The “U.S. Public Becoming Less Religious,” reads the headline from the new Pew Poll Religion in America series. The share of Americans who profess to believe in God has dropped from 92 to 89 percent since the Pew Research Center conducted its last Landscape Study in 2007. That said, the U.S. is still home to the highest percentage of believers in any advanced nation in the world.
But the bad news for churches isn’t only that Pew finds a modest decline in belief, but that so many Americans are embracing something called “general spirituality.” You know, the “I’m-a-spiritual-person-but-I-don’t-believe-in-organized-religion” crowd? This means that one of the largest growing trends in American faith is replacing moral codes with soppy platitudes and feel-good aphorisms.
As a non-believer (unlike some people, I’m willing to commit), I shouldn’t really care that people who condemn “organized religion” often do so because any kind of orthodoxy feels uncomfortable, icky, or archaic. Although I might not have any skin in the game (other than the skin that will burn in the eternity of the flaming tombs if I’m wrong) this exodus sounds like bad news. Established churches help a free society thrive as they strengthen communities, families, and civil society in general. As a political matter, the consistency and stubbornness of those churches are their most attractive features.
Religion, after all, is, by definition, an organized collection of beliefs, cultural systems that try to make sense of existence. These traditions, which often come with a couple thousand years of intellectual experience, tend to defend long-established mores against the vagaries of culture and ideology.
And these days, it’s these people who can be counted on to counterbalance the most zealous, intrusive, faith-based force in the nation. Or, let me put it this way: There’s only one denomination in the country that tries to force this atheist to accept all its moral codes, language, and ideas —and it’s not the Methodists.
“Nones” — which includes, atheists, agnostics, and people who believe in God without any specific religious affiliation — now comprise 28 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning adults, up from 19 percent in 2007. In other words, DIY faithers outnumber Catholics, Evangelicals, mainline Protestants, and black Protestants on the Left. So it’s probably not a coincidence that Democrats are becoming less religious and more progressive simultaneously or that liberals now see state-run institutions as moral enterprises and nuns as standing in the way.
The clash between the faithful in America — those far more prone to see the Constitution as protecting their way of life — and those unmoored from tradition is inevitable. Take these couple of telling paragraphs from a Washington Post religion beat story covering the Pew poll:
The number of evangelical Protestants, for example, who said they agreed that “homosexuality should be accepted by society” jumped 10 percentage points between the 2007 and 2014 studies — from 26 percent to 36 percent. The increase for Catholics was even steeper, from 58 percent to 70 percent. For historically black Protestant churches, acceptance jumped from 39 percent to 51 percent.
“Despite attempts to paint religious people as monolithically opposed to LGBT rights, that’s just not the case and these numbers prove that,” said Jay Brown, head of research and education at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the national gay rights group.
First off, it’s worth pointing out that what Brown is unintentionally arguing is that religious Americans are far less monolithic than his own progressive secularists — who rarely, if ever, wander far from the ideological strictures of faith.
Moreover, when religious people say that “homosexuality should be accepted by society” they could mean a range of things that have absolutely nothing to do with supporting LGBT “rights.” Ben Carson answered this question perfectly at the debate last week. Liberal-heavy Houston voters, for example, rejected a transgender-rights bathroom bill yesterday by 62 to 40 percent. I imagine most citizens of Houston “accept” transgendered people, though they do not support every concocted “right” thrown at them by a coercive government.
But this kind of thinking sets up political battles between faith and the state. For older generations, ones that have the strongest religious ties according to Pew (people who still believe in things like girls and boys bathrooms) will be treated like a bunch yokels for turning to scripture rather than The New York Times op-ed page. And Millennials, who have comparatively low levels of religious belief and affiliation according to Pew, will also be the most likely to embrace socialism and state coercion in the pursuit of social justice. If this is true, Democrats will surely continue to radicalize. Now, I don’t believe your views about God should have anything to do with your views of individual liberty and coexistence, but they sure seem to.