The future of American Christianity


In Kelly Fryer's blog she refers to an article in Time magazine that tells an interesting story about what is happening to Christianity in the United States, according to some polling data. As Time puts it, Christianity has an "image problem". For example, "Nine out of ten outsiders found Christians too 'anti-homosexual,' and nearly as many perceived it as 'hypocritical' and 'judgmental.'" This isn't very surprising, given the way the religious right has invested so much effort in equating its own views with Christianity per se. But what I find more interesting are the trends that they found among increasing numbers of young people. It seems that the younger people are, the less likely they are to identify themselves as Christian:

23% of Americans over 61 were non-Christians; 27% among people ages 42-60; and 40% among 16-29 year olds.
This is really significant. Two fifths of young people under 30 do not consider themselves Christian. This is nearly twice the number of non-Christians than you find among those over 61. Even among Christians under 30, many share some of the same negative views towards their own faith that non-Chrisitians have!
Churchgoers of the same age share several of the non-Christians' complaints about Christianity. For instance, 80% of the Christians polled picked "anti-homosexual" as a negative adjective describing Christianity today. And the view of 85% of non-Christians aged 16-29 that present day Christianity is "hypocritical — saying one thing doing another," was, in fact, shared by 52% of Christians of the same age. Fifty percent found their own faith "too involved in politics." Forty-four percent found it "confusing."
Unless all these young people suddenly get religion when they get older, the long term prognosis is clear. This suggests that the US is, in a sense, slowly becoming more like Europe in finding itself less and less attached to Christianity. Maybe it is taking us a little longer to get there than the Europeans did, but we are essentially becoming a more secular society.

If Christianity has, as Time puts it, an "image problem", then the blame can be placed squarely on the shoulders of the Religious Right. The religious right, with its intolerance and narrow mindedness, are giving Christianity such a negative image that it is helping to push people away from the faith altogether. Yet I think that this can also be an opportunity for religious progressives to share their understanding of faith. There is a vast group of people out there who some call the "church alumni society". In a sense, this is true in Europe as well; many Europeans have a longing for God, but they find that traditional Christianity so steeped in ancient cosmologies and fanciful notions that it just doesn't fit the bill. In the US, there are similarly large numbers of people who have spiritual longings which conservative Christianity cannot fulfill. As long as people associate conservative Christianity with Christianity per se, the problem will persist. Religion is not inherently about intolerance, and it is not about believing in the unbelievable. However, if more of those disillusioned people became aware of theologians like, for example, Marcus Borg or Dominic Crossan, they may be drawn back into the faith.


Rowan The Dog said...

Even I don't like most Christians. And I AM one.