Wednesday, October 10, 2012

None of the above

The morning I learned—from several different places—of a new study by The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life on religious affiliation in the United States. Naturally, the interpretations of the implications of those results varied somewhat, but to me it’s very good news.

One of the findings that was most talked about on the Internet, and that must certainly have given pause to the US’ rightwing, was that for the first time, Protestants are not the majority in the USA. To me, and probably most people, this is just an interesting statistic, but for conservatives, whose self-identity as the Conservative “movement” is closely tied to fundamentalist Protestantism, this is worrying news.

While Protestantism is in decline, Roman Catholicism is steady. The fastest growing group, however, is made up of those who indicated they have no religious affiliation. This will scare the crap out of conservatives, but it shouldn’t: It doesn’t mean what they’ll assume it does.

People who say they have no religious affiliation are simply that: People with no religious affiliation. That includes atheists, who make up a tiny minority in the US, agnostics, a slightly bigger minority, and the rest who, apparently, simply have no religious affiliation but who may nevertheless be religious or spiritual in a religious sense.

On the other hand, 88% of these unaffiliated folks are “are not looking for a religion that would be right for them”, and only 10% are. Put another way, most of the “nones”, as they’re being called, are “lost” to organised religion.

The big question, of course, is why? Part of the reason is age: The youngest segments of the population are the least religious, and this study includes people who were too young to be included in 2007. This same age-cohort is also most likely to support marriage equality, reproductive rights (including access to contraceptives), as well as other positions the exact opposite of America’s rightwing. Other studies have shown that this is true even among young Evangelicals.

So the problem faced by conservatives isn’t some imaginary march toward secularism—it’s demographics. The Republican Party is older, more male and whiter than is the population generally; as they die off, where will new conservatives come from?

American conservatism as it currently exists is doomed to extinction. Younger people simply don’t accept homophobia as a requirement to be a Christian, even if they’re Evangelical Protestants. On other “hot button” social issues, younger people, whatever their personal beliefs, reject forcing their views onto everyone else.

So, in my opinion, the rise of the unaffiliated has everything to do with the theocratic political agenda of America’s religious rightwing. As the Roman church becomes ever more involved in promoting a rightwing social/political agenda, I would expect to see them affected in the years to come the same way Protestantism has been.

Young people, we’re learning, have few beliefs in common with their parents, and even fewer with their grandparents. If society is ever to move forward and progress, this is very good news indeed.

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