The Rise of the Religiously Unaffiliated - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
The Rise of the Religiously Unaffiliated

In August, Harvard named Greg Epstein, an atheist, to serve as its chaplain. Epstein described his unusual appointment as a sign of the times. “There is a rising group of people who no longer identify with any religious tradition,” he said. Unfortunately, he is right. Secularism continues to gain ground on religion. The Pew Research Center says that “about three-in-ten U.S. Adults are now religiously unaffiliated.”

According to the polling group, “secularizing shifts evident in American society so far in the 21st century show no signs of slowing. The latest Pew Research Center survey of the religious composition of the United States finds the religiously unaffiliated share of the public is 6 percentage points higher than it was five years ago and 10 points higher than a decade ago.”

Pew Research Center says that fewer and fewer Americans identify as Christians. They still form a majority of the population but “their share of the adult population is 12 points lower in 2021 than it was in 2011.” Christians used to outnumber the “nones” — those who don’t affiliate with any religious tradition — “by almost five-to-one,” says the polling group. Now the ratio is “little more than two-to-one.”

Evangelical Protestantism is doing better than non-evangelical Protestantism, according to Pew Research Center, but both are declining: “Overall, both evangelical and non-evangelical Protestants have seen their shares of the population decline as the percentage of U.S. adults who identity with Protestantism has dropped. Today, 24% of U.S. adults describe themselves as born-again or evangelical Protestants, down 6 percentage points since 2007. During the same period, there also has been a 6-point decline in the share of adults who are Protestant but not born-again or evangelical (from 22% to 16%).”

The Catholic share of the population hasn’t changed in recent years, according to Pew’s survey: “21% of U.S. adults describe themselves as Catholic, identical to the Catholic share of the population in 2014.”

Naturally, the media claims that the conservatism underpinning Christianity is to blame for Americans turning away from it. Take this absurdly biased NBC report: “Nathalie Charles, even in her mid-teens, felt unwelcome in her Baptist congregation, with its conservative views on immigration, gender, and sexuality. So she left. ‘I just don’t feel like that gelled with my view of what God is and what God can be,’ said Charles, an 18-year-old of Haitian descent who identifies as queer and is now a freshman at Princeton University.” NBC continued that “another advocate for the nones is Kevin Bolling, who grew up in a military family and served as a Roman Catholic altar boy. In college, he began to question the church’s role and grew dismayed about its position on sexuality after he came out as gay.”

It would never occur to reporters that Christianity’s decline is due to an embrace of modern culture, not a rejection of it. It is the secularization of religion itself that has made it less compelling. The only groups within Christianity that appear to be flourishing are traditional ones. It is the self-consciously “relevant” churches that have grown irrelevant. The more worldly they become, the less the world takes them seriously.

Religion withers once its distinctively religious content is removed from it and replaced with insipid modernism. “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church,” said the theologian Tertullian. Pure faith, not a diluted one, spurred the expansion of Christianity. It spread through the Roman empire not by compromise with the pagan world but by a repudiation of it.

Like an acid that burns through everything it touches, secularism causes religion to shrivel. The more religion adjusts itself to secular times, the less appealing it becomes. The Wall Street Journal, among others, attributes the latest Pew survey on religion in part to the “pandemic.” Some people stopped going to church during it and never came back. But wouldn’t they have returned if church leadership had been less craven and conformist? Didn’t the fact that so many bishops and pastors went along with the secularists’ definition of religious activity as “nonessential” contribute to this outcome?

Many churches missed an opportunity to evangelize during the pandemic, choosing instead to follow slavishly dictatorial governors who kept abortion clinics open while telling the faithful to stay home. Many of the bishops sounded less like pastors of souls than managers of department stores.

And even as the totalitarian outlines of the “great reset” become more obvious, even as the pro-abortion medical establishment grows more and more irreligious, we hear almost nothing from the bishops about the importance of religious conscience. Christianity will continue to fade as long as its leaders refuse to fight for it.

George Neumayr
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George Neumayr, a senior editor at The American Spectator, is author most recently of The Biden Deception: Moderate, Opportunist, or the Democrats' Crypto-Socialist?
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