Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Is the trend irreversible?


A new study has taken a closer look at data reported earlier this year by Trinity College in its American Religious Identification Survey 2008, and it shows that Americans who claim no religious affiliation are, on average, more likely to be male, younger, living in the West and politically independent. The new report also finds that most of those who claim no religion don’t have antagonism toward religion but “embrace philosophical and theological beliefs that reflect skepticism.” Only 7 percent of those in the no-religion camp identify themselves as atheists, and 27 percent say they believe in a personal God. However, the numbers do not bode well for organized religion. The initial survey estimates that as of 2008, there were 34 million adult "nones” in this country, a huge increase from 1990, when the figure was 14 million. The people who have no religious ties now account for 15 percent of the American population. I'm not sure when the last time was that the country saw an increase in the percentage of the population with links to organized religion, but I'm guessing it’s been a long, long time. And I have to wonder whether we are amid a slow, inexorable shift to a point at which there will be more non-religious folks than church folks in this country. In fact, the Trinity College study projects that about one-quarter of the U.S. population could be unaffiliated with religion within two decades. I have two questions: Why has the desire to embrace organized religion dropped so precipitously over the past 20 years? And, what can the major religions do, if anything, to reverse the trend?

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26 Comments:

Blogger Ellipses said...

Wow! "Nones" are a greater population than African Americans... and if the trend is irreversible, we should start seeing a lot more "secularity" in politics, and having "great faith" will no longer be a pre-requisite for office.

I can't imagine what could reverse the trend... if 9/11 couldn't swing the pendulum back toward religion, I can't imagine anything short of the second coming that would.

September 23, 2009 at 2:07 PM  
Blogger PRIguy said...

I think that the reason the "Nones" are increasing in numbers is that most churches refuse to adapt to different lifestyles and points of view.

If a company doesn't adapt to changes in the marketplace, eventually it will go bankrupt. What if Sony had decided that televisions with channel dials that got only five stations would never ever change?

I know this topic is going to bring out the religious zealots, but I have to believe that God would rather see you in church than not, even if you're gay or whatever. If churches were more accepting of changing lifestyles and mores, I think that their memberships would increase.

I'm divorced. I was raised as a Catholic and I attended Catholic churches until I was about 43 years old. The Catholic Church doesn't "recognize" divorce. I was married to a bi-polar, alcoholic lesbian and there was no future for our marriage. So even though I attended church regularly, I wasn't really wanted there. It's a simple question: Is it better to accept my divorce and have me and my children in church or is it better to ban me and my children because of an antiquated tenet? Well, the Catholic Church lost me seven years ago.

In short, churches need to get with the times, lighten up, and be as charitable, loving and accepting as they are supposed to be.

September 23, 2009 at 4:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it is really a generational shift. The majority of my children, nieces and nephews were born to Catholic parents but only a very small few practice the religion today. Nevertheless,I can honestly comment with complete objectivity that even though the great majority are not practicing Catholics, they are all hard working, very loving and seem genuinely happy. The traditional religions may very well be going the way of the dinosaurs faster than we all may think!

September 23, 2009 at 5:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

zzzzzzzzz
The moderation has ruined the dialogue here.
zzzzzzzzz
Two weeks ago you would have ad 30 comments by now.

September 24, 2009 at 7:55 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

Would it be a stretch to blame the 60s liberals? Actually, no, and I might argue it was a good thing. On the negative side, the Baby Boomer generation is generally self serving and the first "me" generation. On the positive side, they didn't take things at face value, and pushed for exploration rather than acceptance. They helped to relativism into Religious conversation, something the Quakers have tried to do for centuries. Without absolutes, how cn one easily e sure what to believe. In the end, it grew into an understanding of personal religious beliefs rather than social religious beliefs.

September 24, 2009 at 8:22 AM  
Blogger Brant said...

Believe me, Anonymous, I would much rather have it the old way. This is more work for me, and it will definitely reduce the reading and commenting on the blog. But because some people couldn't act like adults, everyone suffers. Sadly, it's like kindergarten. A couple of kids misbehave, and everyone stays in for recess. There's just really no other easy remedy when people insist on acting like idiots under the cover of anonymity, which allows them to say things they wouldn't have the cojones to say if their name was on the comment.

September 24, 2009 at 9:21 AM  
Blogger Ellipses said...

Re: Chris

I think "organized religion" is caught in a catch-22... if you bend to societal pressures, you admit that there may not be universal truth... If you do that, how many of your hardcore adherents do you lose?

If you stand fast in the face of a changing world and hold onto those things that we point to as proof that the church isn't relevant, then you lose those who are, well... not hardcore.

Frankly, I find it amazing that some of the stuff has endured for 2,000 years... I find it petty, ridiculous, superstitious, and harmful... and it's not much of a stretch to go from "well, obviously the earth WASN'T created 6,000 years ago... and you know, maybe Jesus wasn't ACTUALLY a god..." to "The whole world makes a lot more sense if you just take the whole God part out of it... It seems like there is a convoluted and contradictory narrative that was created to facilitate this idea of God... but really, God isn't a necessary component in any of this... "

And then you have the intermediaries... Which makes for an interesting timeline.

My grandparents go to church regularly and have a personal relationship with Jesus and all that... they are pro-abortion, don't really take all the theatrics of the church seriously, but for all intents and purposes, they are good, decent "christians."

My mom goes to church twice a year, believes in God, but doesn't really see the relevance of religion in daily life. She has wavered as far as the existence of God is concerned, and falls on the side of "maybe there is a God, but he doesn't seem to meddle in my life."

Then you have me... :-)

It will be interesting to see what kind of religious views my son ends up with.

September 24, 2009 at 9:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some people don't take well to organized religion, for various reasons. I was brought up in the Fifties by parents who read the Bible daily and attended church weekly, with me in tow, until I was 18. But I had developed a dislike for church by the time I was 10, partially because my parents used church as a club to keep me in line: "If you don't go to church, you don't go out with your friends." When I was 18, I had a confrontation with my authoritarian father after staying out too late on a Sunday night, and I left home for three months. After my mom convinced me to come back, I no longer went to church.

I was raised Protestant, but I have attended both Catholic and Protestant churches, on and off, for the last 40 years, but never regularly. And yet I still have not been convinced that Christianity -- or any faith (and I've studied them) -- is the "one true religion." I have many reasons for coming to this conclusion that can be argued long and hard from multiple points of view. But I know I am not alone in thinking that there are multiple ways to serve a higher purpose, and not all of them require attending church.

Sixties parents didn't raise a godless generation, but I think they encouraged their kids to think for themselves. And when people think, they reach different conclusions.

In my view, organized religion itself bears part of the responsibility for people turning away from it. Philandering pastors and child molesting priests don't encourage faith, nor do homophobic rantings that advocate the killing of homosexuals and abortion clinic doctors. Ostracizing members who have had an abortion or become divorced doesn't help. Perversion of the basic tenets of a religion to allow for the justifiable murder of "infidels" doesn't help. Overlooking social service responsibilties that should be apparent even to atheists to concentrate on gaining new members whose sole purpose seems to be to grab more passengers for the bus to heaven doesn't help. Outsiders -- and sometimes the members themselves -- see these actions and become jaded. Can the trend be reversed? I think not.

Like many of the respondents in the cited poll, I don't see myself as a member of any one religion yet I don't condemn those who are. Whatever works for you -- provided it isn't human sacrifice or the wholesale conversion of "heathens" by torturing them until they convert, then killing them -- is OK with me.

I didn't say I don't believe in a god. Something created us. But a god I can believe in is inclusive, not exclusive, and that god doesn't cause people to suffer for some grander purpose, beat "queers" to death, blow up cars in a crowded market area or firebomb an abortion clinic. He or she doesn't cause terrorists to fly planes into buildings to teach a lesson to a fallen nation or send a tsunami to wipe out a few hundred thousand folks for the hell of it. Nor does that god exclude a person from taking communion or being remarried in the church because he or she is divorced.

So, the view of the universe I've arrived at and am becoming very comfortable with after 50 some years of thinking on it is this: god made the world, then stepped back to see what would happen. This god can be surprised by man's actions. Things may or may not happen for a reason, although it's undeniable that certain occurrences make possible other occurrences. I believe our purpose in life is to help others in whatever ways we can, yet I believe it's possible that someone can struggle for a lifetime without seeing that purpose.

In short: First, do no harm. Help others. Develop a moral code of some kind but don't be surprised if you need to revise it over the course of your life because it was flat out wrong in some areas. Never assume you will react identically to identical situations, no matter how often they confront you. Never cast the first stone, and be comfortable with the fact that you are neither obligated not likely to convert others to your way of thinking.

I'll find out if I'm wrong someday. Or not.

September 24, 2009 at 12:12 PM  
Blogger Brant said...

Excellent commentary, Anonymous. If only we could get some people to feel comfortable with not having to or expecting to compel others to believe as they do. Side note to “The Anonymous One.” Please drop me an e-mail at Bewman99@yahoo.com.

September 24, 2009 at 1:30 PM  
Blogger Lori said...

What Would Jesus Do - Not go to organized religious buildings, I'm fairly certain. He went house to house in most places in the Jesus Manual. He didn't beat people up with that same manual. He didn't even demand we go to "church." Now if True Believers would take what they know, trust and believe to be truth and put it in action, the trend may change. But, as long as religion doesn't have anything to offer but a bunch of rules and regulations, why bother? My goal is to love and accept everyone (even the stinky people)into my heart. Pray for God's divine intervention for their needs and build them up to be healthy people at peace with themselves and their maker. Then let them pay it forward. Sorry, I have failed miserably in that area. Your posts always get me motivated to live beyond my selfish self and seek to be a better example of who I am in Christ.

September 24, 2009 at 7:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

More of the same well-worn stuff here. Brant, need some new topics.

The initial piece demonstrates a lack of understanding of the topic. Without the clarity of understanding, all the rest just fades into the woodwork, makes no valid points.

As a Christian who desires a heart for the Lord, I too detest organized religion. As Lori points out, the Bible detests organized religion. Attempting to make an argument from the "nones" demonstrates a distortion of biblical teaching. Your piece fails to recognize the flawed nature of the questions.

Some of you can cheer, wave your arms frantically in glee, and look to others who embrace "nothing" (speaking of 'nones') for support and reinforcement. Sorry, you make no points, you advance your cause not one step, or reverse the step of others. Your futile attempt to latch onto to something as vain as these statistics in an effort to make a point is really pointless.

The rhetorical title of the thread speaks volumes about intent. Cheer the troops, bring out the supporters for a party. You change nothing. Perhaps rather than grasping at straws to make a point, it is time to rethink your position. Don't bother to explain how many times you have read the Bible, how many critical thinkers are with you on your side, how much more intellectual you are than those who embrace biblical truth. These have all been tried before, without success, as an explanation.

September 24, 2009 at 9:50 PM  
Blogger Brant said...

I'm really not cheering for any particular outcome, even though I think some of what passes for religion - including violent extremist Islam and anti-gay movements – are more evil than good. And I really wasn't trying to make a point, just to point out the facts and get others' ideas about the reasons and the future of organized religion.

September 25, 2009 at 12:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

we should start seeing a lot more "secularity" in politics, and having "great faith" will no longer be a pre-requisite for office.

Ellipses, everything our govt is based on is faith. You might agree or not. Take the 10 commandments, how many of those commandments can you break and not do jail time? Some places you can get stoned to death for breaking them.

Some people say the fall of religon is what is wrong with America.

I'm not a religon freak, but it sure does make our society have good morals. What is wrong with good morals? Do you need religon to have good morals? Can you have good morals and not follow the 10 commandments?

September 25, 2009 at 3:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, one doesn't need religion to have good morals. In England few practice religion yet they have a much lower crime rate than here. How can that be if it all morality stems from organized religion? I've always felt religions were devised as a way to control the masses and it's the same today. The world would be a lot better off without organized religion and all the hateful things that are done in the name of religion.

September 25, 2009 at 5:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

1 Pet 1:24-25,"... men are like grass, ... like flowers of the field, ... grass withers and flowers fall, ... the word of the Lord remains forever." In reading some of these comments, and the story of the statistics, one could easily think that 2009 has brought an enlightenment upon mankind. Do we really think that the people of 2009 can do what others have tried to do for millenniums, squelch the word of the Lord? How arrogant can we be to believe that we are so smart in 2009 that the word of the Lord will fade away? Nothing has changed in God's word in many thousands of years. Will it change because a poll says that fewer people are in the "none" category? I don't think so.

September 25, 2009 at 5:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, one doesn't need religion to have good morals. In England few practice religion yet they have a much lower crime rate than here.

you can't compare a place that has different gun laws and a super lower rate of population. Lower crime rate as in? GSW? Yet they have more stabbings just like Canaduh.

September 25, 2009 at 8:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Good morals" is a relative phrase, despite the efforts of some to claim that there is a baseline of morality that crosses cultures. For example, the Aztecs thought it was completely moral to sacrifice humans to their gods. Some Mormons think it moral to have multiple wives. As in most things, your mileage may vary.

September 26, 2009 at 2:21 PM  
Anonymous the anonymous one said...

On religion, I would like for everyone to take Benjamin Franklins idea. He visited many churches. I don't think he had one religion. He said they are all the same, and was a way to have good structure in your life. Franklin was a very interesting man. His thoughts on booze,religion and the world was before his time!


BUT!!!!!!!!!!


I wanna go to church that Al Gore attends. He did such a fine job praying to congress that he got 1/2a billion dollars to build a GREEN CAR plant. I was thinking.. that is what we need! Think of all the jobs that will bring America! Then, I found out that he plans to take American tax dollars and run to where? Finland! Here is an oxymoron... Al Gore is going to build a GREEN SPORTS CAR! I hear those are in high demand. You know everyone has the money to buy a hybrid sports car. Price tag on his green sports car? $89,000. I'm sure with that price, everyone in America will have 2 of them.

So my new found religion is the worship of the Dem's. This ought to outrage every tax payer. America should hit that car with super high tariffs.

September 26, 2009 at 2:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It has become more acceptable to say that you are not religious or believe in God. That is the key. Many people in the past have stated that they believed in God when they did not because of society.
That does not mean that society has a whole is less or more religious, just more open about doubt or disbelief.
The churches that are less fundmental (more open towards homosexuality or such) are losing members the fastest. So it is not because they are not more open.
It is intriguing to hear those that are not followers state why there are less followers of faith. If the churches changed, would you believe all of a sudden in something that you believed to be superstition? I doubt it.
No it becomes a way to force change on an institution in which you have no vested interest.
If the church has no meaning, then why attempt to force its change thru such passive agressive methods? Why concern yourself at all with the issue?

September 26, 2009 at 4:37 PM  
Blogger Ellipses said...

"Ellipses, everything our govt is based on is faith. You might agree or not. Take the 10 commandments, how many of those commandments can you break and not do jail time?"

You can break 7 of the 10 (if you assume that number 9 applies to perjury, if not, then you can break 8 out of 10) and not do jail time.

Just because it is illegal, by American law, to kill someone AND the 10 commandments say you shouldn't murder... that does not mean that our no-murder law is based on the commandment...

"What is wrong with good morals? Do you need religon to have good morals? "

Absolutely not. I have no religion and I am a very moral and ethical person. I am very christ-like, you might say :-)

Furthermore, there are people who believe in all kinds of gods who are moral people... people that a good christian would say is damned to hell for believing in a cartoonish elephant god or some weird version of Yahweh. But I live my life attempting to please my fellow man and I do a pretty good job at that... flying spaghetti monster or not.

September 26, 2009 at 6:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I chuckle at the posts in threads like this when the writer claims good morals. The "good" part of their claim means they have a standard, yet they claim they have no standard. What foolishness. How delusional.

September 27, 2009 at 6:32 AM  
Blogger Brant said...

They may very well have standards, and some of those standards may well overlap with Biblical teachings. But that doesn't mean they have to believe in a supreme being. The Bible has teachings that are very valuable for all of us to follow - such as treating others as you would like to be treated - but while I adhere to some things that happen to be in the Bible, I find the story that makes up the central core of the book to be a fairy tale.

September 27, 2009 at 7:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I chuckle at the posts in threads like this when the writer claims good morals. The "good" part of their claim means they have a standard, yet they claim they have no standard. What foolishness. How delusional.

I have great morals and standards! I don't need a church to tell me how I should live my life. I went to a Catholic Church for about 23 years, yet when I really needed them when I was in hard time in my life, Father _______ told me to get bent. I still hold the teachings close, but I don't think a guy in a funny costume can teach me anything more about being a better person when he has so much to learn himself.

Another thing, after giving my hard earned money to the Catholic Church for so many years, and to find out that the POPE knew about the Priest messing with little boys and paying some families hush money, kinda pissed me off. I gave to my church about 25000 in those 23 years. Just to have them cut a check to cover up their sins.

So I myself chuckle at you for judging my lack of standards. You might want to take a real close look at the company you keep!

September 27, 2009 at 10:38 AM  
Anonymous Voodoo Chili said...

Wait, are you writing this like it's a bad thing? This is the liberation of the American people, the intellectual liberation of people that is centuries overdue. Religion is a superstitious relic of a primitive age. Why does modern mankind need religion? The only think on earth that has killed more people than religion is disease.

November 18, 2009 at 1:33 PM  
Blogger Brant said...

I'm in complete agreement with you, Voodoo. I think it would be a benefit to the entire world if organized religion suddenly disappeared.

November 18, 2009 at 1:51 PM  
Blogger Snarzdar said...

I honestly think the reason that more people are abandoning their previous religious beliefs is the advancement in science (and common sense).

There is no god. Govern yourselves.

Thank you.

November 27, 2009 at 4:41 PM  

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