The decline of Christianity?
by: John Tyrrell
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The results of a 2014 survey on Religion & Public Life in the USA conducted by the Pew Research Center were released this week. Compared to the previous equivalent survey conducted by Pew, there was a significant drop in the percentage of those who claimed to be Christian and a significant increase in those religiously unaffiliated.
You can spend hours if you wish studying the many demographic charts Pew has provided in the study to try and identify underlying causes for the changes, or like certain hand-wringing Christian commentators, you can just make sh!t up.
Rick Santorum, apparently laying the groundwork for another losing campaign to be the Republican presidential candidate, blamed the decline in the number of Christians on an unwillingness by national leaders to speak out strongly against abortion.
That's the Santorum reason for the decline in Christianity - not enough politicians are demanding all abortions be made illegal, no exceptions.
Noted blowhard Rush Limbaugh has another reason - it is same sex marriage that accounts for the decline of Christianity. He noted that some Christian denominations have (horror of horrors) female and even lesbian clergy - and some denominations were actually prepared to conduct same sex marriages. Thus Christians who were opposed to such policies left Christianity. (Somehow it escaped Rush that there were other hard line Christian denominations these people could have switched to rather than aligning themselves with the relatively gay-friendly atheists and agnostics.)
That's the Limbaugh rationale for the decline in Christianity - because some denominations accepted equal rights for gays and lesbians including their right to marry.
Then there's Erik Erickson who writes for Red State - which calls itself "the singular hub of conservative grassroots collaboration on the right." Erickson uses classic "no true Scotsman" logic as he determines that those who have left Christianity were not really Christians to begin with.
“Sure, they still go to church on Sunday as ceremony. But they’ve drifted from a Bible-centered, Christ as God centered faith, to a secularized, civil religion of ceremony and secularized liturgy. Emo, weepy Jesus who bakes cakes for gay weddings has replaced the actual Jesus who spent more time talking about Hell than anyone else in the Bible and said He is the only and exclusive path to Heaven.”
Erickson apparently thinks the decline in Christianity is because churches don't spend enough time preaching on Jesus' focus on hell.
Then there's Bill O'Reilly - he blames rap music.
“[P]eople of faith are being marginalized by a secular media and pernicious entertainment.” and “The rap industry, for example, often glorifies depraved behavior, and that sinks into the minds of some young people.”
O'Reilly once again establishes why he should be ignored.
As to the other three, my own gut feeling is that Santorum, Limbaugh, and Erickson have it backwards - the very policies they promote, policies which make their versions of Christianity the religion of profoundly immoral morality, of hatred and bigotry, of fear of the afterlife, are the policies which are driving people away from religion. What they want to emphasize will only succeed in accelerating the decline, not reverse it.
But that is a gut feeling. Nothing more.
It's also a gut feeling that some Christians might begin to question a faith whose reaction to tragedy is to focus on giving Bibles to the non-Christian victims.
The Secular Policy Institute actually looked at some of the factors involved in the study and suggested some trends which might account for the move away from religion. But, it noted the study was flawed. Essentially, the researchers accepted the respondents claim that they were Christian, for example, without further investigating to see if they actually held basic Christian beliefs. It compared the Pew study with one conducted by the Richard Dawkins Foundation which through further questioning of self-reported Christians in the UK found "very few believed in the Resurrection, and many could not even correctly answer basic questions about the Bible."
I think that's a reasonable observation. The only firm conclusion we can draw from this survey is that more people in the USA are prepared to publicly identify themselves as non-religious; fewer people are prepared to publicly identify themselves as Christian. The degree to which it represents a change in actual underlying beliefs remains open to question.
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