You may know this. Nan posted about it. The trend is for fewer people to raise their hand when I ask, how many of you are Christians? It’s been going that way for years.
Twelve years ago, I would have reluctantly raised my hand. I preferred to say I was Irish-Catholic rather than Christian, even though there is no such thing. Officially, it’s Roman Catholic, but I am not even a little bit Italian, so says my ancestry spittle.
PEW Research keeps up with this stuff. They take polls and ask, what are you? For more than ten years, fewer people have been saying they are Christians. If that trend continues, folks claiming to be Christian will soon be the overall minority.
That has already happened with the younger crowd. PEW claims no rapid rise in the number of atheists in the USA, although we are growing too, albeit slowly. PEW says it’s now 4% of all, up from 2%. If every atheist was willing to come out, it would be more.
It’s the nones who are kicking ass. In the real world, if you say I’m an atheist, things can go badly for you lickety-split. However, being wishy-washy is a good way to cover your butt. Yet, folks are crossing a line by saying, nope, not a Christian. PEW does not tell us why this is happening.
So, why is it that fewer people claim to be Christians? Are they decamping for reasons, or just getting lazy? Most are not queuing up for atheism. These are mostly nones disowning the label of Christian.
For example, years back I had a bit of an email tiff with a guy from church. I considered him a jerk, but that’s not the point. He wrote, “I do not see how a practicing Catholic can support…” (abortion, I think). He was calling me out for being a liberal Democrat Catholic. I told him that I no longer considered myself Catholic, practicing or otherwise.
I did not say I was agnostic, atheist, or Methodist. It was the first time in my life that I disowned the religion of my birth (which is why I can relate to the struggles of people like Anne Rice). I was thinking and embracing none-hood. I was trying to figure it all out, which is what I think many nones are also doing. They’re searching for answers.
A former Christian (Jew or Muslim) did not wake up on some random sabbath and decide they will no longer be that religion. It’s a process; often a long, difficult, and reluctant one.
So why the Christian exodus to being a none? I would like to propose nine reasons for why it has been happening, and one reason why some stay.
Politics (sort of). Anne Rice went from being raised Catholic, to agnostic, back to Catholic, then bailed to a “faith in God,” then to not Christian (a none), then to secular humanist. Some call what she cites for her reasons as social issues, but I see it as the cognitive dissonance suffered by many progressive believers.
Many Christian writers, pastors, and even the Catholic Church point to the right-wing politics of evangelical Christians, conservative Catholics, and other extremely politically conservative religious folk as the reason many Christians are taking a hike.
Freedom from Religion. Let’s say you’re opposed to abortion but support a woman’s right to choose. Let’s say you are politically progressive, liberal, but believe in both God and Climate Change. Let’s say you do not take biblical scripture literally, you are opposed to capital punishment, and you care about the environment.
Religion, especially when it is authoritarian, is burdensome. Sometimes, it limits what many see as their freedom (freedom of thought). I’ve been told, “You don’t have to go to church to be a good Christian.” I get that, but you also don’t have to say you are of any religion to follow the teachings of Christ, Buddha, Mohamed, or Wicca. Freedom from religion is a different kind of freedom of religion, and in my opinion it’s more freeing.
Christian examples. Let’s name some names. While I doubt if many people leave Christianity because of the likes of Falwell, Robertson, or Peter Popoff and his miracle water; or due to the many, MANY scandals, those things people probably do not entice Christian encampment.
Morality of the heart. While this relates back to politics; blocking human rights, equal rights, women’s rights; demeaning the value of science and medicine and environmental protections; combined with the myriad of phobias purported within modern religions of all flavors are seen as immoral, and thus are seen as incongruent with being a good moral human being.
The no true Scotsman fallacy, or we shall bully or cajole you into it. Leverage is being used when people are told that they are not a “true” Christian (or Catholic). If they do not believe or practice as directed, the pressure to cooperate may help drive folks away. While this is far from unique to the Christian religion, it is divisive. I think few people would abandon church because of this, but they certainly will change churches or parishes. It is another reason to step back.
To be fair, this is a pain in the ass for any group, even atheists. Many of us deplore the insulting, overaggressive, know-it-alls who seem to think that behaving like an ass will result in folks seeing the truth.
The rise of doubt. The interesting thing about doubt (in religion of gods) is that it can be free of emotion or bogged down by it. Most believers seem to have minor, early reservations. Later, with more advanced uncertainties, folks may verbalize their concerns. These doubts often lead to action. They may read things like the Bible or spiritual writings; they may listen a little closer. They begin to realize things. These middle doubts have no time limit. Some people may doubt no further.
As doubt and questioning grows, ignorance diminishes. As more skeptics have come forward and the social acceptability of having no religion has grown, more people are willing to tell the truth about it all.
Technology. It’s easy to get data, it’s hard to make sense of it. For example, in my county I’ve read that 60% are nones. Most believers here are Evangelical Protestant, which is something of a denominational, holy-roller hodge-podge. The second largest Christian denomination is Catholic. One source said 40% are religious, thus, 60% are not. That is a lot of nones.
However, the data is there. I like PEW Research as a source. In minutes I have more information than I’ve ever wanted concerning religious demographics. That is my point. Technology allows us all access to tons of information, some true, much of it is not. But it’s all there. The information technology boom probably contributes to knowledge and to people making decisions. In combination with other things, it easily sends anti-religion torpedoes below the religious water lines.
Outspoken nones. Like it or not, we are affected by what other people say, do, and think. Anti-religion and anti-theist sentiment is everywhere—even between denominations. As people become more outspoken about their lack of religious participation, not naming a religion, or withholding any answer; others on the fence will often come down outside of religion. Why not? It’s important to remember that people get tired of the nonsense long before they decide to walk away.
What they miss most is the social aspects of church. While this is not exactly a reason for people to leave, it may be the only reason to stay. They call it fellowship. It is a bonding, it is nice (usually), people enjoy it (their tribe), and when they bail out it is what they usually miss most (I did not). This tells me that often, religious participation is based on issues other than the purported tenants of a religion. Religion often survives because going to church is a social club.
It keeps getting easier to just say no. People do get very involved with their church. Some also with the idea of Christianity, at least as they understand it. For many, it is a heaven or hell thing, but for others that is far from the point of their religion. I don’t know if many of them are among the nones of the past ten years.
What I do know is that social and economic pressures to go to church, to say one is this religion or that, to even be a culturally religious person is reducing each year. If someone wants religion, church, or Christianity (of some flavor), it will always be there for them. But if they would prefer either “no preference” or “none” embossed on their dog tags, it’s easy enough to do.
Obviously, many of the people leaving church and religion are skeptics or closeted atheists. But I’m inclined to think they are mostly just tired of the bull shit.