick and being unaffected by poison and snakebite. According to the same passage where Jesus told his followers to preach the Gospel, he told them that, if they don’t believe they can’t do those remarkable things.

    I’m rather inclined to believe the Jesus character on this one. Not a single Christian has ever actually believed any of that bullshit. Even those crazy enough to think that they believed who went ahead and tried it…well, they never healed anybody and they didn’t survive the poison and snakebites, thereby demonstrating their lack of (sufficient?) belief.

    To the subject at hand…I think we’ve finally reached something of a tipping point, where it’s no longer taboo to point at the silly Christian superstitions and laugh. That’s going to keep lots of kids sane, and Christianity won’t long survive the mass exodus of the youth currently in progress.

    While lots of kids get a kick out of zombies and vampires and what-not, they’re smart enough to know that it’s all make-believe. But tell them, “Here, eat this cracker and drink this grape juice — it’s the flesh and blood of a long-gone Jewish demigod who rose from the dead with gaping flesh wounds, and eating it will make you an immortal,” and they’ll (rightly) think you’re nuts.

    Cheers,

    b&

  2. Posted December 17, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    I hope the confidence you express in your last paragraph turns out to be well founded. I am too old to ever see it happen but it is possible. Unfortunately, the reaction I’ve seen to these horrible murders here in Connecticut tells a different story. It seems as though everybody is telling everyone else to pray. My wife said she has never seen so many talking heads on television calling for prayer while they’re reporting. Since she did, I can’t help but notice it. When I pointed out on facebook the pointlessness of praying to an all-knowing, all-powerful God who would allow this to happen, especially praying for him to give comfort or understanding, I received the negative reaction you might expect and very little support or agreement. I attempted to not be condescending or argumentative. I even suggested that if prayer helps, go ahead and pray. But my “friends” reinforced my understanding of the word “vitriol”.

    • Gary W
      Posted December 17, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

      It’s part of the ridiculous culture of deference toward religion that is so pervasive in the U.S., including among so many people who are not themselves religious. How dare you suggest that prayer doesn’t make sense or that it’s inconsistent with other claims about God! They mean well, and that’s all that really matters. Or something.

      • Draken
        Posted December 17, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

        Maybe they equivocate ‘prayer’ with ‘mourning’. Rather than saying ‘Our thoughts go out to the bereaved’, in America it’s acceptable to say ‘We pray for them’.

        Coming to think of it, I can recall someone like the Dutch prime minister using the first formula, but never the latter.

        • Posted December 17, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

          Nope. Most of these posts were telling others to pray because that’s all we can do, we have no other power or they were imploring us to please pray because lack of prayer offends God and we need to tell God to help those families. As if their omniscient God didn’t know that mass murder is upsetting to humans. On the t.v. side, I’ve never seen newscasters (who mostly just read the copy placed bfore them) tell the viewers to pray, that the families of Newtown need our prayers, etc.. I don’t recall that even after 9/11 although I may have a faulty memory about that.

    • Diane G.
      Posted December 17, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

      I wish I shared Ben & Jerry’s (couldn’t resist!) optimism. I think it more likely that the pendulum will swing the other way, and Europe will regress to greater sectarianism. I agree with all, though, that I won’t be here to see how it plays out, if it ever does.

      • Gary W
        Posted December 17, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

        I think it more likely that the pendulum will swing the other way, and Europe will regress to greater sectarianism.

        I don’t see any evidence that the pendulum is more likely to swing the other way. The decline of religion observed in Europe and the developed world in general (including the U.S.) is consistent with the long-standing secularization hypothesis that religion is essentially a matter of primitive superstition and that as societies become more prosperous and better educated religiosity will tend to decline.

        • Diane G.
          Posted December 17, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

          I used to share your view.

          It’s been a long time since the Enlightenment, though. And on the scale of cultural change, the present European experiment is essentially neonatal.

          I guess I take more note of the increasing schisms engendered by immigration there, esp. Muslim immigration, and the eagerness of nationalists/religionists to take advantage of the conflicts…Economics also appears to be a potent threat to Europe’s tenuous stability.

          (Apologies to all Europeans for speaking so sweepingly of so many and varied traditions and implementations. I’m just too lazy to be more specific, and my “data” are only what I read in the press, anyway.)

          • Posted December 17, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

            While we certainly have our ups and our downs, the overall trend is unquestionably strongly towards increasing rationalism.

            Compare any century with the previous century, and you’ll find far less stupid shit commonly believed by the masses in the later centuries — with the possible exception of the aftermath of the collapse of the Roman Empire.

            I certainly wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a similar collapse, especially with global warming and the end of cheap petroleum upon us. And we might not be able to dig ourselves out from the ensuing mess.

            But, if we do, a millennium from now religion will be as irrelevant as astrology is today.

            (A couple millennia ago, astrology was even bigger than religion is today, and religion was even bigger still. The stars ruled people’s lives and the gods were always meddling, and those “facts” were even more certain then than that Jesus is weeping with the massacre victims today.)

            Cheers,

            b&

            • Diane G.
              Posted December 17, 2012 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

              I’d like to be able to see things your way. Over that same period we’ve also polluted the earth and even near space, overpopulated the world, created ever more effective weapons of mass destruction, annihilated species right and left, and arrived at a popular culture for which the term “lowest common denominator” is way too positive.

              I know–Pinker agrees with you. :D

      • Draken
        Posted December 17, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

        I wonder if what I see in continental north/west Europe is so much sectarianism, as a certain polarisation. Few people paid much attention to religion in the 70s; churches were emptying, the Catholic church lost most of its influence with remaining christians becoming condom-using, aborting, homo-accepting liberal protestants or cultural Catholics. Sometimes we smilingly shook our heads reading newspaper clips about religion in a far-away country called the “USA”. It seemed religion was on the way out. Had Richard Dawkins published the God Delusion in Holland back then, it would have gone virtually unnoticed.

        That started changing gradually in the eighties, likely with the advent of islamic terrorism and the Iranian revolution, and got exacerbated with the end of the Cold War and finally 9/11. Now there’s hardly a current affairs program or web forum not running heated discussions, especially with muslims. But also the Reformatory faction seems to have regained some confidence, as evidenced by their anti-abortion action mailing out foetus dolls to doctors and politicians, and later in 2009 an anti-evolution folder (which many returned to sender with corrective annotations).

        But even though someone like anti-muslim politician Geert Wilders sometimes vaguely refers to the Netherlands’ “judeo-christian tradition”, I doubt the man even can say an Ave Maria anymore.

        • Diane G.
          Posted December 17, 2012 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

          Well, a “certain polarization” can stem from/end up as something every bit as invidious as religion, IMO. It’s all just an excuse for tribalism of some sort, and tribes bring group-think (maybe better, group-not-think) and war.

          Believe it or not, few people paid much attention to religion in the 70′s here, either, relatively speaking, anyway. The only political churchy presence I remember were the the anti-war Catholics, gawd bless ‘em. Kennedy was only elected by promising to be as a-religious as possible (OK, that was the 60′s, but that was the beginning of an era…).

          If you (the general you) did not live through that period in US history you might not understand how easy it is to be profoundly cynical now.

          I’d love to be wrong, of course!

    • gravelinspector
      Posted December 17, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      My wife said she has never seen so many talking heads on television calling for prayer while they’re reporting.

      The alternative is for a variety of politicians to admit that they’ve been wrong for years, leading to many people dying. So, as an alternative to doing something effective, prayer is a good option.
      I’m not surprised that various of your “friends” have (re-)taught you the meaning of “vitriol”. They are after all, religious (judging from what you say).

      • papalinton
        Posted December 17, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

        True
        Prayer is what you do when you can’t do anything useful.

        • gravelinspector
          Posted December 17, 2012 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

          In the words of Terry Pratchett (voiced through Rincewind), “Stercus, stercus, stercus, moriturius sum!
          (“Excretion excretion, excretion, this time I’m really going to die!” ; to a good enough approximation.)

  3. Posted December 17, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    For many people, religion is a background thing and they only accept those parts that don’t have an impact on their relations with other people, without rationalizing what the consequences of their beliefs actually imply. But, for all essential purposes they can behave in a non discriminatory and just way (and even believe in evolution, AGW, gay marriage etc.). For that reason, I sometimes wonder if we are drawing the right lines in the sand.

    • Diane G.
      Posted December 17, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

      They also comprise a substantial part of the gun lobby…

      • Posted December 17, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

        That’s a problem we don’t have in the UK (and Europe I think) in that religious people (for the most part) don’t support ownership of military weapons. My line in the sand certainly wouldn’t encompass those who did.

  4. Kevin Meredith
    Posted December 17, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    Prediction: As religious participation continues to fall, what will be left are increasingly extremist holdouts who become to a larger and larger extent the face of religion, spouting increasingly sexist, superstitious, apocalyptic, homophobic, xenophobic, anti-scientific gibberish, which further alienates the mainstream, which accelerates the decline. In other words, the failure starts to feed on itself, becoming exponential vs. geometric. Maybe it’s already happening?

    • Draken
      Posted December 17, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      Unfortunately they may lock themselves up in large compounds in the hills, armed to the teeth with automatic weapons.

      • raven
        Posted December 17, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

        Why would this be a problem?

        Some right wing clown columnist threatened recently to burn his passport and retreat to a rural compound.

        Great idea, bye bye, and don’t bother sending a postcard.

        • Draken
          Posted December 17, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

          Unfortunately, they may drag their children with them…

    • Diane G.
      Posted December 17, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

      My prediction: as/if religious participation wanes, other isms will take its place.

      • Kevin Meredith
        Posted December 17, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

        I think we’re already seeing that, Diane, e.g. individual spiritualism vs. organized religiosity among the growing class of nones. And overall, I’d argue that the less organized superstition is, the less harm it can do.

        • Diane G.
          Posted December 17, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

          Yes, you have a point.

          I was thinking more of the non-critical-thinking masses, and that the isms they’d flock to would be whatever political demagogue (which is redundant, I know) pandered most successfully to them.

          • Kevin Meredith
            Posted December 17, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

            The demagogues have been trying since the 1980s, at a level bordering on hysteria, to impose their isms on the masses, and the masses are finally catching on. Fewer “Amens” in the last few years and more “Whatevers” and “Dude,-you’re-starting-to-scare-mes.”

            • Diane G.
              Posted December 17, 2012 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

              I’m thinking more of Nazi- & Stalin- type isms; ideologies scarcely distinguishable from rabid religion. That history is so recent as to be hardly history, yet.

              • Kevin Meredith
                Posted December 18, 2012 at 8:16 am | Permalink

                Fortunately, history indicates that you don’t get the really rabid isms where societies have achieved a certain level of advancement. It takes far more fear, anger and alienation to spawn a Hitler than you find in the average modern nation.

              • Diane G.
                Posted December 19, 2012 at 2:50 am | Permalink

                Kevin, it wasn’t that long ago…

                And as someone who remembers the 50′s, IMO we have more fear, anger & alienation now in the US than there was then…

                (I do hope I’m wrong and you’re right, tho.)

      • WiseApe
        Posted December 19, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

        Not necessarily – according to the 2011 census for England and Wales, the percentage of people professing to be Christians fell from 71.7 to 59.3. Sounds bad until you discover that the number of people professing to be Jedi fell by 50%. “This is not the ism you are looking for…”

    • Posted December 18, 2012 at 9:13 am | Permalink

      Somewhat, yes. Pedantically, however, the shift isn’t exponential, but logistic — the total population providing a limit condition.

      Making things more complicated is that the logistic curve for the “rise of the Nones” seems to be rising faster than the “wane of the Evangelicals” is falling.

  5. Posted December 17, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    I f believe with all my heart that some day America will end up like Scandinavia: virtually godless.

    Either that, or it will end up like Haiti – a few very rich, but most of the population impoverished. Or, should I say, like Haiti, but with nukes.

    • Diane G.
      Posted December 17, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

      We seem to share an outlook.

      • truthspeaker
        Posted December 17, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

        Is there room on that bench for me?

  6. MadScientist
    Posted December 17, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    If only more sects would prepare for the end of their sect rather than preparing for the end of the world. Now as for Newsweek vs. Pew … well, that’s a no-brainer. Newsweek tends to run useless polls that are similar to internet polls – very simple and filled with biased questions; Pew tends to run well designed polls.

  7. Diane G.
    Posted December 17, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Dickerson has a book to sell.

    Some years ago, after another electoral defeat for the RR, Cal Thomas wrote a column with very similar sentiments. They were doin’ it rong, needed to stick to their knitting, be less political, live their virtues, etc.

    I notice he’s still on the Op-Ed pages…

  8. raven
    Posted December 17, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    There isn’t any question that US xianity is dying. The statistics all show it. here is one such, from Ed Brayton’s blog today.

    Huffpo October 2012:

    The shift may also be part of a broader strategy to appeal to more donors. Focus on the Family’s revenue amounted to $145 million four year ago when it had a stricter focus, but it has budgeted $95 million for the current year. After several rounds of layoffs, it employs about 650 people, down from a high of 1,400 a decade ago.

    Their loot intake is down from $145 million to $95 million in 4 years.

    Couldn’t happen to a nicer group of hate filled bigots.

    • raven
      Posted December 17, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

      Some more statistics.

      1. The Southern Baptists have lost members for 5 years in a row.

      2. The National Council of Churches claims 1.5 million people left last year. Given the severe limitations of their data collection, the real number is likely to be more like 2-3 million.

      3. The retention rate for young people in the SBC is 30%.

      4. Ken Ham’s Creation Pseudomuseum isn’t doing so well. Attendance is down a bit and AIG itself is losing money.

      5. The Catholic church has lost 1/3 of its members recently, a huge 22 million people.

      US xianity is projected to go below 50% between 2030 and 2040. I probably won’t be alive then, but it’s on the outside of possible.

  9. raven
    Posted December 17, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    That statistics aren’t favorable for US xianity.

    The real situation is likely a lot worse.

    The right wing extremist fundies seem to be hollowing out. These days they are just right wing extremists of the Tea Party/GOP with a few crosses stuck on for show.

    Fundie-ism is based on hate, lies, and hypocrisy. They have a magic book written by god, that they never read and have no idea what is in it. They don’t even know the doctrines of their own cults. Which doesn’t matter because those evolve in real time quite rapidly.

    Being a fundie xian is more a tribal badge than anything to do with religion. A whole lot of them never bother going to church.

    • raven
      Posted December 17, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

      FWIW, the xians themselves, not known for intelligence or introspection, are realizing their religion is dying. Killed off by the fundies mostly.

      1. Up until recently, the cults fought among themselves viciously. The Protestants hate the Catholics and vice versa. The fundies hate everyone, and everyone hates them back. The JW’s and Mormons fire a few mortar shells and duck.

      These days they are banding together. They realize they hate us more than they hate each other.

      2. The darksiders, the fundies are getting more extreme and uglier. Somewhere in their reptilian hindbrain, it has registered that they are going downhill. And they can’t think of anything to do about it but double down on the hate, lies, and insanity.

      They lose members in the order of best and brightest first. So who is going to be left?

  10. Posted December 17, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    §

  11. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted December 17, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    It’s not impossible that personal faith (New Age Christianity) is increasing but that support for organised sects is decreasing. Cutting out the middle man, so to speak.

    Well intentioned people talking to themselves on park benches seem less threatening than congregations whipped up by some hate filled bigot. YMMV.

  12. corio37
    Posted December 17, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    You can identify three stages here that any group passes through when its credibility goes into a decline:

    1. Other people have the facts wrong!
    2. Other people have the facts right but their brains are wrong!
    3. Other people have right facts and right brains but we’re just not teaching them right!

    At which point it all descends to ugly infighting about who’s responsible for not getting their message across properly.

    You can see it going on in the AGW movement right now.

    • Timothy Hughbanks
      Posted December 18, 2012 at 12:02 am | Permalink

      Irrelevant nonsense. Thankfully you spared us your idiotic links to WUWT this time.

  13. Kevin
    Posted December 17, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    The proper response to a faith that says, “Believe as we do or boil in molten sulphur” is “you’re insane.”

    QFT

  14. Posted December 17, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    In her review New Yorker review Acocella doesn’t mention what is for me the scariest part of the Vineyard movement to regard God/Jesus as continuously present and conversing with adherents. That is the conscious, purposeful self-training to interpret one or another interior ‘voice’ as God speaking privately to the adherent. That is, these people are purposefully training themselves to hallucinate God’s voice. I’m reading Oliver Sacks’ Hallucinations now in the hope of learning a bit more about that.

  15. Posted December 17, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    I think that the disconnect might be due to people who don’t self-identify with evangelicals, but are evangelical in practice. This fits with my experience; some of the most religious people I know don’t like to use the term “religious” to identify themselves. They actually point blank say that they aren’t religious.

    It probably has to do with the negative connotations of the words “religious” or “evangelical”. That’s why I never really trust these self-reporting polls.

    • Posted December 17, 2012 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

      Even that disconnect is a good sign.

      People who are ashamed to admit what they really are, or even just those who keep their yaps shut because they don’t like the flak they catch for their outré beliefs, are people who, first, aren’t spreading their insanity; and, second, are suffering that much more from cognitive dissonance and are therefore that much more likely to abandon their irrational beliefs.

      It’s not unlike smoking in the States. It used to be something everybody did and that doctors endorsed. Now, it’s a guilty not-so-fun dirty pleasure that nobody’s happy admitting they’ve got. And smoking rates have plummeted here as a result.

      Sure, there’ll always be smokers, and there’ll always be religious people. But society can tolerate both when they’re outcasts in the minority. It’s when everybody’s hacking up a lung or having play-pretend zombie-eating parties that you’ve got a problem.

      b&

  16. raven
    Posted December 17, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    This fits with my experience; some of the most religious people I know don’t like to use the term “religious” to identify themselves. They actually point blank say that they aren’t religious.

    If people are ashamed to admit they are religious, that is a good sign that it’s on its way out. It’s like alcoholism, first you have to admit you have a problem.

    Xians gave xianity a bad name long ago.

    Xians also overreport their church attendance. Surveys say something like 40% of people go to church. When they actually count the number of people in church, it is more like 25%.

    The numbers I pay attention to are church enrollments and their loot intake. The churches inflate their numbers anyway, so when they report declines, they are likely underreported. And money is important. They say they want to save your soul but they always seem a lot more interested in money and power. In the last few years, their donations are down significantly.

    In 4 years, Focus on Hate has dropped their money intake by 35%.

    • tomh
      Posted December 17, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

      I don’t doubt that your stats are true re: church attendance, donations, etc., and these are important. Where a decline has not shown up though, is in the religious privilege that is woven into the US legal system. The last twenty years has shown an ever-increasing number of religious exceptions to secular laws, written into the laws and, more commonly, inserted as earmarks by individual Congresspeople, which are not subject to debate. Besides laws there are untold numbers of government regulations containing exceptions which privilege religion. These occur no matter which party has control, with Dems just as culpable as the GOP.

      The problem is that America has a love affair with religious privilege that equals its love affair with guns. Eventually, I suppose, a decline in religious fervor may reflect itself in the amount of religious privilege that we allow, but there’s certainly no sign of it. Any more than there is a sign of a lessening of our privileging of gun owners.

      • raven
        Posted December 17, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

        Where a decline has not shown up though, is in the religious privilege that is woven into the US legal system.

        Xians still make up 76% of the population. And they vote.

        US xianity is on trend to go below 50% between 2030 and 2040. That is still a lot of people and votes.

        They aren’t going to reverse religious privilege in my lifetime or probably anyone’s lifetime reading this.

  17. MNb
    Posted December 17, 2012 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    “the faithful want to talk to God”
    Interesting. As god won’t talk back we can expect a lot of disappointment. So I predict that within a few decades the USA will be less religious that the usual European countries – Law of the handicap of a head start, so to say.

  18. Posted December 17, 2012 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

    Not to oversimplify (which is exactly what I’m going to proceed in doing . . .), it seems to me that there at least two flavors of evangelicalism. One is what I have nicknamed the New Age Evangelicals. These folk tend to be very spiritual and have an inward focus. By this, I mean that their focus is on their spiritual life and investing themselves in developing it and their relationship with God. If this were the ’60s, it would be hard to tell these folks from flower children.

    I heard an interview with Tanya Lurhmann on NPR not too long ago. I can’t remember the show . . . probably Fresh Air. As I was listening to the conversation, I remember being struck with how “laid back” and “mellow” these folks seemed to be . . .

    There is another subset of evangelicals that I have nicknamed the Ol’ Time Southern Tent Revivalists. This is an over-the-top simile, but picture Westboro Baptist Church with guitars and cymbals (but /*/no*/ dancing, of course). These folks are the “chosen few.” They have the Inside Track. Theirs is the One True Way. They are charged with saving the world from itself whether it wants it or not. The come armed with full magazines of self-righteousness and they are locked and loaded . . . (Can you say “Pat Robertson/”

    Where the New Age Evangelicals are on a search for enlightenment, spiritual strength and inner peace, the Ol’ Time Southern Tent Revivalists are on a crusade to bring the rest of the world to heel and set it on the Right Path.

    From a psychological/worldview perspective, these two groups are as different as it is possible to get.

    The “New Agers” are on a quest. They are all about personal development and enlightenment. They are constantly on the lookout for new ways to grow themselves and their relation ship with God. They are all about: How can I grow? How can I become more intimate with my beliefs. How can I improve my relationship with my creator and the people around me.

    OTOH, the OTSTRs are the complete opposite. They already /*have*/ the answer. It’s in the back of the book on page 297. Their job is to go out and share Truth with the world . . . i.e. browbeat it into submission.

    So to get back to the question of “Which is it? Is the evangelical population growing or shrinking,” the answer seems to be: “Yes.”

    The population of “New Agers” seems to be growing. The population of OSTSRTs seems to be shrinking. Which, in and of itself, doesn’t seem to be such a bad thing to me.

    As an aside, it seems that a similar kind of polarization is happening within the political system in the US.

    For the political junkies in the readership, I have posted a blog entry on the topic at: http://dcmwfmmmu.com/2012/12/13/authoritarians-at-the-gates/

    Would appreciate feedback . . .

    Cheers.

  19. JohnC
    Posted December 17, 2012 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

    While all developed societies have been undergoing secularisation over the past few decades, the starting points and patterns are different. The US seems to be undergoing a surprisingly rapid disaffiliation (from a high base) which is not being matched by an equally rapid decline in belief, yet. Given the pattern is generational in nature (as it is everywhere, one of the few commonalities), it may be that the effects on belief may not start to be fully felt until the children of today’s millenium generation enter the survey population. Children are much less likely to become believers if their parents are not hauling them off to church regularly, or sending them to xian youth camps, etc.

    In the meantime, all US churches are starting to feel the effects of both shrinkage and ageing (though Catholics have been somewhat insulate by high Hispanic immigration). This process seems to me to be demographically irreversible.

  20. R.W.
    Posted December 17, 2012 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    “…because the faithful want to talk to God—they want a personal relationship that includes miracles,”

    In fact, the only phenomenon that can be said, with any degree of justification, to partake of the miraculous is the relentless grip that religious superstition continues to exercise on the minds of ostensibly sane people.

  21. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted December 17, 2012 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

    I’m fairly convinced that classical Christianity in America has only 50 to 100 years left of any significant influence. Like Rasputin, it’s hard to kill, but it will eventually die off.

    However, radically revisionist religion and various New Age type of stuff (i.e. the kind of stuff that is dominant here in the San Francisco Bay Area) may have a longer hey-day.

    Speaking pedantically, its quite possible that specific subcultures of evangelical Christianity are growing, while the institution as a whole is shrinking. Lurhmann seems to be talking about the former. I’m not entirely convinced that the two points of view JC are contrasting are mutually exclusive.

  22. Golkarian
    Posted December 17, 2012 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

    I think we’re approaching this problem too much as gradualists. It’s punctuated equilibria, obviously the amount of religious people changes, we see that from countries such as those in Scandinavia. But we don’t see the gradual change because big events (new discoveries for instance) end religion.

    • Posted December 18, 2012 at 9:05 am | Permalink

      The difference between gradualism and punctuated equilibrium is a question of time scale. The ongoing US demographic transition of “the rise of the Nones” is presently well approximated by a logistic curve with circa 27 year time constant. Whether that’s gradual or a punctuation depends on whether you look at history in 2 year or 200 year scale.

  23. Gordon Hill
    Posted December 18, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    being confused about Evangelical Christianity is easy, even for Christians. What is it? While the simple answer is to “spread the Good News of the Gospels” there is a diversity of opinions among Evangelicals as to what that means.

    To further confuse the issue, many equate Evangelicals with Fundamentalism which is based on “the Bible as the literal word of God” which some Evangelicals believe.

    Beliefnet has an interesting ten question quiz on Evangelicalism in America here which begins with the ‘fact’ (?) that only 37% of Christians are Evangelicals.


Post a Comment

Required fields are marked *
*
*

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 27,028 other followers

%d bloggers like this: