THIS WEEK IN GOD…. First up from the God Machine this week is a fascinating trend in American religiosity.
America is a less Christian nation than it was 20 years ago, and Christianity is not losing out to other religions, but primarily to a rejection of religion altogether, a survey published Monday found.
Seventy-five percent of Americans call themselves Christian, according to the American Religious Identification Survey from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. In 1990, the figure was 86 percent.
William Donohue, president of the Catholic League said he thinks a radical shift towards individualism over the last quarter-century has a lot to do it.
“The three most dreaded words are thou shalt not,” he told Lou Dobbs. “Notice they are not atheists — they are saying I don’t want to be told what to do with my life.”
At the same time there has been an increase in the number of people expressing no religious affiliation.
One of the keys to looking at the data is to appreciate the mainline “squeeze” — it’s not just that Christian identification is shrinking, it’s also changing. There are far fewer Episcopalians and Lutherans, but evangelical numbers are on the rise. Indeed, mega-church associations went from 200,000 in 1990 to more than 8 million now.
The trends — fewer Christians, higher unaffiliated rates, more born-again Christians — are very likely related. The more Christianity becomes associated with evangelicals and the religious right, the more, I suspect, Americans are disinclined to consider themselves Christian. And as more people express no religious preference, the more socially acceptable it becomes, which in turn makes it easier for others to make the same shift.
Also from the God Machine this week:
* The Family Research Council, the religious right’s most influential lobbying group in D.C., is not immune to the nation’s economic conditions, and is cutting its staff.
* The White House really ought to reconsider the role of nonsectarian prayers at nonreligious events.
* Pope Benedict XVI acknowledged “mistakes” in his embrace of an excommunicated bishop who denied the reality of the Holocaust, and said that the matter had been mishandled. You don’t say.
* And actor Rainn Wilson, best known for his work on The Office, has “just launched the website SoulPancake.com, which is part-blog, part-online community to discuss philosophy and spirituality. Says Wilson in an introductory video: ‘I am sick of spirituality being airy-fairy, hippy-dippy, and precious. I want to de-lameify talking about God and religion.’” Wilson is a member of the Baha’i faith, which is a small minority in the U.S.