Decline in Faith a Danger to American Liberty
Empty pews are a big problem not just for churches but for our country.
A new survey by the Pew Research Center presents an ominous warning sign for the durability of the American experiment in Liberty and self-government.
The unsurprising results, based on 2018-2019 telephone surveys, show that America is becoming a less religious nation. Today, just 65% of Americans describe themselves as Christians, compared to 77% in 2009. The dramatic drop cuts across every demographic and nearly every denomination, with an 8% drop among Protestants (51% to 43%) and Catholics (23% to 20%). In May, the nation’s largest Protestant group, the Southern Baptist Convention, reported a decline in membership for the 12th consecutive year — it now stands at 14.8 million members, down 192,000 from 2017.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) held steady at 2% of the population, and non-Christian faiths (Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, etc.) saw a slight increase from 2009 (5%) to today (7%).
By contrast, self-described atheists doubled from 2% to 4%, agnostics increased from 3% to 5%, and 17% of Americans now say their religion is “nothing in particular,” up from 12% a decade ago.
Frequency of church attendance has also declined, with those saying they attend church once or twice a month dropping by 7%. The drop also seems to be generational; 48% of Baby Boomers and 47% of Gen X-ers attend church weekly, or once or twice a month, compared to just 35% of Millennials.
The reasons for these declines are complex and intertwined.
The Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention are struggling to deal with scandals surrounding sexual abuse by clergy. The United Methodist Church is dealing with a growing schism over accommodation and inclusion of LGBT members as related to established biblical doctrine.
The Resurgent’s Erick Erickson theorizes on another factor — the religiosity of parents. He notes, “Parents have a lot to do with the faith of their children and to the extent Baby Boomers identify as Christian but have a deeply shallow faith, their millennial children do too.”
He continues, “The doctrines of the church are falling by the wayside as even some orthodox churches transition their scriptural exposition to self-help messages and pastors who engage in exposition of the Bible leave the deep waters out of sermons. … One of the major problems in Christianity today is the church that uses Sunday service not to recharge the Christian, but lure in the unconverted. These churches deliver shallow sermons that might avoid being off-putting to new believers, but don’t nourish the souls of the believers.”
Others fear too many churches now focus on entertainment rather than doctrine and discipleship. Those thirsting for doctrinal truth will go elsewhere, and those being entertained are not receiving the spiritual strengthening needed to survive in an increasingly secular world that is progressively more hostile to faith and religion.
Too many American Christians are nominal Christians, professing a faith they live only superficially. Among Millennials, where authenticity is sacrosanct, a casual, feel-good Christianity offers no allure.
All of this portends ill for not only faith in America, but in the American form of government itself.
As U.S. Attorney William Barr recently warned in a speech at Notre Dame University, “The secular project has itself become a religion, pursued with religious fervor. It is taking on all the trappings of religion, including inquisitions and excommunication. Those who defy the creed risk a figurative burning at the stake — social, educational, and professional ostracism and exclusion waged through lawsuits and savage social-media campaigns.”
Barr continued, “Today, in the face of all the increasing pathologies, instead of addressing the underlying cause, we have cast the state in the role of the Alleviator of Bad Consequences. We call on the state to mitigate the social costs of personal misconduct and irresponsibility. … The call comes for more and more social programs to deal with this wreckage. And while we think we’re solving problems, we are underwriting them. We start with an untrammeled freedom and we end up as dependents of a coercive state on whom we depend.”
George Washington declared religion and morality to be the “indispensable supports” of our republic. John Adams argued, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Renowned British statesman Edmund Burke explained why this is so, asserting, “Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their appetites. … Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.”
Religion teaches us to tame the natural man, to elevate the spiritual above the carnal. It teaches us morality, compassion, humility, tolerance, and charity.
In a religious society, civilized man controls himself because he pursues a higher purpose. The law is there as a safety net.
When religion is abandoned, or worse, shunned and persecuted, society devolves into one based on power, rather than morality.
We are already seeing the consequences of a nation slowly abandoning its faith — 60 million abortions, nearly half of America’s children born out of wedlock, suicide and drug abuse on the rise, sociopathic violence from those detached from their own humanity, and so on.
So the question is this: Will America return to Liberty rooted in religion? Or will abandonment of the faith continue, rendering us slaves to almighty government?
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