It’s that time of year again, and we get another headline grabbing poll from the Pew Forum, “Religion in Public Life.“ I have only had time to skim this, but here is what Pew headlines:
Nearly three-quarters of the public (72%) now thinks religion is losing influence in American life, up 5 percentage points from 2010 to the highest level in Pew Research polling over the past decade. And most people who say religion’s influence is waning see this as a bad thing.
Perhaps as a consequence, a growing share of the American public wants religion to play a role in U.S. politics. The share of Americans who say churches and other houses of worship should express their views on social and political issues is up 6 points since the 2010 midterm elections (from 43% to 49%). The share who say there has been “too little” expression of religious faith and prayer from political leaders is up modestly over the same period (from 37% to 41%). And a growing minority of Americans (32%) think churches should endorse candidates for political office, though most continue to oppose such direct involvement by churches in electoral politics.
As I skimmed the rest of the prose, I think they have chosen the right thing to emphasize. But as I read through it, I cannot help but note that in many ways it does not “get” religion. Or maybe it is those of us that hold our religion dearly that do not “get” the affects of survey’s like this. I’d have to go through this and past surveys to prove my point, but as I read the summary and reflected on the current state of things, I was struck by the impression that people seem want the good that religion has to offer, but they want to outsource it somehow.
The survey treats religion as a social force (which it is) and acknowledges that as a social force it is somehow different from MTV or the Elks club, but no survey of this type can consider the very unique nature of religion as a social force. Most social forces try to change society as a thing. Religion is unique in that it tries to change the individual members of society thus changing society. The action of religion on a societal level is indirect. We have discussed that here many times before.
But consider these findings from the poll:
It finds a slight drop in support for allowing gays and lesbians to marry, with 49% of Americans in favor and 41% opposed – a 5-point dip in support from a February Pew Research poll, but about the same level as in 2013. It is too early to know if this modest decline is an anomaly or the beginning of a reversal or leveling off in attitudes toward gay marriage after years of steadily increasing public acceptance. Moreover, when the February poll and the current survey are combined, the 2014 yearly average level of support for same-sex marriage stands at 52%, roughly the same as the 2013 yearly average (50%).
The new poll also finds that fully half (50%) of the public now considers homosexuality a sin, up from 45% a year ago. And nearly half of U.S. adults think that businesses like caterers and florists should be allowed to reject same-sex couples as customers if the businesses have religious objections to serving those couples.
If one uses the stance on same-sex marriage as a barometer of personal religious devotion (debatable I know, but it is the data at hand) , and one assumes this poll an outlier since the trend in support of same-sex marriage continues upward, one begins to sense that people know things aren’t going well, and they know religion could probably help, but they do not necessarily think that religion is for them. They are hoping the other guy who takes his religion really, really seriously will get this straightened out.
This sense is only heightened when one look s at the polarization evident in the poll. As always what is being seen here is the middle of the political spectrum, where the fight always occurs, is shifting towards the right and in slight favor related of religion, but no way they are going to take this religious stuff too seriously.
Those of us that take our religion seriously know that the only way things will get really better is if such people start themselves to take religion seriously instead of just lean towards those of us that do. So how do we react? Do we simply take advantage of the votes that are offered to us, or do we try and get these people to take religion seriously?
Because religion acts indirectly, as we have discussed on this blog endlessly, we can only be permanently politically successful if we are successful in making converts. What this data indicates to me is evangelical opportunity. In other words, there is a group of people out there that is ripe to hear WHY religion can make things better right now, something they already sense, as an apologetic for actually joining that religion.
Now here is the good part. If we do that, if we take evangelical advantage of this circumstance, they become solidly on our side and we move the great middle to another group. We start to win again consistently. Our opportunity s more than just political. Are we prepared to take advantage?