For several years, the United States has seen a decline in religious affiliation. Currently, 20 percent of Americans don’t claim a particular religion or church — up from 15 percent just five years ago. Some worry that this shift into secularism will turn the United States into Western Europe.
Yet others are more optimistic. They point out that polling data don’t always allow for a nuanced discussion of faith and spirituality, and that many individuals still want to have a relationship with God, albeit on their own terms and with their own timing. These individuals may not relate to specific dogmas or rituals, but they still seek and find solace in believing that God is in charge and that when they put him first, their lives go smoother — an acknowledgement that is at the foundation of most religions and the first of the Ten Commandments.
”To argue that America is suddenly becoming vastly secular is not the case,” says Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of Gallup. “You can’t say (religion) is fading out of importance when a lot of the central events of our time, for better or worse, are based on strong religious convictions. I think that rather than becoming increasingly more of a straight, old-fashioned secular society, we have the potential to be religious, but in some different ways.”
As Spock might say, “Fascinating Captain.” These are the now well discussed “spiritual, but not religious” and comprise many of the so-called “Nones.” As you read through the entire well-done piece you come to understand that this group of people want to shape a personal religion for themselves rather than allow religion to shape them. Theologically that is a subject for a series of sermons and a book. But let’s focus here on what that means for society and politics.
Politically, it’s significance is straightforward. Church and para-church institutions can no longer be relied upon to provide a focal point for political action. What used to be an exercise in herding cats has now become an exercise in chaos. Churches, parachurch organizations, and other religious institutions have been a traditional organizing advantage for conservative. Should the trend described in this article continue, that just does not work anymore. In terms of organizing we begin to look much more like the liberal/Democrat side of the aisle. They have been at it a lot longer than we have and are therefore better at it. Big problem.
Societally, this is an enormous problem. American government is not designed to shape people. Its good functioning is conditioned on a nation of good people. Our government relies on other forces, mostly education and religion, to make those good people. Education is pretty firmly in government hands, and the only counter-balance seems to be in decline. The constitution has both internal and design “checks and balances,” it relies on greater societal checks and balances. These latter checks and balances are on the wane. Without them the future appears bleak.
This is a problem for the church, not politics. I would argue that it is the church relying on political/cultural force, rather than the moral and spiritual force that is unique to it, that has created this trend. I believe it is time for the church to get serious about fixing it.