Skip to main content

Monday Musings on 21st century spirituality, #1
Davidson Loehr
Posted 8-16-2010: The Sad State of Religion in the U.S.


“There’s no longer evidence for a need of God, even less of Christ.  The so-called traditional churches look like they are dying.”

It matters who said this.  If it came from Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens – the Four Horsemen of the New Apocalypse – few would accept it as an objective assessment.  But this quote is from Pope Benedict XVI.  

The Pope’s candor fits well with other research sponsored by churches.  When you count the people in the pews on Sunday rather than having a pollster ask whether or not they believe in God, or are Christian, fewer than 18% attend church regularly.   From 1980 to 2005 in the Southern Baptist Church, baptisms of people between eighteen and thirty four – in other words, their next generation of leaders – fell 40 percent, from 100,000 in 1980 to 60,000 in 2005.   But the U.S. population grew by 27% during those 25 years, so the Baptists would have had to baptize 127,000 in 2005 just to stay even; they really fell by 52%.   In 2006, the Southern Baptists – who claim almost six times more members than any other white evangelical church – made a concerted effort to baptize one million people.  Not only did they fall over two-thirds short, they actually baptized even fewer than they had the year before.  

You might think that some faith group must have grown during the last thirty years, and you’d be right: atheists and nonbelievers more than doubled in the eleven years between 1990 and 2001, from 14 million to 29 million: from 8% of the country to 14%.  There are more than twice as many atheists and nonbelievers as there are evangelical Christians.   And since it’s hard to believe that all atheists/nonbelievers would be willing to confess that to pollsters, the number is probably much higher.  From 2000 to 2005, church attendance fell in all fifty states.   Nor is this trend a new phenomenon: American churches have not kept up with population growth in over a century.  

Then, to add insult to injury, when a sampling of non-Christians were asked to rate eleven groups in terms of respect, they rated evangelicals tenth.  Only prostitutes ranked lower.  

Are believers more moral?  No.  When pollster George Barna – himself an evangelical – looked at seventy moral behaviors, he didn’t find any difference between the actions of those who were born-again Christians and those who weren’t.  His studies and other indicators show that divorce among born-agains is as common as, or more common than, among other groups.  One study showed that wives in traditional, male-dominated marriages were three times more likely to be beaten than wives in egalitarian marriages.  

Evangelicals constitute not 25 percent of the U.S. population – as they have claimed – but at most 7 percent, and their numbers are falling, not rising.  All these numbers come from the churches themselves.  (Wicker, p. 67)  While evangelical women make up at least 3.5% of the population (half of 7%), they make up about 20% of the women who get abortions.  

“The Spirit,” as the Gospel of John says, “blows where it will.”  Where is it blowing now?  Adding together the data from pollsters, evangelical researchers and Pope Benedict XVI, it’s not a stretch to say the Spirit – the spirit of life and the truth that can make you more free – has settled in the land of atheists, nonbelievers, and church alumni.  

Next week: “Modern” answers from history’s oldest story.

Author Bio: Davidson Loehr is a former musician, combat photographer and Press Officer in Vietnam, owner of portrait and wedding photography studio, carpenter and drunk, theologian, Fellow in Jesus Seminar since 1992, and liberal minister for 23 years.  He retired in 2009, and is now starting a twilight career as author and speaker in discussions of religion, science, culture and values.  His graduate studies were in methods of studying religion, theology, the philosophy of religion and the philosophy of science, with an added emphasis on language philosophy.  His Ph.D. dissertation was The Legitimate Heir to Theology: A Study of Ludwig Wittgenstein (University of Chicago, 1988). He is the author of America, Fascism & God: Sermons From a Heretical Preacher (Chelsea Green, 2005).  

Originally posted to DavidsonLoehr on Sun Aug 15, 2010 at 10:22 PM PDT.

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site