Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Is post-Great Recession America going to be
like post-World War II Europe
on religious participation?

Per the latest Pew Research Center data on religion and American life, it sure looks that way.

The biggest takeaway from all this latest data? Millennials (yeah, those slackers, despite adults calling the younger generation slackers as far back as Aristotle) are a LOT less religious than their parents. A LOT less.

"Nones," the common word for those with no religious affiliation or identity, plus non-Christians, have as great an identity among Millennials as all Christian groups combined. No, really.

Now, this is a lot broader group than atheists or agnostics, despite Gnu Atheists talk of an "atheist surge," which has been going on for a decade or more now. (The talk, not any surge.) That said, self-identified atheists and agnostics have more than doubled over the 12-year range of the data, from 4 percent in 2007 to 9 percent in 2019.

It should be noted that "nones" may well have metaphysical beliefs. That's another reason for Gnus to stop poaching and crowing. Looking back 15 years or so, a woman on Match.com who originally wanted to meet me said "no" when she found out that "atheist" meant just that and NOT "spiritual but not religious" or Wiccan light or whatever. (It should also be noted, which Gnus don't, that millions of Buddhists around the world, mainly in the Theravada tradition, are both atheist and religious — and believe in metaphysical ideas, just not a personal god.)

That said, Nones are voting with their feet, not just their brains. In 2014, people who attend religious services just a few times a year first exceeded those who worship monthly or more. Among Millennials, it's just one-third who go to services once a month or more.

Among Americans overall, that growth is driven by a surge in those who NEVER attend, by self reporting. That's up to 17 percent.

Yes, one-sixth of Americans, even if they have some metaphysical beliefs (astrology, luck, Kabbalah or whatever) lurking somewhere, say they NEVER attend religious services. Related? Among those who say they attend once a month or more, the most ardent, the weekly attenders (or more) lost six percentage points, down to 31 percent. (If even that is correct; time and motion studies have shown that decades-old self-reported religious attendance surveys were consistently too high.)

Pew notes that the National Opinion Research Center, with different questions and framing, shows a similar number of Nones. It's at 22 percent for all ages vs 26 percent from Pew, even with somewhat different framing and questioning.

At the same time, Christian denominations seemed to have plugged the gap among the self-identified faithful. Worship rates among them have held pretty much steady over the past decade. But, with more and more of this being among the older generation, not just the Baby Boomers but the Silent Generation behind it, absolute numbers of Christians are declining due to death if nothing else.

That said, there are other takeaways. Despite the "give me that old time Christianity" (which type? Catholic? Lutheran? Reformed? Arminian? Anabaptist? Eastern Orthodox? Jacobite/Nestorian?) claim that it's those liberal Protestants (and cafeteria Catholics) who are all running away.

Not really.

Conservative mainline Protestants and conservative newer-line denominational Protestants (Southern Baptists, Disciples of Christ, etc.) are declining at almost the same rate as mainline Protestants (UMC, PCA, ELCA, Episcopaleans, UCC). I have theories on why.

They relate to the header.

It's true that the decline started before the Great Recession. It started with the slow recovery after the tech bubble burst in the early years of the George W. Bush presidency. But that recovery was anemic by historic standards, and the recovery from it and the post-9/11 slump (along with late-Clinton era and Bush era deliberately blind regulatory eyes) directly lead to the Great Recession.

Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:19, said:
If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone.

But I think the flip side holds true.

If you tell Millennials, just like Southern massas told slaves who weren't in a position to challenge them, that their hope should only be in and for the next life, they'll laugh at you.

And, it's not just today. It's like the claim in Isaiah 7:14, the famously mistranslated almah passage:
Therefore Yahweh Himself shall give you a sign: behold, the young woman shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

No "virgin" was involved, of course, nor was any metaphysically divine Messiah being predicted. King Ahaz of Judah, worried about being invaded by Rezim of Syria and Pekah of Judah, would take cold comfort in being told to wait 700 years for a Metatron or whomever.

Instead, Isaiah was proclaiming in all likelihood that the new wife of Ahaz's son Hezekiah was going to give birth within a year, and per the rest of Isalah 7, before the child got much past the terrible twos, Rezin and Pekah would be smashed. Ironically, that baby would be King Manasseh, deemed the worst of Judah's rulers by biblical chroniclers.

I digressed a bit, but for a point. Contra Christians proof-texting the Old Testament, proclamations ("prophecies") were made for the people to whom they were directed.

So, today, with Millennials almost certain to have it worse off than not just smug Baby Boomers, but also Gen X, any church that can't address the here and now will get tuned out.

And, that's more than a soup kitchen or food bank. It's a job bank. It's sobriety support that may not be explicitly AA. It's church-based yoga and other exercise programs and more. Also, as America gets more ethnically diverse and it hits more than 50 percent non-white babies being born now, if that old church not only doesn't offer this support network, it's a bunch of old white people, the Millennials will tune out. Related to that? Unless they're conservative white Millennials, if they don't see social justice being addressed at that church (or synagogue, Orthodox and Conservative Jews), they'll tune out. 

And obviously already are.

And, given that they're young and debt-burdened in an era where income inequality continues to grow, they won't even be at success Gospel churches.

After all, per what I said about warning Christians about proof-texting the Tanakh, the preachers ("prophets") of the prophetic books were about preaching social justice, not "making predictions." And much of that social justice preaching was about wealth that was unearned, unshared, or both.

The situation is not directly parallel to World War II in Europe (and maybe in Japan?) where destruction was massive, and where deprivation lasted more deeply, not to mention pre-war and wartime political fissures that make America's look mild. But I think there are parallels.

For fundamentalist-type Christians who consider Europeans who aren't godless Communists to be mostly godless mostly Socialist, you're wrong to a degree today on belief (and way wrong on politics) and of short time sensibility.

European religious involvement closely tracked America's until the Great Depression started. It diverged some degree during then and the rearmament period, stayed about the same degree of difference during the war, then diverged more yet after World War II. But that shows it was a process. Jews lost god in the camps. Many Protestant and Catholic young German males, and their anxious families, lost god in Russian prison camps. Yet others on the Western side of the Iron Curtain lost god in postwar capitalism. (OK, the parallel fails there.)

But, it is happening, and unlikely to change. That's my analytical notes, including to my conservative Lutheran family.

Beyond that? I welcome it.

It's probably kind of like cigarette smoking. If the Nones who truly don't go to church at all continue that through age 30, they'll likely never be there. And, with that, contra the fakery of Supreme Court backtracking in rulings like Town of Greece, at some point, the First Amendment's freedom of religion meaning true freedom from government propping up religion in any way will maybe start to be realized. Beyond totally banning pre-meetings prayers, etc., I'm talking about things like churches not getting any tax breaks beyond those extended to nonprofit entities in general and things like that.


Update, with some related stats? In 2019, 23 percent of Americans went to church every week. Sounds fairly devoted, right, every week? But 29 percent never went once. Texas, Bible Belt stereotypes aside, is no exception. This site says that it was less than 20 percent, and they're a religious website.

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