Sunday, July 20, 2014

Rise of Religious Nones: The Coming Secularization Of America

Over the pat few years there have been some excellent studies published about the increasing prevalence of self-identified religious 'nones' in the U.S.  This is a category that was first measured in the 1980s and '90s, back when religious nones (those who choose not to affiliate with any religion) were less than 7-8% of the population (depending on which poll you were looking at).

Well, we have apparently come of age and grown up.  In 2012, we doubled our numbers or portion of the population to 15%.  In 2014, we are now 20%.  Most worrisome of all to the right-wing, over one-third of young people (those under 30) are religious nones, meaning that the 20% is only going to continue to increase.  Of course, those folks are not all atheists.  Most of them are simply people who have left a religion out of some frustration with it.  However, as non-affiliated folk, they are going to be overwhelmingly secular in worldview and more in line with those who support the First Amendment's Establishment Clause.

This has come at the expense mostly of Christian churches in the U.S.  Starting in the post-World War Two era, a mass exodus from liberal mainline Protestant denominations began taking a toll on Protestant America.  Over time, the Catholic Church likewise began to lose numbers (one out of three people raised Catholic in the U.S. are ex or non-members by adulthood).  For the longest time, fundamentalist Protestant churches flourished and used the declining numbers in mainline Protestant denominations as 'proof' that the skygod supported their Bronze Age interpretation of the world.  Low and behold, this rise of religious nones is now starting to come at the expense of right-wing denominations.

Probably the two largest and most conservative Protestant denominations in the US are the Southern Baptists and the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.  In 2005, there were 16.6 million members of Southern Baptist churches in the U.S.  In 2014, there are 15.7 million (in fact eight consecutive years of membership decline).  In the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, its membership was over 2.5 million in 2000 (over 2.7 million in 1968).  It is now down to 2.2 million and declining yearly (the last time the LCMS had an increase in membership was in 1997).  So, the protection these groups once felt from the secular tides of this country are melting away, and with it their members and eventually churches, as well.  Truly, a wonderful development.  

There is no more beautiful sight in this world than to see the closed doors of a factory of misery and hate.

Of course, the first and most steep declines occurred in the liberal churches/denominations.  That is because it is next to impossible for anyone to be a liberal believer in Christianity and accept the concepts of living in a modern society without having to reconcile with modernity and science.  Fundamentalists at least understand that much, which is why they deny scientific reality for a belief that dinosaurs were treading around with humans 6,000 years ago.  It is what insulated them for so long.  The United Church of Christ (the most liberal of all mainline Protestant churches [the first to accept openly gay and lesbian pastors in the 1970s]) has seen its membership decline from over 2 million in 1962 to less than 1 million today.  Most of those 1 million people who left the UCC did not join the LCMS or Southern Baptists.  They just became religious nones.  

The aforementioned notwithstanding, most religious nones in the past couple of decades do not come from the ranks of liberal churches.  Indeed, most religious nones are like myself, heretical refugees of theological orthodoxy (in my case, the Catholic Church).  Once these churches began pushing intolerance of LGBT people and women's bodies, it stripped the rationale by which most of us continued to delude ourselves into thinking it was a worthwhile endeavor to spend our Sunday mornings around a group of small-minded bigots.  That and the fact it is antithetical to live in a modern society, with all it has to offer, especially in terms of education and technology, and continue to believe that Jonah survived in the belly of a whale for three days, or that some 30 year old carpenter walked on water or rose Lazarus from a grave.  For people who take rational thought seriously, as most progressives do, you have to really be an adult version of a believer in Santa Claus to continue the charade.  That is why the liberal churches faded first and over time the conservatives ones too (now that some of their ex-members are waking up from the deep sleep of a lifetime of brainwashing by their families to believe in these tax exempt cults).

What this means is that ultimately the political realities of this country will have to reflect our cultural changes.  Economic elites can buy and sell our government.  However, they cannot literally deny the culture they live in because they depend on it to keep otherwise law abiding people asleep while they purchase the legislative process.  This means that in very short order, there is going to be a decline of influence of the Religious Right in the U.S.  Maybe not in the Bible Belt (for the time being), but certainly in the rest of the country, and it is inevitable.  Finally, a victory, even if it is only permissible because it does not cost the upper 1% income tax bracket a thing to recognize (like marriage equality).

So, my fellow heathens, rejoice, especially fellow non-believers who happen to live in the Western World's epicenter of human ignorance, the American South.  The cavalry is coming and without a cross.  Onward and forward to the reign of the one true goddess, Thor!

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