Thursday, 10 September 2020

Religion in USA - The Decline Accelerates

In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace | Pew Research Center

This Pew Research survey passed under my radar last December, but it shows just how far the growing rejection of religion in the USA has progressed as the USA catches up with Europe in its rejection of organised religious superstition in favour of secularism and rational thought.

As usual with these surveys, the news is relentlessly dreadful for organised religions, with few if any crumbs of comfort, other than that the religiously affiliated are still an absolute majority, albeit a majority which will inevitably disappear within a generation.
The religious landscape of the United States continues to change at a rapid clip. In Pew Research Center telephone surveys conducted in 2018 and 2019, 65% of American adults describe themselves as Christians when asked about their religion, down 12 percentage points over the past decade. Meanwhile, the religiously unaffiliated share of the population, consisting of people who describe their religious identity as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular,” now stands at 26%, up from 17% in 2009.

These figures belie the impression given to us non-Americans and created by the increasingly vociferous clamour of conservative (i.e. politically right-wing) white evangelicals that the USA is a fundamentalist Christian country. It also shows how these extremists are exercising a political influence far in excess of their strength within Amerian society.

Perhaps this shrill clamour is a response to their falling strengths - the last shriek of a dying class.

The news for the organised churches in the USA is even worse when their long-term prospects are examined as the increase in 'None' is more marked in the younger age-groups. Other surveys have shown how once a person's religious 'identity' becomes established in young adulthood, it rarely moves in the direction of greater religiosity and tends to stay the same, or become more rejecting of religious affiliation. This means the organised churches are facing a demographic time-bomb as these younger people age and pass their religious identity (or lack of it) on to their children.

A 2019 survey for the UK showed that the religious 'half-life' for Anglican Christians in the UK is 1 generation whereas that for a 'None' is several orders of magnitude lower.

This means that religious parents have only a 50% probability of their children also growing up to be religious adults, whereas almost all non-affiliated parents will produce non-affiliated children. Children of 'mixed' parents where one was 'Christian' and the other was non-afilliated have about a 25% probability of being 'Christian'. Of course, this doesn't necessarily translate to the USA where the cultural pressures to conform are stronger, but it nontheless shows that parental influence is weak for religious affiliation but strong for non-affiliation. As the 'Nones' gain in numbers, as we saw in the UK, the cultural pressures to conform will weaken and the pressures to be non-affiliated will increase, or rather it will become more and more socially acceptable to admit to not being religious.

What this rapid rate of attrition means for the organised religions is that the haemorrhage away from religious affiliation will tend to increase exponentially.

Translating these Pew Research figures into absolute numbers shows that the decline has been absolute as well as relative. In the ten years since 2009, Those self-identifying as 'Christian' has fallen by 11 million from 178 million to 167 million while those self-identifying as non-affiliated increased by 29 million to 68 million. This against a backdrop of a 23 million increase in the adult population of the USA.

Translating that expressed self-identification into practical action explains the reduction in those who attend a place of worship at least once a week, which has declined from 37% a decade ago to 30% in 2019 and those who say they rarely or never attend a place of worship has risen from 11% to 17% over the same period. Amongst white, non-Hispanics, those who attend places of worship a few times a year or less are now the majority at 57% (up from 49% in 2009) while those who attend monthly or more has declined from 60% to just 42% in 2018/19.

It was probably fear that this trend away from regular church attendance would accelerate as people lost the habit and so the social affiliative rewards of going to church, with no detriment to their daily lives, that led covidiot fundamentalist pastors to tell their congregations to ignore the Covid-19 social distancing measures and go to church, even after it had been shown that this made churches Covid-19 hotspots and accelerated the rate of infection in the community.

One can only hope that the realisation of this low regard for the health and welfare of others amongst the fundamentalist Christian leadership will encourage more people to reject Christianity.

Previous surveys have given some slight comfort to Christians in the USA by showing the the decline in Catholicism was being offset by increased Hispanic (mostly Catholic) immigration. However, this survey shattered that small hope by showing that Christianity amongst Hispanics has declined by ten percentage points from 82% to 72% since 2009, while non-affiliation has gone up from 15% to 23% amongst this former stronghold of Christinity.

How much this is due to the child sexual abuse scandals rocking the Catholic Church and how much is due to Christian evangelical support for the openly racist, anti-immigrant, anti-Hispanic policies of Donald Trump, remains to be seen but it can't have gone unnoticed by Hispanic Americans.

Of course this could apply generally as an explanation for the continued decline in religiosity in the USA, but perhaps the continued antics of the fundamentalists in the social media can't be discounted.

Thanks to Facebook user Niki Marie for alerting me to this poll.

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