March 28, 2017

Exodus from U.S. Religion

brittle-leaf

On Saturday we referenced a recent study released by PRRI (Public Religion Research Institute), called “Exodus: Why Americans are Leaving Religion—and Why They’re Unlikely to Come Back.” The study looked at a clear trend that must surely get our attention if we are concerned with the state of the church in the U.S. Let’s talk about it a bit more today.

The study noted that from 1991 to today, there has been a consequential shift in reported religious affiliation. In 1991, 6% of Americans identified themselves as unaffiliated (marking “none” as their formal religious identity). In 2016 that number has grown to 25%. Fully one-quarter of Americans claim no formal religious identity, which means that this group is now the single largest “religious group” in the U.S.

This data includes the following facts: “Today, nearly four in ten (39%) young adults (ages 18-29) are religiously unaffiliated — three times the unaffiliated rate (13%) among seniors (ages 65 and older). While previous generations were also more likely to be religiously unaffiliated in their twenties, young adults today are nearly four times as likely as young adults a generation ago to identify as religiously unaffiliated.” (emphasis added)

Furthermore, the growth of religiously unaffiliated people is made up mostly of those who have left religion — “the vast majority of unaffiliated Americans formerly identified with a particular religion.”

This trend is seen most clearly with regard to white Americans. Non-white religious groups have remained fairly stable, but white Christian groups, led by Catholics, have experienced the largest exodus of formerly affiliated.

Another disturbing trend is that those who have left religion present as being less likely to re-engage with a religious affiliation:

In the 1970s, only about one-third (34%) of Americans who were raised in religiously unaffiliated households were still unaffiliated as adults. By the 1990s, slightly more than half (53%) of Americans who were unaffiliated in childhood retained their religious identity in adulthood. Today, about two-thirds (66%) of Americans who report being raised outside a formal religious tradition remain unaffiliated as adults.

One important reason why the unaffiliated are experiencing rising retention rates is because younger Americans raised in nonreligious homes are less apt to join a religious tradition or denomination than young adults in previous eras. About three-quarters (74%) of Americans under the age of 50 who were raised nonreligious have maintained their lack of religious identity in adulthood. In contrast, only about half (49%) of Americans age 50 or older who were raised unaffiliated still identify that way.

Perhaps the most interesting and widely-reported finding of the study is that the most common cited reason for disaffiliation was a lack of belief in the teachings of religion.

The reasons Americans leave their childhood religion are varied, but a lack of belief in teaching of religion was the most commonly cited reason for disaffiliation. Among the reasons Americans identified as important motivations in leaving their childhood religion are: they stopped believing in the religion’s teachings (60%), their family was never that religious when they were growing up (32%), and their experience of negative religious teachings about or treatment of gay and lesbian people (29%). 

Fewer than one in five Americans who left their childhood religion point to the clergy sexual-abuse scandal (19%), a traumatic event in their life (18%), or their congregation becoming too focused on politics (16%) as an important reason for disaffiliating.

Most Americans who have left a religious tradition do not identify a particular negative experience or incident as the catalyst. Relatively few Americans who are now unaffiliated report their last experience in a church or house of worship was negative. In fact, more than two-thirds (68%) of unaffiliated Americans say their last time attending a religious service, not including a wedding or funeral service, was primarily positive. Only one in five (20%) unaffiliated Americans say their last visit to a religious congregation was mostly negative.

Unaffiliated Americans do not, however, generally view religion as something essential for themselves or society. About two-thirds of them say that “religion causes more problems in society than it solves,” and the same number don’t think religion is necessary in order to raise children with good moral values.

The study further broke down the identity of unaffiliated Americans into three sub-groups.

Rejectionists, who account for the majority (58%) of all unaffiliated Americans, say religion is not personally important in their lives and believe religion as a whole does more harm than good in society. Apatheists, who make up 22% of the unaffiliated, say religion is not personally important to them, but believe it generally is more socially helpful than harmful. Unattached believers, who make up only 18% of the unaffiliated, say religion is important to them personally.

Also, we must note that the idea that people are “spiritual” but “not religious” is not reflected by the results of this study.

The survey finds little evidence of a separate mode of “spirituality” distinct from “religiosity,” either among religious or religiously unaffiliated Americans. Rather, measures of traditional religiosity are positively correlated with self-identification as a “spiritual person.” Compared to other Americans, the religiously unaffiliated are considerably less likely to identify themselves as spiritual. Only four in ten unaffiliated Americans identify themselves as being very (14%) or moderately (26%) spiritual. Nearly six in ten say they are only slightly spiritual (26%) or not at all spiritual (32%). In contrast, more than two-thirds of Americans overall say they are very (30%) or moderately (38%) spiritual.

There are a few other aspects of the study, but these are the most pertinent with regard to the concerns of this blog. You can click the link at the beginning of this post and read the entire study report for yourself.

Let’s discuss these findings today.

Tomorrow, I want to look at the decline of American religion from another angle — one mainline denomination and a recent report on their churches and their supply and demand for clergy.

• • •

Related Reading

Why is Christianity declining?

Comments

  1. I grew up in the sixties and seventies in an Italian Catholic family that kept only the loosest affiliation with Roman Catholicism (weddings, funerals, the occasional Christmas or Easter service [the latter two increasingly more rare as the years passed]). The level of affiliation that was kept was more out of cultural loyalty, and was not especially religious. The women in my family seemed to have a vague sense of the existence of God, and sometimes some of them prayed when the going got tough, but religion was not a living part of our family life together, didn’t come up in our conversations or activities (except on those rare occasions I mentioned above). When I became reintroduced to religious ideas and practices in my twenties, it was largely by way reading in non-Christian spirituality, reading that arose out of my interest in poetry and literature, and came out of my own existential needs and choices.

    For me, the rise of the Nones is not anything alien or new to my experience, and it’s hard to find it alarming. Perhaps the level of hostility to religion is more pronounced, but there was plenty of that in my family, too. Personally, despite my lifelong ambivalent relationship to religion/Christianity, spirituality and deep interest in things human, literature and the other arts, are inextricably interwoven: if I were ever to try to pull the string of spirituality out from the pattern, the whole garment, unfinished as it is, would unravel. This is the only thing I fear about a very secularized wordl, something that I saw in my own family: that detachment from religion might go hand in hand with detachment from the deeper things in human culture, like literature and art. But I don’t know if that fear is justified. What’s true of me is not necessarily true for or of others.

    • It seems to me that deep art will always open out onto the transcendent and the spiritual. The world is, after all, filled with the Divine presence, as are the human depths.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > the rise of the Nones is not anything alien or new to my experience

      Same here; if this suprises someone …. then I don’t know where they have been for the last 20+ years.

      > and it’s hard to find it alarming.

      I find it sad, something *is* being lost. But, I don’t know what can be done about it. The churches seem to be deaf as stone on these issues.

      > Perhaps the level of hostility to religion is more pronounced,

      At this point in my life most of the people I associate with are Nones and Athiests; I do not find hostility. Not against Religion anyway, but I know many religious people may feel it as hostility towards them. But when a White Male Baby Boomer constantly makes loud statements in the Universal Voice [“Everyone…”, “Nobody ….”] people get frustrated – that WMBB does not seem aware he is something like ~9% of America. He is not even a STATISTICAL NORM. When someone says “Everyone wants X”, and that is not something important to you, that person just said that you are Nobody. That is what I see **all the time**. These little grievances accumulate; and then it is the perpetrator who often associates them with an attack on his Values [perhaps the real reason is that he’s cluelessly insensitive?].

      > lifelong ambivalent relationship to religion/Christianity,

      I think about where I am on this spectrum. I probably count as a Unaffiliated Yet Religious – in that 18%. It is interesting to reflect on – I suspect people’s answers change over time. I would have stated that it was negative experiences and polotics that pushed me to disaffiliation. Now I might answer “no longer believe”. I still believe, but not in **that**. There was much about my Evangelical days that seems to have been aimed at my anxiety as a lonely young person in a place of pervasive economic decline. I can’t hold it against anyone if they walked away from that hot mess; and the reputation of anything Jesus is badly damaged.

      > literature and the other arts, are inextricably interwoven: if I were ever to try to pull
      > the string of spirituality out from the pattern, the whole garment, unfinished as it is,
      > would unravel.

      I would replace “spirituality” with “religioun”, but yes, I wonder the same thing. Even in its most minimal degenerate form Religion does feel like a kind of back-stop against complete foolishness.

      > that detachment from religion might go hand in hand with detachment
      > from the deeper things in human culture, like literature and art.

      I worry ever more that it is “detachment” period, that unwinds these great things. Religious detachment is one of many kinds of coming undone, towards isolation, which is for most people – powerlessness.

      > But I don’t know if that fear is justified.

      I believe it is.

    • that detachment from religion might go hand in hand with detachment from the deeper things in human culture, like literature and art.

      We may be looking at a chicken/egg sort of thing. It may be that the lack of embracing literature and art has trivialized our religion in a way that has gutted it of that which might drive people to consider it more seriously.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        On the Christianese end, I figure 40+ years of The Gospel According to Hal Lindsay (AKA Left Behind Fever or Rapturitis) is also a factor. If The World Ends Tomorrow (at the latest) and It’s All Gonna Burn, don’t expect anyone to dare great things or create anything with staying power.

        Republibot has an essay (which I can’t find a working link to) about “Why Christian Science Fiction is Generally Such Rubbish”. (Though I’d use a stronger term than “rubbish”.) Basically it quotes an alleged Christian Writer’s Conference as decreeing that the ONLY SF Christians are PERMITTED (their word) to write are Near Future Persecution Dystopias with an End Time Prophecy tie-in. (AKA “Just like Social Justice Warrior Mundane SF, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”) Or AKA more high-pressure sales pitches to get them into the Rapture lifeboat. Total failure of imagination in a genre where Imagination and “What If?” is the prime directive. Search “Jesus Junk” in the archives for where this leads. It isn’t literature or art.

        • “Why Christian Science Fiction is Generally Such Rubbish”

          Because science fiction is inherently hopeful for the future, and Christianity isn’t. Scifi gave us Star Trek and similar, using tech or science to broaden our horizons and develop a golden age for humanity with tolerance and compassion. That’s the antithesis to Christianity. Christianity teaches that it will all get worse and worse and continue to burn until Jesus returns. That there is no hope. That things cannot get better. That those utopian ideas will never work because of sin or whatever.

          That’s why christian science fiction is rubbish. It’s anti-humanism, anti-hope, anti-future.

          Yet ironically, that seems the exact opposite of what Christianity originally was.

          • Do you believe tomorrow will be better? Then you aren’t a Christian, at least a popular American one. Maybe you belong to one of those weird health and wealth groups that believe in things like “faith”, that God loves you, that God has a plan for you to grow. But the vast majority of Christians just believe we are holding on til it’s all over, and if you smile and work hard, perhaps God will give you crumbs.

          • A lot of SF is dystopian, though…

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            “Why Christian Science Fiction is Generally Such Rubbish”

            Because science fiction is inherently hopeful for the future, and Christianity isn’t. Scifi gave us Star Trek and similar, using tech or science to broaden our horizons and develop a golden age for humanity with tolerance and compassion.

            Actually, in the SF end it’s a little more complex than that.

            Bright Futures dominated in the early pulp era through the First 1960s; you had Dark Futures and Dystopias, but they were a minority. Then came The Sixties(TM), and the positions flipped — Nuclear War Dystopias, Nixon-as-Fuehrer Dystopias, Right Wing Fascism Dystopias, Environmental Dystopias, Population Bomb Dystopias, all Dark — No, DARKER! As Inevitable as Global Thermonuclear War, All Over But The Screaming. From Bright Future to Dark — No, DARKER! — Future.

            “Old Testament” Star Trek was one of the last of the Bright Futures, and this was a major factor in its success some three-four years after the Cuban Missile Crisis — a Hopeful Bright Future where instead of blowing ourselves up in Inevitable Global Thermonuclear War, we Boldly Went where No Man Has Gone Before.

            Similarly, Star Wars and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic premiered as islands of Brightness in a sea of Dark Pessimism and enjoyed similar success.

            But the vast majority of Christians just believe we are holding on til it’s all over, and if you smile and work hard, perhaps God will give you crumbs.

            I’m a veteran/survivor of The Gospel According to Hal Lindsay and its resulting Christians For Nuclear War. And there is a LOT of similar secular pessimism going around today. Christians have just jumped on the bandwagon and yelled “ME, TOO!” The light has gone out, and others (including colorful cartoon ponies) have had to come in and carry the Brightness.

          • A lot of SF is dystopian, though…

            True! Tho I think it has become that moreso in recent years. Let’s say post-Reagan.

            I saw an essay about that actual point recently in fact…can’t remember where…

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Well, the transition wasn’t overnight, and The Sixties(TM) actually reached its peak in the Seventies. (Or slopped over, someone once claimed that most social “decades” actually go between years ending in “5” and that seemed to be the case here.)

            Another factor was a late Sixties movement called “New Wave SF”, an experimental movement trying to adapt new styles and shticks as opposed to “Old School SF”. This went hand-in-hand with a desire to make SF into Respectable Literature, and in the process SF ended up adopting all the bad habits/bad attitudes of Mainstream High Literature. To the point that today there’s another fight brewing between Correct Literary SF (which currently dominates the lit) and Retro (Old School Revival).

          • I’m almost done with my final edit of my own sci-fi book that has a bit of a Christian/spiritual slant. I hope it’s not rubbish…LOL…

          • Actually, the Future™ is a pretty modern concept. Historically, most people’s futures were identical to the pasts of their great-great-great grandparents. The rise of the Future™ is tied to belief in Progress™, another recent, and very Protestant, addition to our mental furniture.

            There are a lot of good Catholic Sci-Fi writers, some of whom are among the best now writing: Gene Wolfe, Tim Powers, John Crowley. Mary Doria Russell is a cradle-Catholic convert to Judaism, but The Sparrow and Children of God work well as Catholic science fiction.

            I think the dean of Catholic sci-fi, RA Lafferty, is no longer with us, nor is Philip Jose Farmer and his delightful Father Carmody. I thought of Father Carmody all the way through the movie Calvary.

            I am always impressed that tortured soul Philip K Dick was able to find peace and baptism in the liberal branch of the ECUSA.

            The Orthodox to my knowledge don’t write much sci-fi. There is a lot of great Russian sci-fi, but most if it is Soviet or post-Soviet irreligious.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            I’m almost done with my final edit of my own sci-fi book that has a bit of a Christian/spiritual slant. I hope it’s not rubbish…LOL…

            Are you writing it primarily as SF for the SF mainstream or primarily as CHRISTIAN(TM) for the Jesus Junk Store circuit? My own requirement is that my stuff could have gone head-to-head against Poul Anderson and Beam Piper in the pages of Sixties-vintage Analog, NOT against Left Behind Volumes 1-whatever.

          • Christianity teaches that it will all get worse and worse and continue to burn until Jesus returns. That there is no hope. That things cannot get better.

            Don’t confuse fundamentalist culture with the message and mission of Jesus. I know it’s hard when you’ve suffered through so much of it.

            That those utopian ideas will never work because of sin or whatever.

            Well, that’s just common sense, kinda. It don’t take a lot of personal experience to conclude that a mere lack of personal enlightenment is probably not the main reason we all do heinous things to one another. It’s not exactly brain surgery.

            Yet ironically, that seems the exact opposite of what Christianity originally was.

            And still is! Christianity never changes. People can make their own warped versions of it, but that original is still out there, and well worth the trouble to seek out.

          • @HUG…

            –> “Are you writing it primarily as SF for the SF mainstream or primarily as CHRISTIAN(TM) for the Jesus Junk Store circuit?”

            I hope it’s primarily SF mainstream, NOT the Jesus Junk Store circuit. Heck, I even have the s-word in there a few times, so I’m not sure that’d make it into the Lifeway stores…LOL. It’ll be interesting to see if I find a publisher. There’s probably a bit too much God-stuff in there for a mainstream publisher, too much real-life crud in there for a Christian publisher. I’m probably have to find an independent sorta shop.

            –> “My own requirement is that my stuff could have gone head-to-head against Poul Anderson and Beam Piper in the pages of Sixties-vintage Analog, NOT against Left Behind Volumes 1-whatever.”

            That’s my hope, for sure. If someone brands me as “Left Behind”…well, I’ve failed.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Burro, I have noticed that the GOOD F&SF from Christians (as opposed to CHRISTIAN(TM) F&SF) comes from Western-Rite Liturgical Church backgrounds — Catholic, Anglican, or Lutheran. And that the Orthodox don’t write much of it. (But then, Orthodox always struck me in general as more insular stay-at-home types; while the Western church was dealing with a Road Warrior meltdown situation, the Eastern church was developing more an more elaborate Liturgy under the patronage of the Eastern Emperor.)

            I have even found this pattern in my current interest of MLP:FIM fanfic. (Side tip — remember Sturgeon’s Rule? Well the ratio of drek in fanfic is more 95% than 90 but Rosenberg’s Corollary also holds true: “But Oh that 10!”) There have been deliberate attempts to write deliberately CHRISTIAN(TM) MLP fanfics, and they are about what you’d expect — Jack Chick tracts with Ponies. But in my early days of Ponification, I found an author with the pen name of Pen Stroke who did good stuff with echoes of Christian slant:
            * Creeping Darkness, a crossover with the video game Alan Wake which included a Harrowing of Hell scene (where the heroine descends into The Dark Place — itself the “crushing void” archetype of Hell) to set a captive free and a climax where a god-figure lays down her life to resurrect a mortal.
            * Past Sins (his best-known fan novel, which actually achieved hardback publication on a small-press subscription basis), which redeems the ponies’ Antichrist figure by having her Born Again in an unconventional way. (I followed this one as it appeared chapter-by-chapter online, and it connected with me on a deep emotional level. I’ve had the movie version playing in my head for the past several years.)
            Upon finding out the guy was somewhat local to me, I looked up Pen Stroke at a couple local Brony meets and found out his background was a None (as in agnostic) from a Lutheran background. So he was exposed to Western-Rite Liturgy and its symbolism as a child (colt?).

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            FOUND THE ESSAY!

            The original site it was on (Republibot) disappeared but one of my writing partners was able to repub it as a guest editorial on his blog:

            http://alanloewen.blogspot.com/2016/09/guest-editorial-why-is-christian.html

            (Now I know why half the stories in Infinite Space, Infinite God were Near-Future Persecution Dystopias…)

    • I understand your point about the whole garment unraveling. Religion is more than just rituals and dogmatic pronouncements; it’s a metaphysics that undergirds everything. I feel that without that metaphysical structure, things like art and beauty, or existential concepts like meaning and purpose, are reduced to triviality or nonsense. It’s about more than just detachment; it’s about the hollowing out or disenchantment of the important things. I know it might be cliche to warn about nihilism, but this has been a real struggle for me, and I see signs that it’s an issue for a lot of young people. I don’t think it’s always a conscious thing either, as metaphysics rarely is. Honestly, the Nones don’t seem bothered by this, just me.

      • I know it might be cliche to warn about nihilism, but this has been a real struggle for me, and I see signs that it’s an issue for a lot of young people.

        It’s weird. I think I was far more nihilistic when I was a Christian. But the farther away from it I get, the more I’m not.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Probably you were heavily exposed to Christian Nihilism. I know I was during my time in-country. Maybe this could be a subject for a dedicated post? CM?

          • Christian Nihilism

            aka Apologetics, Eschatology, and (insert theological word for Sermon on the Mount being irrelevant to today)

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            When The World Ends Tomorrow and It’s All Gonna Burn(TM), don’t expect anyone to dare great things, only hide in their Christianese fortress away from all that Heathen contamination keeping their nose squeeky-clean so they won’t be Left Behind(TM).

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Christian Nihilism
            aka Apologetics, Eschatology, and (insert theological word for Sermon on the Mount being irrelevant to today)

            Don’t forget Say-the-Magic-Words salvation, Wretched Urgency, and a Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation, backed up with the threa of Eternal Hell. You can only take that for so long before you go crazy (including “snapping” after which there is only “He Loved Big Brother”), kill yourself, or bail out.

        • How so?

          • Because there was no hope. It’s all going to burn. God really hates you apart from Jesus. You will eternally sin. It’s on you 100% to stop sinning. Everything is a gift. Don’t make plans for tomorrow. You weren’t perfect, therefore you won’t get. Others deserve it more than you. If you serve, you’ll build up treasures in heaven. Don’t expect earthly rewards.

            Basically, Christianity is anti-human, anti-hope, anti-future, anti-grace beyond salvation.

            In my fundamentalist circles.

            The more I ditch Christianity, the more hope, the more optimism, the more bright future I find. And I look back, and see my old friends, and how trapped they are and how it all really was. But when you are in the bubble, you don’t notice it.

          • I know that feeling, especially before I became a universalist. Everything is meaningless because it’s all headed to hell. I’ve become much less nihilistic now that I’ve accepted that God doesn’t abandon a single speck of his beloved creation.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            You know, one of my writing partners (the burned-out preacher) credited John Nelson Darby and Hal Lindsay with destroying Protestant Christianity in America. And so it comes to pass.

            Not only Was The World Ending Tomorrow, but all the lip-smacking Hellfire-and-Damnation imagery combined with the Christianized Inevitable Global Thermonuclear War. Sure it “Scared ’em into the Kingdom” and got them down the aisle for the Altar Call, but it ended up SERIOUSLY backfiring.

          • StuartB said,

            Basically, Christianity is anti-human, anti-hope, anti-future, anti-grace beyond salvation.

            In my fundamentalist circles.

            Headless Unicorn Guy said,

            You know, one of my writing partners (the burned-out preacher) credited John Nelson Darby and Hal Lindsay with destroying Protestant Christianity in America. And so it comes to pass.

            I think you guys are right. Before Darby and Scofield (and later Hal Lindsey), evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity was post-millennial and optimistic, reflecting the progress and relative peace of the 19th century, and the hope that our efforts to glorify God would help bring the millennium and the return of Christ.

            With pre-millennial dispensationalism—reinforced by two world wars, the Great Depression, the creation of Israel, and the cold war—our religion has become pessimistic (“It’s all gonna burn anyway…”). There seems to be a rush to get people saved (or a rush to “witness” regardless of outcome) but without much drive to glorify God in the process with the quality of art, music, literature. Where are the great evangelical and fundamentalist artists, composers, authors? None in the 20th and 21st Centuries; it’s all schlock. It’ll be a kindness if it all does burn.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            With pre-millennial dispensationalism—reinforced by two world wars, the Great Depression, the creation of Israel, and the cold war—our religion has become pessimistic (“It’s all gonna burn anyway…”). There seems to be a rush to get people saved (or a rush to “witness” regardless of outcome) but without much drive to glorify God in the process with the quality of art, music, literature.

            Which has been covered before here at IMonk:
            http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/thoughts-on-hell-house-an-evangelicalism-eager-to-leave

            And here’s a little something from a book I picked up at Midtown Scholar in Harrisburg a couple years ago — UFO Religion: Inside Flying Saucer Cults and Culture by a Gregory L Reece. Specifically, the last paragraph of Chapter 6, regarding the Heaven’s Gate cult (the mass suicide one). See if this sounds familiar:

            The teachings of Heaven’s Gate did not differ all that much from those of other contactee organizations. However, in place of the openness to others that is a common theme espoused by those claiming contact with extraterrestrials, Heaven’s Gate was a closed society, suspicious of the external world. In place of the kooky fun of most contactees, Heaven’s Gate was dead serious.

            Unlike most other contactee groups and practically all of the individual contactees, Heaven’s Gate found little that was good in human nature, little that could give them hope. What hope they had was thought to be coming from above, a starship in a comet’s tail. They had given up on transforming the world; the best they could do was to escape it.

        • For me, religion/spirituality, like art, is the guardian of my subjectivity, the deep-down transcendent dimension of my soul that, if it is really there, that cannot be neutralized by any power, cannot be taken away by any oppressive government or society, cannot be made captive to any other human being. It is freedom, a liberty that cannot be stripped from awat, because no one (including me) has access to its “machinery”, to that which makes it “work”, to that which makes it real.

    • I don’t think it’s so much a new trend in the sense that we haven’t seen young people do this before. But it’s new in the details: a much higher percentage of the group, less likely to re-engage, a different perception of religion and its teachings, etc.

      See the book, “The End of Christian America.” The author thinks we’ve crossed a continental divide.

      I am not an alarmist. I don’t necessarily see all of this as bad. But if true, it will certainly prove uncomfortable and may lead to real instability.

  2. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    I know that religious people consider this – almost exclusively – from a religious perspective, and that it is a favorite topic for religious people to be anxious about… but it fits into a much larger context: affiliation, across the board: religious, civic, even recreational, has fallen precipitously. Religion may merely be a johnny-come-lately to this experience, but America has **radically** disaffiliated over the last ~40 years.

    I mean – we need to not forget how much we have changed in so many ways. Rewind 50 years and the Average America went to a friend’s house for dinner and/or to play cards slightly MORE often than ONCE A WEEK. That average is now just a little LESS than ONCE A MONTH. Many recreational institutions have completely disappeared. As these shifts were gradual, and not attached [directly] to Values – like religion is – mostly people haven’t noticed. However, the data is that we are not who we used to be.

    The question is – does (a) affiliation drive belief or does (b) belief drive affiliation? There may be more points on the (a) side than people are comfortable admitting, especially in the realm of religion.

    I believe considering the Rise Of The Nones outside of the trend of culture-wide disaffiliation risks missing important points.

    • Good insight.

    • It is perhaps this disaffiliation from all institutional involvement that is actually alarming. It seems to me that, into the space left by this disaffiliation and disenchantment has stepped the scary Alt-Right: largely non-religious, young, tech-savvy, driven by nationalistic passions….…The worst are full of passionate intensity…

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        >The worst are full of passionate intensity…

        Dude! You have no idea how many meetings I have sat in and had those lines run through my mind –
        ….
        The best lack all conviction, while the worst
        Are full of passionate intensity.
        ….

        Really smart people with ideas and concerns…. shrug… can’t be bothered to show up. But someone does show up, and you know who that is. And there is the rub: only a constituency matters, as an individual we don’t count. That is how it works – period, no quibbling. By the time you get to candidates and votes you are playing at the end of the game; influence and change happen well **before** that point.

        Why can’t we have nice things? Nice people don’t show up.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Really smart people with ideas and concerns…. shrug… can’t be bothered to show up. But someone does show up, and you know who that is.

          Intellectuals may kick off The Revolution, but it’s the Street Thugs who finish it.

      • They don’t trust institutions.

        • Yes, this is very true.

          This is accompanied by a logistical problem. A lot of youngerish people have unforgiving schedules, in addition to possibly having children. This makes it hard to find time to attend events and meetings.

          Meanwhile, a lot of organizations seeing decline in enrollment among younger members cater increasingly to their own schedules and interests. They also get used to relying on their own organizational muscle. And that makes them even more insular.

          If the young and suspicious aren’t inducted into organizations and made participants, they continue to view them and critique them as outsiders and the fringe. And it is very easy to shake your head and leave.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            “””If the young and suspicious aren’t inducted into organizations and made participants, they continue to view them and critique them as outsiders and the fringe”””

            +1,000

          • Unforgiving schedules…

            My new grandson, less than a week old, has been out with mom and/or dad every day since he came home, attending games or practices of his siblings, visiting dad at work, or going to other appointments.

            It can’t start any earlier than that!

          • Re: unforgiving schedules. I have an ongoing argument about this with my brother. He decries lack of commitment among church members and claims people don’t care and aren’t serious about their faith. I keep reminding him of the number of jobs that now require constant overtime (often unpaid), erratic schedules (jobs that might involve an 8 hr day or 6 or 10; you won’t know until you get there), two jobs just to make ends meet, plus children’s activities (silly, maybe, but try getting a college scholarship with no extra curriculars). There is no time for church commitment even if people want it. Back in the day, the Men’s Club or Ladies’ Society at church, or Lion’s Club meeting, or Mason’s meeting, or bowling league was your way to get a night out. No one went to the gym or the yoga studio or the speed networking event. There may have only been one or two movie theaters in town and only 3 or 4 tv channels. New, we are inundated with options, church only one among many and probably more boring.
            When my kids were younger and I worked full-time, what I wanted more than anything was an evening at home. Alone. To rest.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            It’s called “Information Overload”, Suzanne.

          • +1 on Suzanne.

            Contra to stereotype, I actually don’t think it is “information overload,” gadgets, or a lack of attention / commitment in people. Maybe it is sometimes. But that’s too simple.

            Our family leaves the house at 6:30 am and returns at 7:00. We’re in bed at 8:30. This is due to the length of the workday and the time it takes to drive in and out of Washington, DC. That schedule nukes any commitment on workdays besides working, school, and cooking meals.

            On the weekend we do all the other tasks. If pressed, I get up in the middle of the night or early morning on a workday.

            Weekend responsibilities include church. Now let’s talk about church. I attend an old mainline church, the kind of organization that people mean when they discuss the decline of older organizations. Membership is largely over 50.

            At my church, there is a committed core of people, and they are very busy sustaining the existing events and activities to which this church is committed. They are nice people and they are doing an admirable job. But at some point, these activities became ones by and for the existing community, and that community did not include young people or families in any great number. A short time after I joined, there was a discussion of starting a program for families / kids, but the decision was made to cancel those plans [“insufficient interest”].

            When I express interest in seeing something happen, the usual result is that I am put in charge of making it happen. It becomes my job to make these programs reappear. But some pro-tips first: don’t step on anyone’s turf, unless you really do want to meet Jesus; (2) get used to begging / arm-twisting.

            Unfortunately, I’m not spiritual enough for (1), and (2) I hate-hate-hate asking people for things, especially busy people who I know are at their limits. To date, I have not done it, which is one reason I am a terrible organizer and massively unfit for the role I keep being given. I just don’t know how to make this stuff appear ex nihilo, especially in a place where I’m new.

            Just thinking about it makes me tired. But most of all, I wind up feeling alone with a lot of responsibility.

            So, maybe young people are fickle. Or maybe, just maybe, it takes too much time and energy to figure out how to connect with your organization.

          • ”unforgiving schedules” A whole lot of territory is covered in those two words. My wife and I are starting to embrace the philosophy of Minimalism, not only in regard to physical possessions, but in regard to work, recreation, and social commitments. Even church. We are looking at moving somewhere where the pace of life is much slower, and cheaper. I have come to the conclusion that it is insanity to have to somehow produce $7 to $10K (after taxes) a month just to tread water. It forces us to bargain away many of the most important things in life , not only for the sake of a job, but our culture inundates us with the idea that we can do it all and be it all. So we over commit. then we feel guilty and conflicted, and do a half-assed job. One of the best skills I have cultivated is the ability to say no without explanation or guilt, and not give a crap about what others think of my refusals. Our jobs/culture/obligations will eat up every last bit of our lives, our time, and our relation ships, unless we refuse to be co-opted by them

        • They don’t trust institutions.

          Light pushback. Sure we do. Just not yours. Just not ones we can’t influence. Just not ones we don’t start.

          We trust lots of institutions. But we constantly hear “no not those” or “no not like that”.

          We are told we are like little kids taking our ball and going home, refusing to play well with others. When really, it’s like going to some other kid’s house, who has so many house rules that constantly change, that it’s not really fun anymore, and really you don’t like how they treat you and weren’t really friends to begin with anyways.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        The worst are full of passionate intensity…

        The “passionate intensity” of ‘On Fire For The LOORD” a la Teen Mania, Acquire the Fire, etc?
        The “passionate intensity” of a Revival Meeting?
        The “passionate intensity” of Culture Warriors Taking Back America?
        The “passionate intensity” of Restoring a Christian Nation?
        The “passionate intensity” of True Believers in general?

        In which case, they are exactly what the Christian Activists have been aiming for since the Reagan years, just they’ve changed their object of worship. Fundamentalist Activists, just for a secular One True Way.

        Either Screwtape or this blog (what a combination) spoke about “Jesus And…” and how once you have “Jesus And..” (or “Gospel And…”) the “And…” will eventually take over and crowd out Jesus. And the Fundamentalist True Belief and Passionate Intensity will then be 100% directed towards the “And…”

    • –> “…affiliation, across the board: religious, civic, even recreational, has fallen precipitously.”

      One can only hope that this ends up taking down the two-party political system on the Grand USA. If more and more people say, “I’m not either Dem or Rep…” Well…to me that would be a good thing. Especially after THIS election season.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > One can only hope that this ends up taking down …

        Doubtful. The actual result of declining participation is nearly always entrenchment – fewer voices matter.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          “Double Down and SCREAM LOUDER!”

        • –> “The actual result of declining participation is nearly always entrenchment – fewer voices matter.”

          Realizing the truth in that statement just made me very sad.

        • The actual result of declining participation is nearly always entrenchment – fewer voices matter.

          And, increasingly, those heard are the voices of the strident Alt-Right. The young are not a monolith, and there is a passionate, stridently expressive number of the young on the Alt-Right who are putting more than their two cents in, while the majority sit on their hands on the sidelines. Remember that the Alt-Right convenes not in staid old institutions, but where the young live: in cyberspace. And they are wizards in the manipulation of that medium. We look at Europe swinging rightward with the rise of nativist, nationalist parties; we are headed in the same direction, in our typically melodramatic American way, and the young are not and will not be immune from this unfolding danger. If Milos Yiannopoulos is a true spokesman for this movement, the Alt-Right wants the destruction of the two party system, and of our government institutions and alliances, so that they can be built along a completely different axis: instead of a progressive/conservative axis, they want an authoritarian/libertarian one. At this point, their candidate has destroyed the Republican Party and remade it in his own image; his next project is the White House and the Constitution.

          • –> “At this point, their candidate has destroyed the Republican Party and remade it in his own image…”

            Not really. The Republican Party brought this upon themselves.

            –> “…his next project is the White House and the Constitution.”

            A bit paranoid, are we?

          • Yes, they brought this upon themselves. He belongs to them as much as to the Alt-Right, but now they are being reshaped in the configuration of the Alt-Right. That’s why (for instance) they’ve gone from a party that favors free international trade, to one that supports protectionism of the national economy in the space of a few months.

            Paranoid? If you think our democratic institutions are so sound that they cannot be destroyed by someone using executive presidential powers like a wrecking-ball, maybe you’re a little naive.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Rewind 50 years and the Average America went to a friend’s house for dinner and/or to play cards slightly MORE often than ONCE A WEEK. That average is now just a little LESS than ONCE A MONTH. Many recreational institutions have completely disappeared.

      But now we have SOCIAL MEDIA!
      i.e. Just Me and My Smartphone Screen in My Very Own Pocket Universe.

      Any resemblance to Lone Wolf Christianity (i.e. Me and My Personal LOORD And Savior) more than coincidental. A lot like the Christianese Bubble turning your back on all the Outside for today’s equivalent of Monasteries and Convents and Hermitages, just without that Christian stuff. From Christian to Done to None, but the underlying behavior remains the same.

  3. I read an article republished on Episcopal Cafe noting that the “Nones” also are far less likely to vote &/or have a political affiliation including minor parties. Seems to be an indication of indifference, apathy & maybe social laziness? Imo it may also be a refocusing on a self-oriented society vs. a social community & a greater good. So in the long run where might this land us? Probably not anywhere that’s good for humanity or the planet. If everything is always about me me me then who benefits? No one…”N’one” pardon the pun!

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > indication of indifference, apathy & maybe social laziness?

      The key idea is that of Social Capital. Whatever “it” is, people invest in what they are invested in. Retaining an investor is always easier than recruiting a new investor, and an investor lost is extremely difficult to regain.

      Schmoozers … and politicians … are people who understand the value of Social Capital. But it is not something many Americans think much about – perhaps because they have other forms of capital to fall back on? Watch how wealthy people talk about the behavior of the poor – the behavior of the poor seems entirely irrational to them. Then talk to poor people. Their irrational decisions are more often then not very rational – but they are accumulating and spending Social Capital rather than Fiscal Capital; poor people can have fascinatingly wide and well developed networks of Social Capital, and they may forgo choices that make sense in fiscal terms, because they trust that network of Social Capital and know how to navigate it.

      Perhaps churches – the institutions of religion – have failed to position themselves in such a way that provides a return on investment?

    • They don’t trust institutions. The overwhelming availability of news (accurate or not) that is critical of institutions tears down that trust.

    • Imo it may also be a refocusing on a self-oriented society vs. a social community & a greater good.

      Lexi, I believe you may be right about this. Over the years our culture has been experiencing a fracturing into smaller and smaller units, political affiliation, religious affiliation, racial identity, group identity and, finally, unit identity, that is, “oneness”.

      It has slowly devolved into relativity of belief and the focus on the universe that revolves around the individual, the “greater cloud of witnesses” for the modern world.

      This, imo, means that standards and moral markers are fluid and subject to the zeitgeist of the culture at large. In this system religions are jettisoned because they have set standards and moral guideposts that conflict with the “flow” of cultural acceptance.

      I may be alone on this site saying this stuff, but here it is anyway.

  4. I think RJS’ post at Jesus Creed brought up some good points:

    “…we have a credibility problem. The reasons I pulled out above highlight this point.
    (1) Christians do not live and behave according Christian principles. “Hypocrite” is too often a valid judgment.
    It is refreshing to see the recent story on Christian support for those from war-torn areas (Republican, Conservative, and Supporting Syrian Refugees) but compassion, love for one another and for the poor, oppressed, ill, the foreigner among you, should be commonplace for Christians – not remarkable. It should be apparent within the church and to the surrounding community.
    (2) Religion isn’t religion, it is just another business.
    The focus is too often on numbers and ‘success,’ profit, prestige, and power, personalities and performance. A church is a Sunday morning (or Saturday evening) audience. This is just, plain wrong. The church is the community of God’s people and this is the only worthwhile thing we have to offer, now and for eternity.
    (3) Rational thought makes religion go out the window.
    This is front and center in my town and among colleagues. Christians are often seen as opposed to reason, to science, but this goes far beyond science. We need to teach people how to think and live as Christians in a changing world. The Ark Encounter doesn’t do it.”

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > we have a credibility problem

      +1

    • but compassion, love for one another and for the poor, oppressed, ill, the foreigner among you, should be commonplace for Christians – not remarkable.

      Add to that chastity. If there was ever a Christian teaching the vast majority of the church did not take very seriously, this would have to be it. Oh, sure, we talk about it, A LOT. We have such a big talk game when it comes to this. But the world sees who we really are when the rubber meets the road, and it’s just one more reason for their disbelief. Why should they take the teaching of Jesus seriously if we don’t?

      So rather than own up to it, these days, churches are much more inclined to simply lower that bar and make it easier to achieve. It’s much easier to fight the evil in social justice battles that are outside of us than to do the hard work of confronting the evil lusts that war within us. But we’re only fooling ourselves.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Good luck untangling the idea of Chastity from Christianese Sexual Mania. American Evangelicals (who hijacked the word “Christian” to default to THEIR version) have screwed the pooch on the subject of S*E*X so many times nobody can possibly take them seriously. Redefinition into “diabolic meanings” worthy of Screwtape confusing the whole issue.

    • What I was going to say about the post is “Oh, I’m so glad they finally are willing to acknowledge that people leave the faith because they simply don’t believe anymore.” However your comment highlights a major problem I see with Christian analysis of religious decline; you think that the church is to blame.

      Don’t get me wrong, the church isn’t helping her situation. Let’s be clear though, it is the very beliefs, even the core gospel, that are very difficult to believe. The Bible is difficult to believe. Adults who are not raised in the church are unlikely to find the gospel believable when they encounter it.

      Some of us, after years of believing, just can’t stomach it anymore. And it doesn’t matter if you were more likable, more consistent, with more integrity, heart, and wisdom. I just find it all too much to believe.

  5. As someone who walked away from a beloved church nearly 3 years ago, perhaps I should comment. I had always thought that, if I needed community, support, love, those things, that these people who talk about community and support and love would be there for me.

    I was wrong. Or at least I was unable to figure out how to connect with any such thing.

    My wife left, because she’s a lesbian. There’s nothing I can do about that but to grieve.

    I sat in my choir stall week after week, listening to talk of families, community, love, and becoming more and more alienated. I am not now, nor (if I keep my vows) shall I ever be again, part of a family. “You can’t be a Christian by yourself,” I was told. Is there love for the likes of me? People assure me that God does love me. The body of Christ, the church, was unable to show that love to me.

    I understand people don’t want to talk about divorce, death of parents, grief. All those things that are the realities of my life. But what is love if not a willingness to listen to uncomfortable truths?

    And they very much do not want to address the questions of living alone, living a celibate life (to which I am promised by my wedding vows, if I take them seriously) in a society such as ours.

    And so I walked away. I should forgive their shortcomings, I know this. Going back makes me twitchy, even three years later.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > listening to talk of families, community, love, and becoming more and more alienated

      I know a shadow of that feeling. I had nothing on the order of magnitude of your experience – but as a single person, and then a married person with no children – and there would be no children – there was not a lot of space in many churches for me [then us]. In my experience it was a very thin community – you could be a child, a family, or elderly…. which is barely half of America.

      If you aren’t a child, a family, or elderly there wasn’t much *to* talk about, even before you get to the topics one *didn’t* talk about.

      > But what is love if not a willingness to listen to uncomfortable truths?

      This.

    • Richard I don’t know if I can imagine how hard it is.

      Is the main thing your community could have done is to listen? I have a friend who is in a similar circumstance and at times I am speechless.

      If you could say something to your old church community what would that be?

      • I think a grief support group kind of thing, where people were actually interested in listening, not trying to fix the unfixable, would have helped immensely. I think every church should have one.

        And yes, I was involved in a “small group”. At one point we were reading something by Rowan Williams, which included the statement that being Christian means nobody has to suffer alone. I underlined it, brought it to the group’s attention, allowed as how I was, in fact, suffering alone, and they politely dropped the issue.

    • My sympathies, Richard.

      Good friends – I like both husband and wife – are going through a rough patch. A REALLY rough patch. If it ends in divorce, I assume the husband will eventually leave and find a different church. I’ve told him, “Hey, if your marriage goes the divorce route, STAY HERE! Do something different. Make it awkward for us, the church body. Let us try to love you BOTH, even if it’s as you sit on opposite sides of the sanctuary.”

      Not sure that’s realistic, but I HATE the fact that a divorce means that one person has to leave. I want to try to love them both.

      • There are times I wonder if divorce is an essentially excommunicating experience. At least in my case, it made me question pretty much everything I thought I knew.

        That said, in that same church there was a former couple, who sat apart, in different pews. Sometimes their daughter sat with her dad; other times with her mom. It’s a start.

    • Ben Carmack says:

      Dear Richard,

      Reading your comment hurts, dear brother. I’m so sorry to hear that you were abandoned by your wife for a life of wickedness. It’s a situation that will only become more common, I’m afraid, as the years go on.

      I don’t think it appropriate to attempt a counseling session via Internet. I would urge you to find a Bible believing church that obeys Scripture’s admonition to know and care for the sheep. Drop me an email bcarmack3@gmail.com and tell me where you live. I might be able to provide some help in that regard.

      The church is meant to be a new and better family. Our most important identity is our identity in Christ. Our natural family is secondary. It’s easy for sincere Christians to miss this, but it is nonetheless true, and Jesus Himself taught the same.

      Lastly, finding a Bible-believing, God-fearing church is important because, in times of distress, you, me and everybody needs the pure, simple words of God, and not endless questions of the sort, “Hath God said?”. We need fearless shepherds who will give us God’s No to adultery, sodomy and perversion and God’s Yes to holiness.

      With love,
      Ben

      • “I would urge you to find a Bible believing church that obeys Scripture’s admonition to know and care for the sheep. ”

        You make that sound oh so easy…

        • It is easy, he’ll help you find the local (PCA/9Marks/IFB/etc) church, it’s that easy.

          Because, when you are hurt, what you really need is more Word preached at you.

      • I’m not seeing it as “wickedness” so much as irreconcilable differences. Having some gender identity issues of my own, I do sympathize. There’s just not anything to be done.

        Except to support the grieving. Weep with those who weep. Mourn with those who mourn. Be aware that not everybody in your community fits on the child-family-elderly continuum.

        In a word, love.

      • Ben, I know you mean well, but you have no idea how…odious, and…triggering…that comment and advice is. I can’t disagree enough with it.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          I think Ben needs to write in English instead of Christianese. When you’re in Richard’s position, the Christianese just makes things worse; coming across as Preaching At instead of Coming Alongside.

          During my time in-country, I got burned by a “Bible-Believing, God-Fearing” Fellowship (they wouldn’t call themselves a church, never mind a Heavy Shepherding Group). And locally, all too often “Born-Again Bible-Believing” meant “Calvary Chapel Clone”. So the Buzzwords are Identical.

          • All too often, the “the pure, simple words of God” means that verses are lifted straight off the page and isolated from their context in the book, disconnected from the situation Paul was referring to, and not reconciled with Christ’s teachings. That’s exactly how we get teachings like, “wives submit,” “I do not permit a woman to teach,” or even “slaves obey.” That was a biggie in the 1800s. So yeah, the” pure, simple words of God” have been misused to cause great harm – and many people are calling BS on this.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            “The pure, simple words of God” as in the Demon Locusts of Revelation obviously being helicopter gunships armed with chemical weapons and piloted by long-haired bearded hippies? After ODing on Hal Lindsay (and the even weirder Dake’s Annotated), “the pure simple words of God” take on a whole new meaning. Like watching The Muppet Show after Meet the Feebles, you can never see things in the same way again.

        • Thank you, Stuart.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        We need fearless shepherds who will give us God’s No to adultery, sodomy and perversion and God’s Yes to holiness.

        Note that the three mentioned are all Sexual(TM). Including one (“sodomy” for homosexuality) that you only find in Christianese. All too often, Christians have defined morality exclusively as Sexual behavior and holiness as Thou Shalt Not. Another reason our credibility is blown.

        Oh, and Ben? A LOT of Christian abusers also end their beatdowns with “In Love…”

        • BEN: I’ll tag onto HUG’s comment, mindful of his last sentence, which is unfortunately true.

          Please be careful against a religion of works-righteousness and authoritarianism. Holiness is great if it stays holy, but in the wrong hands it becomes a monster.

      • “Bible-believing” is very subjective and frequently used to note how one group is superior to others, even though technically, all Christian churches are Bible-believing, however they define the term.

    • Not sure I understand why your wife leaving you (I assume you are divorced) prevents or forbids you from remarrying.

      • Aside from the enduring grief issues, and a certain lingering trauma, there is the plain meaning of the vows we took. Perhaps I’m being too hard on myself. Perhaps not. I cannot tell.

        One thing seriously lacking in all branches of Christendom nowadays is any kind of support for those (at least lay people) who find themselves single for large parts of their lives. Lots of folks will insist other people should be celibate, but nobody will talk about how to live that way, within today’s society.

        • Well, Jesus says to make no vows or oaths; simply say yes or no. So maybe you are being too hard on yourself. And Paul says if the unbelieving spouse leaves, one is no longer bound (with the understood implication that one can remarry). Blessings on whatever you do!

  6. I wanted to comment about several of the voices above as they were all great points, but there was just too much to say. Sometimes I worry more about those who stay (for the wrong reasons). I see some families using intense guilt manipulation, forcing their kids to wear mental-chastity belts (keeping their thoughts uncontaminated by any information that has not been previously predigested by their church) in order to keep their families “in church.”

    Some days, speaking emotionally here, I sort of wish all would leave and the last one turn out the lights on this huge entanglement with the behemoth of religion. Then, once the dust settles someone takes the fresh Gospel (as a novice) and says, “Hey, here’s a new idea. Let’s build our lives around this simple story.” The starting point is to redefine “truth” to its original meaning of “that which is,” not, that which my particular subculture teaches. I had a friend who said to me recently, “You ought to be in my church, there they only teach truth.” It made me want to run for the hills as I know what he really means. I think it is the leviathan of Christian or religious subculture they are leaving. If they really saw the gospel for what it was (and we have hidden it from them) I think those who have left would fall in love with it. That’s the challenge for us.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > I sort of wish all would leave and the last one turn out the lights

      My dream was always a list of words/topics that would be forbidden for one year. The church would not talk about sex, homosexuality, culture war, abortion, etc…- whatever things the particular church is obsessed with – for one full year. Complete silence on those topics, for one full year.

      This would forcibly make room for other conversations. What would you talk about then? Perhaps someone else, who had been otherwise silent, would speak!

      It could never happen of course, you’d need real leadership. But many of the churches I attended were in desperate need of a cultural cleanse.

      One good topic to ban: Music! OMG, the hours wasted haggling about music; what a waste of time.

      • But many of the churches I attended were in desperate need of a cultural cleanse.

        Yes, of course, but…

        One good topic to ban: Music!

        Hey! I resemble that comment! 😛

        Seriously, though, I think you just contradicted yourself.

        Music needs to be discussed. The unreflecting embrace of disposable fads has made it that much easier for young people to “outgrow” religion, and not take it seriously as a source of depth and beauty in life.

        Hours are wasted haggling about music when, and only because, people are narcissistically insisting on preference and having their desires catered to, rather than discussing how music should function as a servant of the Gospel. Where THAT is the focus of discussion, the debates are not wasted. Believe me, it leads to progress.

      • No. Only some music.

        CCM. And Rap. And Disco.

    • Michael, I would love to know where to find that church that has the message of “Join us as we find our individual faith in Christ, and celebrate and practice it together” and stick TO that message.

      The problem is that when people gather together human nature is such that a group dynamic evolves that requires some form of conformity.

      A larger discussion should be explored where Christians identify what, exactly, did Jesus mean when He said “…I will build my church”, and what it would look like. Are we to be a loose affiliation of individuals, or something more coherent?

    • I hear, and agree, with what you’re saying, Miguel. A “religious/Christian reboot” might be pretty healthy.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      If they really saw the gospel for what it was (and we have hidden it from them) I think those who have left would fall in love with it. That’s the challenge for us.

      If they haven’t become immune to it by now.

      JMJ, you’re a PA, you know how Vaccination works: Expose the immune system to a harmless (either weakened or killed) version of a pathogen so that when they’re exposed to the actual pathogen, they’re already immune to it.

  7. A lot of well meant comments here that seem determined to miss the most devastating point made by the stats. It’s natural to want to figure out WHAT”S GOING WRONG and to fix it. But the clear conclusion of the surveys is that folks are not leaving because the church is doing something wrong.

    They’re leaving because THEY JUST DON”T BELIEVE IT ANYMORE.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      No, it is not that simple. It is a valid question to ask What Did They Believe Before, Why Did They Stop Believing It, or even What Does It Mean To Stop Believing Something. We can’t use the pronoun “it” without asking what that is a referent of. And people do not make decisions in a vacuum.

      • I agree. Not that simple. I don’t think the world will ever become agnostic/atheist, so there’s something particular going on in America today. Maybe it mirrors whatever happened in Europe to leave their churches empty. Has anyone compared the European drift from religion to the current American trend?

        By the way…Adam, your comment made me think of this song…

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1k8craCGpgs

      • “When did you stop believing??” Wrong question. Why did I start…?

      • In my view “it” has a lot to do with the utter lack of serious teaching in much of the church, as well as the lack of genuine “tikkun olam” (repairing the world) practiced by the church.

        When we engage the incredible increase of knowledge in our society by defensive, political doctrines like inerrancy and creationism, for example, how can we expect anyone to take us seriously?

        And when our churches have become activity centers and entertainment venues rather than fountains of healing, why would anyone feel need of them?

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          +1,000,000

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > And when our churches have become activity centers and entertainment
          > venues rather than fountains of healing

          I hear people say this all the time. People write books about it. People talk about it on the radio. People talk about it on podcasts and BLOGs.

          And nothing happens.

          That makes me very sad.

          Is is irreparable?

        • seneca griggs says:

          I’m an admirer of you C.M.

          However I’m not sure “When we engage the incredible increase of knowledge in our society by defensive, political doctrines like inerrancy and creationism, for example, how can we expect anyone to take us seriously?” is the underlying problem.

          Episcopalians, Lutherans, United Presbyterians, Christian Church and a lot of other mainline denominations disavow creationism and inerrancy.

          As denominations, they appear to be dying out.

          • They have their own problems. I was speaking mostly from my evangelical background.

            When it comes to the mainlines, teaching never has been their strong point or why people attended them. In my view much of their decline has to do with the fact that they failed to make the transition into a mobile, suburban society very well.

            In my own denomination, the ELCA, for example, to this day nearly 3/4 of the congregations are in places with less than 250,000 people, and fully half are in rural areas or in small towns with fewer than 10,000 people. Many had an immigrant background and churches sprang up where the immigrants settled. If by some chance you moved to that town, you looked for the denomination that represented your family history. When it came to city churches, same thing, different setting.

            The evangelical growth in the 1970’s and 80’s was representative of the demographic shift to the suburbs and the church growth movement capitalized on the dislocation of individuals and families from small communities and inner cities. The megachurch is a suburban phenomenon.

            In my view, and it will be seen in tomorrow’s post, many mainline churches still haven’t adjusted. For the most part, Lutherans don’t know how to reach anyone other than other Lutherans. Others have been more successful, but the denominational structures that served them in the post-war years are in no way flexible and adaptable enough to move with the times.

            Mainline churches have been failing for decades, not because of their teaching necessarily, but more so because they are glaciers in an age of sports cars.

        • When we engage the incredible increase of knowledge in our society by defensive, political doctrines like inerrancy and creationism, for example, how can we expect anyone to take us seriously?

          Yes, and especially when we can’t agree on what “inerrancy” means, or why the clause “in their original documents” isn’t a built-in loophole.

    • Humans are complex creatures, and believing is complex act, involving much more than a simple decision based on an objective assessment of self-evident and undisputed facts. And given the fact that most people are probably not consciously reassessing their beliefs on a regular basis, it’s worth asking what factors might contribute to this shift in plausibility.

    • –> “They’re leaving because THEY JUST DON”T BELIEVE IT ANYMORE.”

      I wonder if it’s less of “they don’t believe” and more a question they’ve asked and have yet to hear a good answer: “Why would I want to believe?”

      • Good point. Some doctrines are worth believing in.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        This, and back to my ROI (return on investment) perspective.

      • “Why would I want to believe” has little to do with Truth. I desperately want to believe in a world without cancer. So what?! I doesn’t exist, no matter how much I desire it. Many of us who used to believe in the gospel, really wanted to believe, we just couldn’t anymore.

        I want Santa to deliver presents to all the kids in the world on Christmas Eve (as someone discussed in another comment), I want to believe a lot of things. But many people just find the claims of the gospel, the bible, and the church, just too much of stretch to see as real.

    • They’re leaving because THEY JUST DON”T BELIEVE IT ANYMORE.

      Sure. But we still celebrate Christmas despite not believing in Santa.

      It’s a funny thing that people will continue to believe something they know to be false ‘just in case’. Like knowing evolution is true but still believing in YEC. Like knowing their spouse is cheating but still believing it’s all ok. Like knowing they are overweight but still believing they are healthy.

      One example coming up here soon for me is seances. There is a dinner party in town that does a seance after the meal, the whole event is pure entertainment and not meant to be taken seriously. Studying the history of spiritualism and seances and the like, I know 100% for a fact that it’s bogus and stupid and false, nothing to hear at all. But even knowing this, I have friends who still wouldn’t attend “just in case”.

      Like, why? You know its fake. You know it’s false. What is it?

      Maybe people still do believe in Santa…on December 24.

    • They don’t believe, although I don’t think many ever did, and they just don’t care. A lot of people aren’t against religion; it’s just not on their radar.
      It’s similar to me never having attended a high school soccer game. I have nothing against soccer but I have no interest. The high school can try to lure me with giveaways and prizes, and if I went, I might enjoy, but mostly, no, I have other things in my life and would rather not bother. A zealous soccer fan, who hounds me continuously about attending will wear on me quickly and make me even more likely to avoid the whole thing, and maybe even other sports.

      • At least the ‘zealous soccer fan’ would be judging you only on your refusal to interest yourself in soccer, and not on every other opinion you have, who you vote for, how you dress, and on everything you’ve ever said or done in your life (apart from avoiding soccer). Would that church fans were so limited.

        What disgusts me most about church is that it’s a magnet for control-obsessed ‘spiritual minders,’ people who ‘focus on (other people’s) family,’ as a former contributor here once put it, and who are sure that, because what they believe is ALL TRUTH, they now know ALL TRUTH and can dispense it freely (by quoting a verse here or there or appealing to the Magisterium itself) on the most intimate matters of your life. I say this as a weekly church-goer, who has more than once had to pull up stakes to leave what had become an unbearable judge-fest. I stick with it because I can’t seem to shake off Christ, whom I adore. But I honestly can’t blame those who bail out of church for good, long stretches of time.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          I say this as a weekly church-goer, who has more than once had to pull up stakes to leave what had become an unbearable judge-fest. I stick with it because I can’t seem to shake off Christ…

          That’s also the story of my adult life.
          Who else has the words of the Life of the Age to Come?

          (And are you “Bass” as in the fish or “Base” as in the musical term?)

          • You’re so right, Headless.

            You’ll understand this: I once looked carefully at Judaism, the conservative (orthodox-lite) kind; I was attracted to its liturgy, the Sabbath rituals and observance, the personal and collective dignity, the sense of family and community (plus the happy lack of dogmatic certainty about everything), and its insistence on doing good, “tikkun olam” (repairing the world), which,as CM rightly noted, supra, seems missing in much of the church. I gladly give to Jewish charities, knowing the money goes to good use. I’ve even read about Christians who became serious Jews. But, like you, it just isn’t possible for me to leave Christ. And I have faced that question. I’ve wondered about those who say they have left the church because they don’t believe any more.

            As for the name, I say it like the fish, or the shoes, or the ale, or the sea strait that separates Tasmania from the Australian mainland. But ‘base’ is fine too.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Judaism has two major points we badly need:
            1) Tikkun Olam
            2) Live Your Life
            Very here-and-now, very “earthy”.

    • On – just don’t believe it. Yes, and no. Believing doesn’t happen in a vaccuum. It seems very often to be something that happens while we’re doing something else. We got to church (or other types of activities) for innumerable reasons; our beliefs often “fit” within that framework, and therefore they make sense. Remove the “something else,” the connections don’t get made or sustained that make belief count for anything.

      Absent of other factors, I doubt compelling argumentation alone will move many people.

  8. Side comment, I love this blog title, CM. “Exodus from US Religion”

    Brings up a lot of verses about “wanting to go back to the wonders of Egypt (religion)”…

    Subtle, very nice!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Though one of the Christianese duckspeak phrases that also grates on me is “YOU have a RELIGION; I Have a RELATIONSHIP!” Even did a smackdown on it in one of the two SF stories I’ve had published.

  9. seneca griggs says:

    I also think the pendulum is swinging away from the faith as established by the saints.

    I blame God. Is not the ebb and flow of humanities beliefs dependent upon His voice and His will.

    I certainly believe it is.

    For reasons known only to Him, the world appears to be in an ebb [ or at least the Western World ] when it comes to the growth of the His Church.

    • So, none of this can be laid at the feet of the Church’s failings? I’m still a Calvinist, and even to my ears this sounds like a cop-out…

  10. seneca griggs says:
  11. I wonder how much of this exodus might be attributed to the Moral Therapeutic Deism that was described in the analysis of the National Study of Youth and Religion in 2003-05 by Christian Smith and Melinda Denton and expanded upon by Kenda Creasy Dean in her book, Almost Christian? Are we possibly seeing the fallout from decades of presenting God and Jesus as wanting us to be happy and be nice?

    • Possibly. On the other hand, if my experience in those years and many others are any indication, we never were taught that God and Jesus wanted us to be happy. Just to be nice at all costs, and vote GOP and against gays.

      I like the idea of a God who wants us to be happy. Sounds hopeful.

      • A God who wants us to be happy is good. As long as that God doesn’t hold it against us if we’re not….

  12. Phyllis Tickle noted that every 500 years, Christianity has a shake up, and that we’re due for one now. I think much of what is discussed here is part of that shake-up. It’s just not as dramatic as in ages past since by law, we in the West, at least, can legally believe in and say whatever we want. But, the shake-up is occurring, and that’s not a bad thing. The church needs to openly examine what is helpful, what is harmful, what is actually based on the culture of the day, what is a misuse of scripture, etc. I don’t know if people are leaving the church and the religion more so than in the past, or if today, they’re just legally and culturally allowed to say that they doubt and allowed to leave. But yes, we do have a credibility problem. HUG noted that the apocalyptic movement in the 80’s hurt our credibility. I agree. I would add to that the Jerry Falwells and the Pat Robertsons that positioned themselves as speaking for all Christians and getting the church involved in politics. Then, I’d add to it the neo-cal movement today with it’s “we’re chosen, you’re going to burn so God can be glorified” and it’s obsession with the false, Pharisaical issue of gender roles/complementarianism. So what can we do? How about elevating Christ back over Paul (neo-cals, I’m looking straight at you here) and actually carrying out the teachings of Christ: caring for the poor and the orphans, the homeless, etc (no, Evangelical Conservatives, I’m not advocating socialism!), and, for heaven’s sakes, teach people how to handle suffering. The happy-clappy, Jesus is my best bud Christianity does not serve people well when the “locusts” come.

    • Preach it! Amen!

    • +++1000 Amen!

      My husband and I discussed this very thing on Tuesday. I was recently invited to a women’s morning study at a new neo-cal franchise church that’s opening just blocks away from the biggest neo-cal church in town. I gave him three guesses as to which book of the Bible they were going to study. He only needed one: Titus.

      Why is it that neo-cals don’t study the Gospels? It’s always Paul and the Old Testament with them. For neo-cal women it’s an even narrower selection: Ruth, Esther, or Titus. Maybe Ephesians, if they’re lucky.