Saturday, September 07, 2019

In God We Trust? Well, Maybe: The Trend of Religion in America

Pick up any piece of American currency and you will find the words "In God We Trust" somewhere on it (it first appeared on coins starting in 1864). We sing patriotic songs like "God Bless America" and say the Pledge of Allegiance with the words "under God" , added by President Eisenhower in 1954 to set us apart from the "godless" Communists at the urging of a wide range of groups like the Knights of Columbus and various veteran organizations As an aside, it was also President Eisenhower who signed the bill approving the use of the phrase "In God We Trust" on all US currency in 1956. Even when you take an oath in a court of law, you're asked to tell the trust "so help you God" with your hand on a bible no less and the Ten Commandments appear in every courtroom.

Of course, there are those who claim that America was founded to be a "Christian" nation, though in truth it was founded to be a religious neutral nation; that is, a nation where all religions were welcome and where there would be no official state religion, unlike Europe where government's tended to have a state approved religion and all others had to obtain both permission to practice and to pay a special tax in addition to the state "pew" tax. Nevertheless, America was a nation which took great pride in its religious tolerance and in its devotion; adopting Judeo-Christian ethics into its laws. And so we remained since our founding as nation, that is, until recently.

Back when President Eisenhower signed those two bills into existence, approximately 70% of households attended some sort of religious services on a regular basis. 97% of Americans identified as "Christian", be it Protestant (70%), Catholic (24%), or Mormon (3%). Those numbers remained pretty much consistent through 1979 when there was a slight, but noticeable drop. In that year, those who identified as "Christian" dipped to 88%. While still a significant majority, it marked the first time the percentage dipped under 90%.

Since then, despite fluctuations, the overall trend has been generally downward. Today that number in barely 48%. Those who answered in the affirmative when asked if they were a "born again" or Evangelical Christian was just 36%. In 2018, 68% of those who identified as belonging to an organized religion said they hadn't attended a religious service within the last seven days. While 72% said that religion was generally important, only 33% admitted to having attended a religious service within the last month. When asked if they thought religion (regardless of their denomination) could help provide a solution to today's problems, only 46% said yes. 46% also said that organized religion had "to much" influence, however, 54% thought that organized religion should have more influence.

When it came to confidence in organized religion, 38% said they did while 33% said they had only a "some" confidence in organized religion and 29% had little or no confidence. Another interesting response was on the bible itself. When asked if they thought the bible was literal word of God, just 24% agreed while 47% said it was just the "inspired" word of God. The balance either thought it was myths, fables, or legends. As an aside, 87% said they believed in a god or higher power.

For those who identified as belonging to an organized faith, but didn't attend services on a regular basis, 44% said they preferred to worship on their own (and additional 21% said that was a contributing factor). 61% said they were turned off by organized religion, while 65% said they weren't quite as religious as they once were. The least most cited reason for not attending was not feeling welcome. 65% said that wasn't a factor and 55% said being asked for money wasn't a big deal either.

In terms of religion by region, the Midwest is 73% Christian (the majority is Evangelical Protestant at 26% followed closely by Catholic with 21%. Mainline Protestant was 19%). However, 22% identify as "none". Out West, 64% identified as Christian (Catholic was the slight majority with 23% while Evangelical Protestant was 22% while Mainline Protestants was only 11%). Nevertheless, 28% opted for "none". In the Northeast, 65% said they were Christian (Catholics were a clear majority with 30%. Mainline Protestants were 15% while Evangelicals were 13%). Interestingly, the "none" were 25%. . Nationally, other religions, such as Jewish, Hindi, Buddhist, or Muslim all tended to 4% or under. In most cases, they were around 1%.

Lastly, the South, which has traditionally been seen as highly religious and conservative; home of the "Bible belt". Here, 76% identified as Christian (34% as Evangelical Protestants, 15% Catholic, and 14% Mainline Protestant), and yet the "none" still polled 19%. The "belt buckle" of the Bible belt, Kentucky, showed 76% Christian. 49% were Evangelical with 11% Mainline Protestant, and 10% Catholic. Non-Christian religions totaled just 2% in the Bluegrass State. However, the "none" had a remarkable 22% showing. So, what's happening?

From practically its beginning, Christianity has been essentially a European religion despite having partial roots in the Middle East. However, that appears to be changing, and rapidly. Starting from about 1991 to 2014, white Protestants, which has made up the majority of Christians in America since its founding, have been on a steep decline. During the period mention, white Protestant churches have declined by one third, and will continue to accelerate downward as white America declines in population.

As a result, studies show that most congregations now have under 100 members with hundreds of churches being either forced to merge or simply closing. The worse hit are the Mainline churches such as a Methodists, Lutheran, United Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, Catholic, and Presbyterian as well as Evangelical churches such as Baptist, Pentecostal and others. However, not all churches are in decline.

Those which are actually growing are the traditional Roman Catholic and Assemblies of God to name just two. However, a few others--both Mainline and Evangelical--are showing signs of life. The growth has been coming almost exclusively from recent immigrants, especially Hispanics and from Africa. In fact, 71% of the growth in traditional Roman Catholic congregations has been from Hispanics. Further, the cultural center of Catholicism in the US is shifting from the Northwest to the South along with this change. In addition, multiracial churches, once almost unheard of, are increasingly the "new normal" across the board.

Globally, Christianity continues to be the world's largest religion. It's greatest area of growth has been primarily in Africa, followed by Asia. However, it should be pointed that studies have indicated that the Americanized version of Christianity overseas is viewed with the most suspension and has seen the least success in sustained growth. Some blame this on the so-called "Trump Effect", that is, the "America First" or "Pax Americana" resulting from Trump's alleged populist nationalism. Those denominations which promote a more "liberal" or inclusive ideology seem to be showing the most signs of growth (this includes opposition to the concept of "American Exceptionalism").

Of course, this isn't to say that the once popular ideology of Liberation Theology, an admixture of Marxism and Evangelicalism popular among the poor in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, is making a comeback, at least not yet. Thus, globally, Christianity continues to thrive, as well as domestically, though primarily among nonwhite populations as well as churches which embrace multiracial, and thus multiculturalism along with a more liberal and modern interpretation of the scriptures which can embrace different cultures and traditions different from the longstanding Western or European version of Christianity.

So what's the long term future of religion, especially Christianity? Some might cite Islam which appears to be growing on all fronts, especially in Asia and Europe. However, that notion is deceptive. In Europe Islam is on the rise to be sure. However, the explanation is actually multi fold. First, the population of native Europeans has been on steady decline since the end of World War Two. In fact, the birthrate isn't capable of even maintaining the current population; bare one child per couple.

Meanwhile, the EU's catastrophic open door immigration policy has led to a rise of immigrants, often low skilled and largely uneducated, flooding European cities. The majority of these immigrants are from Africa and the Middle East, and most are Muslim. The birth rate among these individuals is approximately five children per family; nearly doubling or tripling every few generations. At that rate, they will easily overtake the native European population within a matter of a few decades (in many communities this has already happened).

In addition, since the end of the last war, religious attendance has also been on the decline. Combine this will the rise of Muslim immigrants, and we can see Europe's pending disaster, especially if we include the refusal of the various governments to enforce existing laws, allowing the application of Sharia, and failure to protect the local population from violence, harassment, intimidation, or enforcing acceptance of "no go" zones and changing cultural and social norms. As a, interesting side note, while the Muslim population abroad increases, the birthrate among Arab populations in their home countries are on the decline.

In Asia, it's not a matter of population replacement or a decline in religious adherence. It is, however, the result of Muslim extremism and in some case (such as China), a history of general religious suppression which has been the main cause. This is especially true when other religions, such as Christianity or Buddhism, have been officially prohibited. In other cases, it has been a reluctance of the various governments to respond to the increased religious and cultural violence such as in India, Nepal, or the Philippines.

Lastly, there has been a fear by more religiously tolerant Muslim nations, such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, or Syria, to counter the violence out of fear of sparking a more direct conflict with extremist (much like trying to appease a bully). The result is that certain minorities such as the Kurds, the Yazidis, and Assyrian Christians are sacrificed and face slavery and genocide.

Finally, we need to address the "none" I mentioned earlier. The "none" are not a single monolithic group. They are, actually, individuals who do not adhere to a particular religion, aka secular. Some are agnostic while others are atheists, while others are pagan, Wiccans, Humanists, and so forth. It's interesting to note that the single largest group are, in fact, those who identify as secular. What's more is that secularism is the world's fastest growing religious demographic. Even Islam is quickly losing the war against secularism, as is Hinduism, Buddhism, and even paganism which a few years ago was seen as the fastest growing religion in the world.

In Saudi Arabia, an estimated 24% are privately non-believers. In Lebanon it's 37%. Ironically, one explanation has been a direct result of the increase in Islamic extremism. It should be pointed out that secularism too can be just as extreme and intolerant as Islam, Christianity, or any other religion, especially when it comes to forcing people, especially children, into situations where they have to accept certain lifestyles or prohibits them from their own religious or social expression (case in point, requiring children to attend LGBTQ programs or fining people for not using the "correct" pronouns). Neither form of extremism is acceptable.

So, do we still trust in God? The answer is a qualified yes. Americans are still a generally religious bunch. However, our long held notion of religion is changing. It's no longer a mono-racial institution. It is increasingly comprised of individuals who weren't born in America and whose native language isn't English. Most are Hispanic, African, or even Asian. We also have a broader diversity of religions than ever before, especially among Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims, as well as nontraditional belief systems such as paganism and Wicca. It's also increasingly more socially liberal than it once was.

In addition, Americans, as well as the world, has increasingly become secular. It's not that they reject God (or a higher power) so much as they reject organized religion with its inflexible dogma. It's also that they see both the good and bad in all religious systems, especially its intolerance of others. However, as stated earlier, it too has its extremist who attempt to push their beliefs on others including the acceptance of specific lifestyles, behaviors, and/or prohibit others from the practice of their beliefs which must be curtailed. We have to remember that in this interconnected world, that each must be accorded the right to their own religious expressions without interfering with the expression of others so called as no one is harmed in the process.

Gallup Poll: Religion

Pew Research: Religious Landscape Study

Where is Christianity headed? The View from 2019

The Rise of Humanism

The World's New Major Religion: No Religion

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