Sociologists are amazed by the swift disintegration of Christianity in America. It’s a stunning cultural transformation, confirmed by several surveys and studies.
A Gallup poll has found that fewer than half of Americans (47 percent) now belong to a church or mosque or temple — down from 70 percent at the start of the 21st century.
Today, more than half of Americans are churchless. Tall-steeple “mainline” Protestant faiths –— once the pillar of WASP respectability –— have suffered the worst, dropping so severely that they’ve been dubbed “flatline” Protestantism. Born-again churches have followed.
The Southern Baptists have lost 2 million members since 2006. Now, a brand-new finding by the Barna religious polling service says Christianity is being erased by “Don’ts — people who say they don’t know, don’t care or don’t believe that God exists.” George Barna calls the church wipeout “the most rapid and radical cultural upheaval our nation has ever experienced.”
A June 8 report from Arizona Christian University, where Barna is located, cites his findings this way: “The number of U.S. adults who qualify as ‘Don’ts’ has nearly tripled in the past decade, rising to 34 percent in 2021. Millennials (ages 18 to 36) are driving much of that shift, with 43 percent rejecting the existence of God.”
The report adds: “Belief in the existence of God as the all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the universe who still rules the world today: down from 86 percent in 1991 to 46 percent in 2021.”
“Belief that the bible is the accurate and reliable word of God: Seventy percent in 1991; 41 percent in 2021.” I’m impressed by the frankness of Barna and Arizona Christian. Instead of trying to whitewash the ruinous survey results, they admit there’s “a precipitous decline in Christianity, and reduced confidence in religion nationwide.”
This theological tsunami is cause for political hope: White evangelicals who dominate the Republican Party — electing Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Donald Trump — have shrunk to a mere 14 percent of the populace. The Public Religion Research Institute says they fell 9 percent in the past some years.
Their power to swing elections seems to be fading. Meanwhile, America is turning more honest. Sincere people don’t claim to know supernatural things that nobody can know.
They reject religion’s magic claims that lack any evidence. Religious scholar Thom Rainer predicts: “Denominations will begin their steepest decline in 2021.”
I hope he’s correct.
This column is adapted from a piece that originally appeared on July 12, 2021, at Daylight Atheism.
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James A. Haught, syndicated by PeaceVoice, was the longtime editor at the Charleston Gazette and has been the editor emeritus since 2015. He has won two dozen national newswriting awards and is author of 12 books and 150 magazine essays. He also is a senior editor of Free Inquiry magazine and was writer-in-residence for the United Coalition of Reason.
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