As the GOP (and their mouthpiece media) drone on and on testing our short memory/attention span by continuously carping that Obama hasn’t fixed the crisis they made quickly enough, they have now reached the critical mass where it is no longer sufficiently comically productive to further belittle their efforts. Luckily, a new curious statistic has been released that gives good loyal Americans who are proud of their heritage some cause for faith in our country—the Christian population of America is in decline. There is hope for the rest of us after all.
That’s right, praise Jesus, this just in: being a Christian isn’t the given it once was in this land of freedom of religion, but not necessarily of freedom from religion. As a parent of one of my students once told me, she didn’t guess she “cared that much what religion a person might be … just as long as they wuz Christian.” And, until recently, that about summed it all up in the theocratic quasi-republic Christian oligarchy known as the United States of America.
As you may recall, though the official founding fathers, Washington, Jefferson, Franklin and that bunch were decidedly non-Christian, deists in fact, the marketers who have shaped our American religious traditions prefer to hearken back to an earlier, more devout time, the 1620 pilgrimage of the Puritans to the Americas. Stern, ascetic, vengeful, and industrious, the Puritans built their church on Plymouth Rock and raised the colony of Massachusetts, and thus the mythology of a Christian America.
Of course the idealized version bought and sold from pulpits and politicians is that these wonderful Christian forbears laid out an admirable and irrevocable tradition for us, a theological manifest destiny as it were. This version of the tale leaves out the fact that three separate colonies and thus states—Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Hampshire --were created by folk trying to flee the tyranny of those oppressive and rapacious religious fanatics. It fails as well to mention the dead Indians, and such, in their wake.
And so, America for the most part remained a Christian theocratic hegemony. Jefferson, et al, had to be specifically, legislatively, non-secular in their formation of the new America to overcome the rampant religious oaths and other sanctimonious oppressions of civil liberties common at the time and continuing right on up into the 20th century. Even so, religiously inflicted misery or no, Americans had remained steadfastly self-professed Christians in near unanimity.
However in 21st century pluralist America, one out of every four Americans now days no longer affiliate themselves with any Christian sect. According to the American Religious Identification Survey from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, the last twenty years has seen a ten percent decline in Americans claiming Christianity as their religion of choice. Understand Jesus would still have a hard time walking across the parted waters without bumping into an American Christian. Even with that ten percent decline, as of 2008 a full 75% of those surveyed identified themselves as Christian.
And no, this decline does not mean that the Muslim terrorists have won just because you saw a lot of brown skinned people with Oscars at this year’s Academy Awards. Quite the contrary, though the American Muslim population has doubled since an earlier 1990 Trinity College survey, Muslims still only account for less than one percent of the population. Even Wiccans outnumber Muslims.
Catholics and Baptists remain the #1 and #2 most popular religious choices, coming in at 25% and 15.8% respectively; but, wait a minute, who is that dark horse coming up on the outside lane at 15%? That’s right, the number 3 choice in America these days is … “no religion at all.” As the report explains, “the challenge to Christianity … does not come from other religions but from a rejection of all forms of organized religion."
So is Athiesm the new black? The USA Today coverage of the survey shows a stylishly dour dredlocked Bostonian ex-Catholic moping that he doesn't “know anyone religious and hardly anyone 'spiritual.'" Of course since few can trust being alone in the confessional booth with a Catholic priest anymore, it is small surprise traditional papist population centers in the northeast are being bled dry.
Also as “Evangelicals” have devoured other more mainstream Christian sects, such as Lutherans or Methodists, old line mainline religions in America are seeing declines by as much as 50%, with the fastest growing religious preference being “none of the above.” The survey asserts further that it is exactly this expansion of the “born-again evangelicals” that are the GOP hard core conservative breeding ground that have pushed many Americans away from religions entirely.
Evangelicals form the business end of a spectrum of “Christians” that ranges from the Mother Teresas of the world to Vinnie the kid who just jacked your car to buy some meth but wears the prominent solid gold crucifix bling along with his 50 Cent piece, so don’t you dare say he’s not a Christian, goddammit.
In other words, lots of people claim to be Christians though not all of them hold themselves to the same standards. The evangelicals are the wonderful folks who bring you mega-churches, abortion clinic bombings, Gay-baiting, tent revivals, speaking in tongues, televangelists, and those dopey little pamphlets that litter street corners occasionally. They do these things, of course, so they can share god’s love and fund and thus dominate the Republican Party. Somehow, some people seem to think this sort of thing works and so traditional variations of Republicanist philosophies have lost their role in shaping party ideology. At the same time on at the expense of Christian variants and traditions hundreds of years old, the evangelicals have risen as their brethen fall.
Quoting from CNN’s online coverage of the release of the report, Trinity College’s Mark Silk claimed the rise in evangelical Christianity is contributing to the rejection of religion altogether by some Americans. "There [is] a long-lasting 'religious right' connected to a political party, and that turned a lot of people the other way," Silk said linking the Republican Party to such groups as the Moral Majority and Focus on the Family.
Currently, about one third of American are claiming to be evangelicals. As the success of the evangelical Christian conservatives doom their Christian alternatives, it is small wonder more and more Americans are choosing to follow in our other American Religious Tradition of fleeing the zealots.
If this trend were to continue, with decidedly non-religious Americans and evangelicals sorting out the wheat from the chaff among the non-committed semi-religious Christians, one could imagine that, politically, the rabid born-again right-wing GOP cult that has so shaped America for the last 30 years could theoretically occupy as little as a third of the political spectrum by 2030. That is if the rest of America could endure another 20 years of keeping up with the Swaggarts and Haggards and Baakers and Jim Joneses.
One hopes that the now-fading Christian majority will not react the same way the White male and later Republican majorities have when challenged and then turned to shrill doctrinaire posturing. Not that Christians have ever been known for that.
--mikel weisser, a pantheist, writes from the left coast of AZ.