7.5 Million Americans Have ‘Lost Their Religion’ Since 2012
This is hardly as newsworthy as many might think. The waning of religion is a ‘modern’ phenomenon, and the wonder to me is why, two centuries after the Enlightenment, the process hasn’t completed. The reason is unclear at first, but reasonably clear: the ‘secular’ doesn’t preclude religion, and the Reformation created versions of Xtianity able to function in the modern world. It is sad to watch the Catholic Church, with an idealistic and enthusiastic new Pope, unable to the end to deal with issues like abortion, homosexuality, and the rest of it. It is very late in the day to fail still another time in the efforts to change.
The Protestant church has its share of grotesque aspects, and the last generation has seen an especially nauseating degeneration in the Protestant spectrum, but the potential is there to continue. But the Reformation energy may be spent, and more and more energy is being directed to new age religious, or postreligious, activities. In a strange irony the groups that try to evangelize postreligion, from secular humanists to the new atheists, actually promote indecisive lingering in religious advocacy due to the sterile and almost incomprehensible barrenness of cults like the new atheism, which never generate anything more in the way of social religion than picnics.
But the tide to what seems like postreligion is, one suspects, going to accelerate, but only with respect to religious formations brought from antiquity. At that point it is important to realize that aggressive groups like the new atheists do not represent the only exit path in the wake of declining traditions.
Keep in mind this crucial point: if you leave a religious communion you are free to do so, but then you are on your own. The record of such self-generated religious capers solely individual is always poor to very bad. It is hard to work alone against the kind of ‘social entropy’ that comes from being alone in the spiritual sense. On the other hand society is rapidly creating new and better institutions to fill the void. But the ‘salvation’ factor was very real in the legacy religions like Xtianity. Millions of people are going to get lost in the wake of religions in decay, and the snotty new age set won’t lift a finger to help. Religions like Xtianity were designed by religious sages of great acumen, and if the results look terrible not only at the end, but throughout the history, that doesn’t change the fact of their crucial place in social and cultural history.
Something terrible is happening as neo-liberal sharks meet up with rightist Xtians, vulnerable to such as the Ayn Rand con men. There is a danger that the whole sector of Baptist-style Xtianity will simply disappear into rightwing depravity. It has happened already. But it is likely to get worse. I don’t think the spiritual domain will be able to forestall the final collapse of the last religious community formations available to the great mass of people who have lived Xtianity life after life.
But the new era will begin to regenerate forms of help here, and in many ways the transition could be healthy. But it is important to consider the way the ‘gospel religions’ show a dynamic that provides contact, help and messaging to millions of communities across the planet, and the effort is continuous, daily to yearly, and if nothing else feeds a lot of people. Religious people however humble know better than college educated string theorists in the new atheist movement that a lot of people get lost in social quicksand and that ‘salvation’ is quite real. So the Xtian cults here are being ‘recycled’ despite being in principle social needs. What the future holds remains unclear.