Saturday, 2 May 2020

More Evidence of Americans Losing Faith

This Chart Shows How Quickly Americans Are Abandoning Organized Religion | Hemant Mehta | Friendly Atheist | Patheos

More evidence, if any were needed of the steep and accelerating decline in religiosity in the USA as more and more Americans turn their backs on organised religion.

This evidence comes in the form of a report released yesterday, by Adjunct Fellow Lyman Stone for the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute, which should set alarm bells ringing in the ears of those whose livelihood depends on Americans continuing to go to church and support them with money. This chart, based on data from multiple sources and methodologies shows how all the measures of religiosity show the same thing - American religiosity has fallen off a cliff edge and is plummeting downwards at an accelerating rate.

In the reports introduction, Stone explains:

By any measure, religiosity in America is declining. As this report will show, since peaking in 1960, the share of American adults attending any religious service in a typical week has fallen from 50 percent to about 35 percent, while the share claimed as
members by any religious body has fallen from over 75 percent to about 62 percent. Finally, the share of Americans who self-identify or report being affiliated with any religion has fallen from over 95 percent to about 75 percent.

Admittedly, we are only talking about a decline in affiliation from about 95% to about 75%, but it is the rate and direction of this change which is significant. As Stone says:

The present decline is striking in its speed and uniformity across different measures of religiosity

He then attempts to snatch a few crumbs of comfort to reassure his readers with:

But a longer historical perspective suggests some caution in making overbold statements about what such a decline might portend. At the dawn of the American republic in the 1780s, probably just a third of Americans were members in any religious body, and just a fifth could be found at church on a given Sunday. This was a historic low ebb in American religiosity. Thus, in some important ways, America today is more religious than it was two centuries ago—and indeed at any point between 1750 and 1930.

True though that might be, it does nothing to explain the massive rejection of organised religion that's currently being observed in America. Stone goes on to say:

But the perception of an increasingly secular society is not wrong. Even in past periods when religious attendance and membership were low, other forms of religious attachment were still robust: More than 85 or 90 percent of Americans most likely perceived themselves as religious in some form or fashion in all periods before 1960. They were hard-drinking, sometimes murderous, rapscallions, gamblers, and slavers, who did not go to church and were not part of any religious body.

But, if you asked, the vast majority of Americans would most likely say they at least believed in God and quite likely would identify themselves as Christians. More than two-thirds of baby boys received religious names, and before 1800, virtually all babies born in America had church baptisms, dedications, or christenings. Furthermore, early America was dominated by formal, official religion. Most of the 13 colonies had established religions, and legal favoritism for some religious groups continued in various forms and places until at least the 1950s.

Today, all this has changed. More Americans have no religious identity at all. A quarter do not identify with any religion, less than a third are given names connected to any religion, and America’s legal environment is increasingly secular, explicitly limiting support for religion.

That last phrase is a tribute to the success of secular groups like the Freedom from Religion Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union, who have campaigned tirelessly to ensure the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment is enforced to prevent the Talibangelicals at local government level from enshrining Christian dogma into local law.

In a lengthy analysis of the causes of this decline, Stone identifies the following likely causes:

  1. Secular Education. However, there is little support in the data for the idea that better educated people are likely to be less religious. Rather the cause may be more subtle and related to the "club goods" that religions have on offer. For example, parents who are affiliated to particular religions and who obey the "club rules", such as regular church attendance might obtain preferential education for their children. But, when this is provided by the state, the state is effectively competing in this market-place while not requiring religious conformity, so reducing the attractiveness of church attendance, for example.

    Although this intuitively makes sense, It's not born out by what we see this in the UK, where churches are involved in schools, particularly at the junior or primary school level, there is often pressure on parents to attend church to ensure their children get into the school of their choice. Despite discrimination being illegal, there is still a perception that schools favour 'their own'. Nevertheless, church attendance in the UK continues to decline, most sharply amongst Anglicans, despite the Anglican church being heavily involved in schools.
  2. Worship Style. Stone dismisses the notion that worship style, particularly the music, influences church attendance:

    I am able to confirm this relationship in LCMS churches as well. Using variables for initial church size, initial church age, whether a church has a school, donations per average attender, the share of members who attend in an average week, local population change near a church, and a church’s liturgical style, I find that worship style does not significantly affect church growth. Churches with schools grow faster, churches with higher donations grow faster, and churches with more regular attendance among members grow faster. Large, old churches are shrinking, while more historic, smaller churches are doing better, as are big, new churches.

    These other effects are all statistically significant, but church worship style is never statistically significant. And to the extent liturgical style has any effect, highly liturgical churches appear to be experiencing slightly faster growth (or, more typically, slightly slower decline) than are less liturgical churches, once I control for these other church characteristics. These findings are consistent even when I drop major statistical outliers from the sample.

    In other words, the evidence that changing musical style will lead to church growth is extremely weak. Rather, church growth is associated with measures of church resources and effort: Members who attend frequently, give generously, and enroll their kids in the parish school tend to also invite friends to church and promote church activities.

    Declining religiosity is not because organ music fell out of style, and the adoption of different worship styles is not associated with faster church growth.
  3. Discrimination and Diversity. Stone slowly gets to the point with:

    France, once the powerhouse of Catholicism during the Thirty Years’ War, became the most radically secular country on earth by the latter 18th century.

    In other words, discrimination can create secularization. Abuses by clergy can create resentments against specific religions, or even religiosity writ large, as can be seen in the Reformation itself. In the United States, Blaine Amendments began as a form of discrimination against a disliked religion (Catholicism) but have become a tool for secularization against all religions.

    In this sense, the relatively high degree of religiosity in the United States may simply be due to the fact that, throughout the vast majority of our history, few religions had positions with sufficient power to make many enemies. Religious organizations in America never attracted the degree of anticlerical political attention of religious institutions in Europe: Their weakness was a kind of defense. When religious organizations command direct political power, they tend to use it in ways that might not be supported in a more democratic regime and thus make enemies.

    Stone didn't need to look very far, or very far back into history, to find examples of religions abusing their positions of power, so driving decent, humanitarian people away. The clerical abuses in Ireland, Spain, Latin America, India and Southeast Asia provide examples in abundance as does the behaviour of the Catholic church in the USA where child-abusing priests are numbered in thousands and their victims in tens of thousands. It is no coincidence that Ireland, for example is rapidly becoming one of the most secular countries in Europe, followed closely by Spain.

    And the lesson of Ireland, where, as I explain in my book, "A History of Ireland: How Religion Poisoned Everything", religion has torn a historically gentle and creative state in two with one section divided into warring factions and the other ripe for clerical abuses of children of the most horrific kind, has not been lost on the people of the UK and Ireland.

I would suggest that if Lyman Stone really wants to understand the decline in religiosity and the rejection of organised religion in the USA he should look at the effects of inter-communal faith-based conflict, the casual abuses of power by religious clerics where religions have undue power and the howls of anguish and cries of persecution whenever religions are deprived of their assumed entitlement to abuse and deny basic human rights to women and minorities of their choice.

He might also like to look at the effects of the behaviour of religious fundamentalists in the social media, where their obnoxious, arrogant and threatening behaviour, in hypocritical contrast to the religion they purport to follow, and their ignorant science denialism, is proving a major embarrassment for mainstream religions of all flavours. It is probably no coincidence that the major trend in this chart began when people in the developed world began to get access to the Internet and follows closely the growth in Internet access in the developed world.

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