Saturday, April 10, 2021

Where Has That Old Time Gospel Gone? The Decline of Religion in America

According to a recent survey by Barna, 20% of all churches, regardless of denomination, could close by the end of 2021. That's approximately 60,000 churches nationally. Although there are a number of factors, the leading contributing factor is the COVID-19 virus.

This shouldn't come as a surprise given that the average age of attendees is 57 years old; an age bracket which is considered to be at risk for the virus. However, don't think the decline is just the result of a virus, or that it applies only to Christian churches. Far from it. The decline in attendance applies to practically all organized religions, from Catholic and Protestant churches to Temples and Mosques.

According to an April poll by Gallup, just 47% of those surveyed acknowledged belong to a specific religion, which is down from 70% in 1999. That's the first time in Gallup's 80 years that number has dropped below the 50% mark.

 The poll also revealed that the percentage of "none of the above" has risen from 8% in 1998 to 21% in 2000. It now stands at around 1/3 and growing. It's worth noting that of those who do identify with some specific domination, the majority do not attend services, or if they do, it's only for the major events like Passover, Easter, Yom Kippur, Christmas, etc.

How this breaks down generationally is equally interesting. According to the poll, 66% of those born before 1946 (which comprises the "Greatest Generation" and the "Silents") still either attend or participate in other ways (such as watching it on TV, recordings, listening on the radio, or online).

It's worth nothing that the "Greatest Generation" experienced the Great Depression as children, endured WWII and the Korean War (some participated in the early stages of the Vietnam War too). They fueled the greatest economic revival in history, including the birth of subdivisions, and set the standards we associate with the Middle Class. Many were union members or belonged to some social fraternity; a carryover from their comradery and "can do" attitude from their experiences during the war. 

Meanwhile, the "Silent Generation" (1928 - 1946) was the first generation to benefit from the post-war economic boom. They were known for their fast cars, dances, soda fountains, Beatniks, surfing, having disposable income, and rock 'n' roll! It was also the start of the Space Race and the Cold War. They're usually characterized as hardworking, resourceful, dedicated, traditional, and respectful of authority.

 Babyboomers (1947 - 1964) participate at a rate of 58%. This group was the largest demographic up to that point. As a result, Babyboomers are divided into two similar but different groups or cohorts.  The first group, born between 1947 and 1954, are the more typical "flower children" and "Hippies" of the 1960's. They are often identified by Woodstock, Monterey Pops Festival, communes, the early Vietnam War, JFK, Malcolm X, "love-ins", decline in unions, the Civil Rights Movement, and a lost innocence.

The second cohort, born between 1955 and 1964 was influenced by the more violent aspects of the anti-war movement, SLA, Weathermen, the Women's and LGBT movements, moon landing, Watergate, late Vietnam War, Che Guevara, oil embargo, hyperinflation, the assassinations of MLK and RFK, and the Kent State Massacre. As a group, the first cohort tended to be more optimistic while the second cohort was much more cynical. The first questioned authority. The second was downright dismissive of it.

The first cohort makes up the majority of the 66% which participates, in some fashion or another, organized religion. They were also more likely to "tune in and turn off" and were part of the cutting edge of the emerging popularity of Eastern philosophy thanks mainly to The Beatles and the Rolling Stones. They are also most likely to identify with a religious denomination.

The second cohort is less likely to either participate, identify, or belong to a religious organization. They are, however, more likely to be spiritual. They were much less likely to be trusting of authority figures or institutions in their youth which has carried over into adulthood.

Generation X (1965 - 1980) has a religious participation rate of 50%. This generation is the younger sibling of the Boomers or first born of the first Boomer cohort.  Interestingly, Gen X as its often called was known for being the "Reagan Generation". Unlike the Boomers, they were usually socially and fiscally conservative. They tended to be more traditional in some respects as well, and this included religion. Socially, Gen X was the first post-Jim Crow generation.

Another interesting aspect of this generation is that they were the first to experience the use of computers in school and were the first to take advantage of the internet. They tended to be very entrepreneurial, independent, and self-motivated (the classic Gen X stereotype is "Alex P. Keaton" from the 80's TV series "Family Ties"). 

When it comes to religion, one Pew poll indicated that religion was important to Gen X as a whole with 53% saying it was "very important" and 56% saying they pray at least once a day. However, while religion is considered important, most remain non-denominational. Additionally, just 25% say they participate in some form of religious services on a regular basis (57% said seldom or never).

Replacing Babyboomers as the largest generational demographic is the Millennials (1981 - 1996). Millennials have been in the news a lot due to their increasing influence over both the economy and politics. Millennials are often considered to be lazy or self absorbed; a generation totally immersed in technology. However, they are behind the tech drive which has created countless social media platforms and the high tech world we live in (for better or worse), adaptive, and achievement driven.

Politically, Millennials (aka Generation Y or Gen Y as they're also called) are noted for being strongly in favor of democratic socialism; at the very least, to be anti-capitalist as much as their Gen X predecessors from the "Go-Go '80's" were capitalistic. This could result of having come of age during the "Great Recession", which created a sense of economic insecurity for many of them. They are also the first generation where their quality of life didn't surpass their parents, but dropped instead.

As a group, Millennials tend to be fairly optimistic and socially conscious as their first cohort Babyboomer grandparents were at the same age. They're very aware of the environment, ranging from population to climate change (the environment became a political issues during the mid 1960's and heavily influenced the Presidential election of 1968 and continued to do so for the next decade or so).

 Millennials were the most socially, economically, and racially diverse group this nation had seen, with the majority being Hispanic (many are foreign born or first generation American). They are highly educated and generally optimistic about the future. However, it's worth noting that as a group, they also tend to be financially crippled from high college debt.

The main reason is that in pursuing their academic passion, they neglected to take into consideration how employable their major was. As a result, many ended up with degrees in which the market was already over saturated with applicants or were there was little or no demand (such racial or gender studies).  This has left many unemployed or underemployed in what should now be close to their peak earning years.

Millennials are quite comfortable working on small ad hoc groups or teams to complete a projects, and then moving on to other impromptu groups. They prefer to set their own schedules; working around their own personal time rather than scheduling personal time about work hours.

Politically, the majority of Millennials have rejected both corporate owned parties---the Democrats and Republicans. Most are registered as Independent, which has contributed to Independents being the country's largest political demographic. When it comes to ideology, while Millennials aren't big on dogma, they strongly lean Left as group. In fact, most self-identify as "socialist" or "democratic socialist", while a majority cite libertarianism (small "L") as their preference.

When it comes to religion, Millennials again reject any sort of dogma. Just 36% acknowledge any sort of religious preference. 62% say don't participate in any form of religious services. However, it's worth noting that 69% of Millennials regard themselves as spiritual or somewhat spiritual. 61% say they are sure or fairly sure God exists. As an aside, several of the surveys seem to point out that among Millennials, once they break from an established religion, that break becomes permanent.

The latest generation on the block is Gen Z (born after 1996). Most members of this group are just beginning their lives, so there's much we don't know yet. However, there are a few things we're pretty sure about. First, Gen Z is the first generation which has never known a world without laptops, the internet, or Smartphones.  

Economically, life started out pretty good for most with the overall economy actually in a upswing. However, perhaps the defining factor for them will be the COVID virus and its influence on their lives in terms of physical interaction with friends and school (most have been taken classes online and via chat rooms instead of having personal contact). Thus, they've been forced to develop a further dependence on technology rather than through developing their interpersonal skills. How that works out in the future remains to be seen.

As an aside, many Gen Z's are more interested in trade and vocational schools than in going to college. Perhaps they've seen what the high debt and low economic return has done to their older siblings, thus preferring the lower cost and higher demand, and greater reward trade and vocational school can bring. This could also present a badly needed boon for blue collar unions as well.

Socially, Gen Z has grown up in highly diverse environments. Like their older siblings, race, gender identification, and other markers mean little or nothing. Knowing someone who is gay, transgendered, or of a different culture or race is no big deal.  One in five are Hispanic.

Like Millennials, Gen Z is comfortable with technology just as they are in working in ad hoc groups or teams to solve as specific issue. Equally, they are at ease with a large government and tend to be even more progressive than Millennials.

Although they are still coming of age politically, this is translating into a generation which is even more Left leaning than Millennials. In fact, many are already starting to identify as "socialist" or "democratic socialist". Obviously, with two Left oriented generations, this doesn't bode well for Republicans.

When it comes to religion, Gen Z appears to be even less interested in organized religion than Millennials; 52% have no trust in organized religion. However, while that means they are less interested in organized religion, that doesn't mean they eschew faith. Actually, they are very interested in spirituality in general, with a strong curiosity in Eastern philosophies such as Buddhism, along with Hinduism. Additionally, they are interested in Native American as well as early European spirituality.

Most interesting, a strong segment of Gen Z say they find spiritual satisfaction from giving back to the community, such as participation in food or clothing drives for the poor, picking up trash alongside a river bank, helping the homeless, and so forth, which is similar to some Millennials. That is, they find their spiritual satisfaction from actually doing something instead of praying about it.

So, while organized or dogmatic religion is on continuing its decline in America, interest in spiritually is actually on the rise. While there are numerous reasons, such as the affect of the COVID virus and the ageing of traditional church attendants, there are other and more deeper reasons too.

 Many cited the failure of organized religion to keep pace with technology, changing social values such regarding issues like homosexuality, single parent or adult, abortion, stance on women, divorce, ongoing sexual abuse by priests, plus the ability of priest to marry. Some, on the other hand, point to the failure of organized religion to update their dogma based on recent discoveries in archeology.

Finally, along with the changing social and political demographics of America, including its rejection of the Corporatocracy which has hijacked both parties and usurped the Republic, many see religion as merely another attempt at control. With access to more information than ever before, we can expect more questioning of authority than ever before, be it government, social institutions, or religions. Those able to withstand the onslaught will survive. Those who can't won't. Religion, like everything else, must adapt or be swept away. 


America is losing its religion


Adults in Generation X

 

Younger Millennials


Gen Z Is The Least Religious Generation. Here's Why That Could Be A Good Thing


Gen Z is looking for religion. You'll be surprised where they find it


Gen Z is lukewarm about religion but open to relationships