25 December 2009


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(All green text has been summarized from the transcript of a speech by Barry A. Kosmin as reported in Freethought Today, December 2009. Black text contains my own comments about this subject.)

In 1960 Catholic candidate John Kennedy was obligated to make a speech to assure Protestant leaders that he would not allow his religion to interfere with his decisions as president. In a 180 degree turnaround, since the 70s it has become almost obligatory for our presidential candidates to assure people they will use their strong religious beliefs to help them govern.
With the rise of the Religious Right, it had seemed that a renewed era of faith and religion had been going on for decades.

As reported in an earlier post, statistics don’t support that impression. According to sociologist Barry A. Kosmin in his 2008 Summary Report of the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) secularity is gradually rising while religion is slowly eroding in this country.
The 1990s saw a “secular boom” with the nonreligious increasing by about 1 million per year. By 2008 those identifying themselves as Christian dropped from 86 to 76%. Today, half of American households do not belong to a religious congregation. On an average Sunday 73% do not go to church, and 30% do not believe in a personal God. When asked directly, “What is your religion, if any?” those who responded “None” rose from 8 to 15% from 1990 to 2008 and this group is increasingby about 750,000 per year.
Sociologists use the 3B’s - belonging, belief, and behavior ---to ascertain levels of religiosity.

I like the idea of using the 3B’s to determine religiosity. I know, and I’m sure most of you do, too, people who say they believe in God but don’t attend church or exhibit religious behaviors. On the other hand, I know people who don’t believe, but who belong to a congregation for business, community or family reasons. I worked for a born-again couple who were believers, but who violated nearly every Commandment on a daily basis. They lied, gouged their customers, cheated on taxes ---and each other. I quit that job because those Christians exhibited behaviors that were not ethical enough for this atheist. Then of course are terrorists, particularly Muslim terroists, believers whose behaviors ---such as flying planes into buildings, killing thousands of innocent people ---would not be considered “religious” by most.

By using the 3B’s, sociologists have determined that the average American has become much less religious since 1990. This tendancy has affected the economy, law, education, and the family. The Religious Right has failed to make much of an impact on the law or on public opinion in its efforts to stem the rise of secularity.
In many areas, Sunday blue laws have been elimintaed, gambling has been legalized, abortion, contraception and pornogrpahy are available, homosexuality has been decriminalized, mandated prayer and Bible reading are banned in public schools, civil unions or same-sex marriage has been legalized, more than ever heterosexual couples are choosing to live together and have children outside of marriage. Religious leaders spoke out against these changes, with little impact.
The reason it seemed that religion was gaining ground when it was not, was because the most religiously active people began identifying themselves with conservative politics which resulted in a political influence in the Republican Party that could not be ignored by the media. It also resulted in “culture wars” that seemed to divide us politically more than ever.

Remember that the sqeaky wheel gets the oil, and we had a lot of squeakers out there: Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Ted Haggard, Oral Roberts, James Dobson, Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, George W. Bush, all pushing the agenda of the Religious Right. These people kept themselves in the news and seemed like they were more influential and had more followers than was the reality.

In a 2006 report by Gruber & Hungerman, following the elimination of Sunday blue laws, church no longer holds a monopoly on Sunday activities. Church attendance falls by about 5%, 15% of those who regularly attended church attend less frequently, church donations fall by 13% (about $109 per person/year.) Spending by religious groups falls by 6.3%.

Yet, many still consider Sunday to be like a holiday reserved for religion and family. I worked for a company who paid 35% more to those who worked on Sunday. I always volunteered to work Sunday shifts because they were less hectic than weekdays or Saturdays, yet I was paid more because some people didn’t want to work on their Sabbath. Those who volunteered to work on religious holidays earned 2.5 times their regular pay.

While the number of Catholics dropped from 50 to 33% and the number of main-stream or liberal Protestants also dropped in the past two decades, many Christians have chosen to attend non-denominational mega-churches. A full 33% of those who identify themselves as Christian, say they are born-again or evangelical.
But the long-term effect of the Religious Right was a reaction against its judgmentalism, especially among women and young adults.

With the number of evangelicals rising at the same time “nones” are increasing, no wonder the people of this country are so divided on nearly every social issue.

Some think that the rise in religions other than Christianity in the U.S. has caused the percentage of Christians to drop, but surprisingly, all of the non-Chrisitan religious groups add up to less than 4% of the total population ---that includes all Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Wiccans, and other fringe religions combined. The largest religious group among Asians is “nones” ---27%. Hispanics without a religious affiliation outnumber Latino pentacostals 4 to 1. Scholars often surmise that immigrants are attracted to this country because of its freedom of religion, but fail to take into account that many --- such as those seekiing to escape Muslim fundamentalism, persecution, and violence ---choose to come here because of its freedom from religion.
Besides the decrease in belonging to a relgious congregation and a decrease in religious behaviors, levels of belief have fallen, too. Fewer Americans believe in an inerrant Bible, fewer have confidence in religious leaders, and fewer tolerate religious involvement in public policy.
The 2008 report found 70% still believe in a personal God, but a full 12% believe in a deist-style higher power, 12% consider themselves agnostic, and 2% atheists. However, specific theological questions reveal greater numbers of atheists and agnostics than self-identifying questions.
Confidence in religious organizations dropped from 32 to 20%. Those who strongly agreed that religious leaders should not try to influence government increased from 22% in 1991 to 31% in 1998.
Several studies on religion and their publicly-reported findings have generated more interest in atheism, irreligion, and secularism ---more books, blogs, discussions, debates. And, of course, that has resulted in counterattacks against freethinkers.
Kosmin concluded his presentatioin with these words. “Nevertheless, I believe the evidence shows that the Zeitgeist*, if not the Force, is with the ‘nones.’ Secularization in America has occurred, is occurring and will continue to occur as the authority of religion and clergy erodes in our society.”

* Zeitgeist (from German Zeit-time and Geist- spirit) is "the spirit of the times" and/or "the spirit of the age." Zeitgeist is the general cultural, intellectual, ethical, spiritual, and/or political climate within a nation or even specific groups, along with the general ambience, morals, and sociocultural direction or mood of an era (similar to the English word mainstream or trend).

See my earlier post which summarizes this information.

Find interactive graphs on this study here.


feeno said...

Just wanted to drop by and wish you a Seasons Greetings and hope you have a great 2010.

Peace, feeno

rita said...

Your post corresponds with something else I was reading that had to do with culture wars.
An excerpt here ...the broad version of "culture wars" is particularly relevant to American politics in large part because of religion's continuing vitality in American life. Religious belief and participation remain higher in the U.S. than in almost any other industrialized country. And religion continues to be an important part of American public culture. What I find interesting is this doesn't contradict your post but actually confirms it in a way.
I mean, we do take our religious freedoms seriously. It's funny that even when we attack it & reject it, it's never far from our thoughts.

Here's the link to the article I quoted:

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