Christianity Is Alive and Well in America
Yet we've heard over and over again that the fall of Christianity in America is just a matter of time.
We’ve heard over and over again that the fall of Christianity in America is just a matter of time. As science and technology promise to answer questions about our existence, we’re supposedly moving in droves away from a Bible that’s considered a mere collection of stories instead of the word of God, and walking away from churches that simply can’t inspire us to believe in something greater than ourselves. Ultimately, they say, we’ll become a nation of agnostics and atheists. Secularism is the future.
But such doom and gloom may be premature. As Glenn Stanton writes in The Federalist, “The Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion found … that the percentage of church-attending Americans relative to overall population is more than four times greater today than it was in 1776. The number of attendees has continued to rise each and every decade over our nation’s history right up until the present day.”
Didn’t see that one coming? Such studies seem to fly in the face of what everyone else is saying. Even some Christian leaders bemoan the state of their faith as seemingly fewer people show up for Sunday services and as people continue to devour a popular culture promoting values antithetical to Christianity. But there’s more to the problem than meets the eye.
One of the theories as to why some people are leaving organized religion, or becoming less religious, is known as the secularization thesis. This is the idea that people as a whole are becoming more secular in the industrialized world.
Yet despite the march of science and technology, various studies show that Americans are not abandoning religion and running toward secularism as quickly as people are in many European countries. In fact, if we’re abandoning anything at all it might be the very churches embracing secularism instead of offering time-honored traditions and biblical teachings.
Stanton suggests it’s “extremely likely that if your church teaches the Bible with seriousness, calls its people to real discipleship, and encourages daily intimacy with God, it has multiple services to handle the coming crowds.”
It’s no wonder that churches turning away from Christianity and toward progressivism are losing congregants. They’re more likely to recognize same-sex marriage, support abortion, accept transgenderism and advocate open borders.
Most people go to church for guidance, for answers, or for some hope that there are still some bedrock beliefs to hold onto in an “if it feels good, do it” world. As a result, it shouldn’t be surprising that evangelical churches are growing, while those on the Left are losing members.
Looking at the data more carefully shows that those who are strongly religious are just as devoted to their faith as ever before — indeed even more so. A significant number of those leaving Christianity weren’t very committed to begin with. In other words, there’s no crisis in faith across the country. The believers are still devout, while others find something else to do on Sunday.
Mainline Protestant churches are typically more progressive, but they aren’t alone in facing a numbers crisis. In 2014, a joint effort of the Public Religion Research Institute and the Religion News Service produced a report showing how American Catholics are becoming increasingly progressive.
The study revealed that a slight majority of all Catholics support marriage “equality,” LGBT protections, abortion “rights,” and citizenship for illegal immigrants. While the Vatican itself may be opposed to abortion, its leadership is increasingly open to at least discussing the others.
So that’s why the pews are empty.
Nearly half of conservative Catholics don’t recognize the church they grew up in. Theirs isn’t a rejection of the Bible or the Vatican, but of secularism and progressivism. Again, those leaving our churches are either not that religious anyway, or they’re growing weary of hearing Democrat Party talking points during Sunday services.
But just how much does politics have to do with faith?
A study conducted last year by Indiana University and Harvard found, “The downward trend in average American religiousness may then be less the result of a society-wide fading of the importance of religion to people’s lives — which we would expect on the basis of the secularization thesis — and more a function of the politicization of American religion in the late 1980s following the rise of the Christian Right.”
This issue shouldn’t be viewed only through the lens of Left and Right, or Democrat and Republican. The degree to which politics plays into our society and religion is still unclear. The Pew Research Center discovered that 45% of people who say religion is “very important” are Republicans, while only 38% of Democrats said the same. This seems to support the common belief that Republicans are more religious or spiritual than Democrats. However, 46% of those who say religion is “not at all important” are Republicans, according to the same study.
The Pew study does include some numbers showing a decline in religious practices in various demographic categories, but it concludes: “At the same time, the vast majority of Americans (77% of all adults) continue to identify with some religious faith. And this religiously affiliated population — comprising a wide variety of Protestants as well as Catholics, Jews, Mormons, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and adherents of other faith traditions — is, on the whole, just as religiously committed today as when the study was first conducted in 2007. Fully two-thirds of religiously affiliated adults say they pray every day.”
If nothing else, these studies seem to give us a glimmer of hope in a time when we’re being told that the roof is caving in. Perhaps, unlike in Europe, America still has a long way to go before secularism is the dominant religion.
This should not come as a surprise. Our nation is built upon the belief that our rights come from God, and that’s a very strong foundation.