Michael Gerson notices something curious in a new study of Americans’ religious preferences. Within a growing group — the so-called “nones,” who say they identify with no religion — more than 60% say they believe absolutely in a God or some kind of great powerful thing. So people who believe in God/etc. are increasingly choosing not to identify with a religious institution. Gerson thinks it’s because of waning faith in institutions in general as well as bad public images–bad examples–surrounding some religious right/Jerry Falwell types. Can that really explain it?
For commenters, mostly, yes. They note that religious institutions don’t necessarily seem to have a better handle on ethics than any of the rest of us. One commenter used a story PostScript, in her extreme Lamestreamity, hadn’t heard of, to allege that one particular cultural institution, public education, has it in for the religious and their institutions:
Is it any [wonder] why we are losing faith with religion when stuff like this is taught by Big ED? “A litany of charges – including an alleged violation of the student code of conduct, acts of verbal, written or physical abuse, threats, intimidation, harassment, coercion or other conduct which threaten the health, safety or welfare of any person.” All this for a religious student not wanting to stomp on the word Jesus? What will be next, open hostilities to those who smoke or drink?
(tate of pa is talking about this case, in which in a class exploring the power of symbols, students were asked to stomp on the name “Jesus” if they wished. A student filed a complaint, and was then disciplined and told not to attend the class anymore. Yowza. But, PostScript would point out, this episode hardly seems to have eroded anyone’s religious faith.)
Lee1865 sees the world changing much faster than religions are changing, and thinks religious institutions are doomed if they keep trying to make a medieval mindset relevant to modern life:
In a world where the earth was flat, the sun revolved around the earth, the angels were floating on clouds above our heads, and the church had the authority to kill anyone who said otherwise, it was easy to maintain a grip on parishioners.
Now, some churches still maintain the earth is flat (no global warming), the sun revolves around the earth (Mitt Romney will be elected, regardless of the polls), and the angels are still floating on clouds (the earth was created 6,000 years ago. God created dinosaur bones to fool the faithless). When churches ignore science, is it any wonder people are skeptics?
Many churches treat women as second class citizens. There is no reason on earth for any woman to attend a service where she is considered inferior.
Since the church no longer holds the power to burn, stretch, or flog the masses, since it has alienated the intelligent, what incentive is there for anyone to join? God? If God created the universe, God doesn’t need a church.
hit4cycle sees the same trend, but interprets it as modernity’s loss:
Christianity is experiencing rapid growth in the developing countries to which the future belongs. Like Europe before us, secularism is a symptom of a declining culture.
flambeau608, though, argues those of us who choose to live here presumably enjoy the increasingly secular modernity:
If you want to move to a developing country where Christianity is growing, please don’t let me stop you.
And bernielatham, whose icon is, oddly enough, the face of God, has a very slippery point about the flipside to the social price avowed atheists pay in community esteem. Because there are cultural reasons to join a church/etc, he says, you get a lot of religious people who aren’t there in accordance to what they actually believe:
God only knows what Gerson himself has in his mind re God because there is simply no way of knowing what any person operating at mid to high levels in US politics actually believes — because he or she simply has zero chance of advancing unless he or she proclaims faith. The US being nearly uniquely fruit-loopy in the western world on this matter, if one imagines the completely unimaginable – a presidential contest between, say, a trans-gendered black Jew and an admitted atheist, I have no idea who might have the electoral advantage.
Earlier today a PostScript colleague brought in croissants to welcome a new employee, and another colleague, who was observing Passover, was unable to partake, what with all the leavening. But that meant PostScript could eat TWO croissants! But wait! PostScript is nominally observing Lent! It was cool, though, she just gave up soda, and her church lets her narrowly define Lenten sacrifice. Whew. Modernity and religion coexist!