Discussion Starter from FYI

The following article was republished in Canton Adventist’s weekly e-newsletter FYI.  This article, appearing in the Thursday, March 12 edition of the e-newsletter published by Religion News Service, speaks to an issue that any church or Jesus-follower must take seriously.  What should Christians do in light of this information?  I have posted a comment–please post yours.

 

Survey shows U.S. growing less religious, less ‘Christian’
By Adelle M. Banks


The nation has grown less religious in the last two decades, a new study shows, with a 10 percent drop in the number of people who call themselves Christians and increases in all 50 states among those who are not aligned with any faith.

 

Between 1990 and 2008, the percentage of Americans who identified themselves as Christian dropped from 86 percent to 76 percent, reports the new American Religious Identification Survey, a wide-ranging survey released Monday (March 9).

 

The group that researchers call the "Nones"-atheists, agnostics, and other secularists-have almost doubled in that time period, from 8.2 percent to 15 percent.

 

And, in a further indication of growing secularism, more than a quarter of Americans-27 percent-said they do not expect to have a religious funeral when they die.

 

"Traditionally, historically, people are interested in their immortal soul, salvation, heaven and hell," said Barry Kosmin, the co-author of the survey and director of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture at Trinity College in Connecticut. "If you don’t have a religious funeral, you’re probably not interested in heaven and hell."

 

The survey of more than 54,000 respondents followed similar large studies in 2001 and in 1990. Though the largest increase in "Nones" occurred between 1990 and 2001 (from 8.2 percent to 14.1 percent), Kosmin said more people have been willing to identify themselves as atheist or agnostic in the last seven years.

 

"There’s the anti-religious group among what we call the `Nones,"’ he said, "but then the kind of nonreligious, the irreligious … have also increased." 
 

In the past, the typical "None" was a young, single male living in the West, but the image of the nonreligious is broader now, even if it remains 60 percent male.

 

"It’s increasingly middle age and relatively across the board, less specific now," Kosmin said. "It’s increasingly ex-Catholics in New England."

 

In fact, researchers found that while there was a 14 percent drop in self-identified Catholics in New England-from 50 percent to 36 percent-there was an increase in Nones of exactly the same percentage-from 8 to 22 percent.

 

Mark Silk, who directs Trinity College’s Program on Public Values and helped design the new study, said the almost threefold increase in "Nones" in New England was larger than the increases in other states.

 

"You’ve got Vermont, 34 percent Nones," said Silk, co-author of One Nation, Divisible: How Regional Religious Differences Shape American Politics. "Northern New England now is more the None zone. The Pacific Northwest is still up there but the increase in New England, that’s very striking. It says a lot about the decline of Catholicism."

 

The research echoes findings of a recent Gallup Poll that revealed that 42 percent of Vermonters said that religion is "an important part" of their daily lives-the lowest percentage of state residents polled across the country.

 

The Rev. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said the findings-including that more than one quarter of Americans don’t expect a religious funeral-really bring home the secular nature of a sizable slice of the U.S. population.

 

"As an evangelical Christian, I see this as further evidence of the fact that American Christians live in the midst of a vast mission field and this should be a wake-up call-I would say, yet another wake-up call-to the magnitude of our task in sharing the gospel in modern America," he said.

 

Beyond the secular nature of the country, the survey found a surge in the number of people who called themselves "nondenominational Christians," from less than 200,000 in 1990 to more than 8 million in 2008.

 

"Brand loyalty is gone," Kosmin said. "Those labels are no longer meaningful."

 

Researchers also found that 45 percent of American Christians consider themselves born-again or evangelicals-including 39 percent of mainline Christians and 18 percent of Catholics-which could indicate that exit pollsters may be hearing from a broad range of "evangelicals."

 

Experts say the "Nones" figure, combined with increases in "nondenominational" numbers, explain why mainline Protestantism continues to be a shrinking phenomenon, from 18.7 percent in 1990 to 12.9 percent in 2008.

 

"What you see is the erosion of the religious middle ground," said Kosmin. "Liberal (mainline Protestant) religion has been eroded by irreligion and conservative religion."

 

The overall findings are based on phone interviews with 54,461 respondents, with a margin of error of plus or minus 0.5 percentage points. Certain questions, including the one about religious rituals such as funerals, were asked of a nationally representative sample of 1,000 respondents, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

 

Breakdown of religious self-identification of U.S. adult population:

 

1990

  • Total Christians: 86.2 percent
  • Catholic: 26.2 percent
  • Other Christians: 60.0 percent
  • Other religions: 3.3 percent
  • Nones: 8.2 percent
  • Don’t know/refused: 2.3 percent

2008

  • Total Christians: 76.0 percent
  • Catholic: 25.1 percent
  • Other Christian: 50. 9 percent
  • Other religions: 3.9 percent
  • Nones: 15.0 percent
  • Don’t know/refused: 5.2 percent

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4 thoughts on “Discussion Starter from FYI

  1. Coming from the religious background that I do, I have, in the past, tended to respond to articles like this in one of the following ways:1. In regard to the increase in atheism/agnosticism: a. “Well, this is just more evidence of what I‘ve been told—that people are going to reject God more and more, and I’ve got to hold onto Jesus so I won’t be led astray”b. “We (as Christians, Adventists, local church members) have got to increase our efforts in telling people about Jesus and so they can believe in him and be saved before it is too late”2. In regard to the apparent weakening of Catholicism’s influence in this country and the Western world: a. “Well, it may appear to be in trouble, but behind the scenes, it is gaining power faster and faster. Just look at [pick a recent news report] what the Vatican is doing. It won’t be long until they will be influencing world governments to bend to their will”Now, I tend to see reports like this as evidence that Christianity/Adventism/the local church to which I belong needs to look at itself and ask what it is or is not doing to help cause the significant reduction in adherents to its doctrine/message.I found it especially interesting how the research showed the increase in people who were unconcerned about having a proper Christian funeral. That people are less concerned about eternal issues speaks to something. What could be more important to people than their eternal destiny?Here are my thoughts.Since the last poll in 1990, the American Catholic Church has been ravaged by public communication and litigation regarding priest sex abuse scandals—the Boston diocese being one of the more prominent examples. Just as Southern Baptists own Georgia, Catholics own the Northeast. So it only makes sense that there would be a significant drop in Catholic adherents when they see leaders who promote a rigorous morality and a specific means of salvation engaging in, allowing to continue or covering up egregious immoral behavior. Humans understand that there are immoral people in the world and that there are immoral people in religious leadership positions. Seeing immoral behavior take place in the church is not, for a mature person, a reason to give up on one’s religious faith. What does cause people to give up on their faith is when they see systemic corruption in organized religion where the governing body appears to only be interested in protecting its assets (or, to put it another way, remove one letter from that last word), limiting its liability or doing damage control. When a religious organization seems more concerned with keeping people coming to its churches and giving to its causes at the expense of protecting victims of immoral practice, people leave the faith. I think on a broader scale, you can look back historically at Christianity and see the periods where a portion of the population begins withdrawing from the faith. When an event, a discovery or a societal issue brings about an obvious solution for the majority of the population, and the church seems opposed, hesitant or uninterested in that solution, people leave the faith. For example:• The white church’s slow response to integrate in light of the obvious moral strength of the civil rights movement in the United States• German Christianity’s appeasement of the Nazi’s in order to keep the doors open to their churches• Christianity’s censorship of the published writings and excommunication of Copernicus and Galileo for their radical suggestions that neither Earth nor the solar system were the center of the universe• The church’s rejection of reforms proposed by Zwingli, Luther, Calvin and others. While these reformers did not leave Christ—they left the church (remember, there was only one church prior to the reformation, and they chose to leave what was understood to be the only means to salvation)What religion has always depended upon is that people believe there is nothing more important than personal salvation. As long as people are more concerned with living forever than anything else, they will stick with the faith and contribute financially to the organization that guarantees them eternity. Where religion is most vulnerable to losing its adherents is when people see something in the present that demands a response and then observe their church do nothing. It’s like, as a parent, most of us would say, “I don’t want to die, but if it means my child will live, I’ll give my life up in a second.” People throughout history have said, “I want a relationship with Jesus, but I also want:• Justice for the oppressed• Healthy, growing relationships• Equality for race/gender/sexual orientation• Equal access to clean water/affordable health care/quality education/democratic government/etc. for every human being• Cure for AIDS and Malaria• Less pollution of air and water• Scientific research and discovery to progressSo for me, I see the dwindling numbers of Christian adherents as a sign that maybe the church is not speaking to the “needs of the child” and instead assumes that the “parent” is more concerned about themselves than they are about the welfare of their “children.” Perhaps we need to let the parents explain why their child’s issues matter so much to them.Can a social worker in South Africa be right in being more concerned with getting people to practice safe sex than getting them to go to church and hoping they will abstain? Can Brad Pitt be more concerned about ending genocide in Darfur than teaching its citizens about eternal life? Can family members be more concerned about their gay or lesbian relative finding acceptance, inclusion and dignity in society than about them going to church on the right day of the week? Can a desire for a sustainable environment on this earth no longer be seen as combative to the hope of a new earth? Can science have a seat at the communion table and speak knowledge into our faith of HOW God created the universe? Could the solving of the economic inequalities that bring about so many societal dysfunctions be considered as a win/win to those who believe abortion is immoral and want it to cease?For me, I have a hunch that if Christians paid attention to people’s “children,” perhaps we would see more people embracing our God. Maybe this little story in Mark 10.13-16 will speak to us: People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them. (NIV)Maybe Jesus would call us to bless people’s “children” rather than rebuking them.

  2. I just read your comments Todd. Good stuff. you know..before i became a Christian most Christians scared me..primarily because of doctrine. today…if i wanted to influence a non-beleiver much like i used to be…i would want them to know that Christ\’s spirit is a caring spirit not a judgemental spirit.

  3. JP, help me understand what scared you about Christians. I mean, I have my guesses, but I would love for you to define specifically, if you can and don\’t mind baring your soul a little. I\’m sure it must relate to caring vs. judging. I think sometimes I try to explain the care vs. judgment thing to other Christians, they don\’t see themselves as communicating judgment. What are the behaviors/verbal cues that communicate judgment to a person who doesn\’t consider themselves part of the Christian tribe?

  4. From John P. via cell phone:For background i became a Christian at the age of 19…the thing that scared me most was folks that would say outright "unless you accept Christ as your savior you are going to hell" that kind of thing. also comments like "where would whether spend eternity?"..hell-fire stuff. Got alot of that exposure growing up..at school.college..etc.i did not begin to actually even believe in God much less Christ until i was about 18…pure miracle that i did at all!i will share a story that i think was the best witness of Christ that i ever experienced during childhood. i was 13 and in boy scouts…my scoutmaster was a devout Christian (still is). i knew nothing about Christ. we were camping in the mountains of new mexico. one night we were camping on "skull mountain" which was suppossed to be haunted…some of us younger guys were actually scared! our scoutmaster in an effort to calm us said "the only ghost you might see up here is the Holy Ghost and he will put his hand on you and tell you not to be scared" that is Christ to me…and i never forgot it!

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