The Demise of Christianity has Been Greatly Exaggerated

There is a good op-ed from the Wall Street Journal about the inaccurate polling done concerning the fading of religious belief in America. Personally, I am somewhat skeptical of polls-as-science because the data is often skewed by the questions asked, and the by the social propriety of answering questions a certain way whatever the actual beliefs of the pollee.

Atheists often rely on such data to ‘prove’ they are growing in numbers. I don’t fault them for this given they represent an extreme minority in the world and consistently represent only about 4% of the US populace; I am sure they are desperate to grasp at any inkling that their numbers are growing.

The authors however point out the national polls show no big falloff, and the national press often misses this fact:

Surveys always find that younger people are less likely to attend church, yet this has never resulted in the decline of the churches. It merely reflects the fact that, having left home, many single young adults choose to sleep in on Sunday mornings.

Once they marry, though, and especially once they have children, their attendance rates recover. Unfortunately, because the press tends not to publicize this correction, many church leaders continue unnecessarily fretting about regaining the lost young people.

In similar fashion, major media hailed another Barna report that young evangelicals are increasingly embracing liberal politics. But only religious periodicals carried the news that national surveys offer no support for this claim, and that younger evangelicals actually remain as conservative as their parents.

As I have mentioned elsewhere, as a conservative evangelical Christian, I believe that the number of people who call themselves Christians don’t necessarily reflect sincere or understanding belief in Christ, so I am rather indifferent to raw numbers or labels. Nonetheless the fact is nothing like strong atheism seems to be spreading in the US, and given the demographics of truly secular societies (the fact they are aging, low-reproductive populations) it is unlikely atheism will predominate anytime in the future.

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2 Responses to The Demise of Christianity has Been Greatly Exaggerated

  1. Mike D says:

    lol.

    The decline of women’s church attendance isn’t as severe as some research has indicated? Stop the press!

    I’m really not sure what you’re trying to accomplish here. The ARIS survey, which is easily the largest and most comprehensive survey on religious affiliation, has shown not only a decline in Christianity and a rise in “unaffiliated”, but that the number of bona fide atheists and agnostics has nearly doubled since 2001. [more] This data comports with research from Pew and Gallup as well. That Christianity – and religious affiliation in general – is in decline in this country is not up for dispute.

    And I think it’s adorable that you dismiss the secularization in the West because people in poorer, less educated countries tend to be more religious and golly, they’re reproducing more. Well, they’re also dying of treatable and/or preventable diseases, starving to death because of political feuds, living in filth, fighting horrific tribal wars, living far shorter lives, recklessly polluting the environment, often lacking basic education and health care, and in some cases raping each other like it’s going out of style.

    Controlling population growth, having a higher quality of living, being at peace, and putting less stress on the environment are all good things. So yeah, go ahead and have your thousands of rocks – we’re happy with our stealth bomber.

  2. jackhudson says:

    I’m really not sure what you’re trying to accomplish here. The ARIS survey, which is easily the largest and most comprehensive survey on religious affiliation, has shown not only a decline in Christianity and a rise in “unaffiliated”, but that the number of bona fide atheists and agnostics has nearly doubled since 2001. This data comports with research from Pew and Gallup as well. That Christianity – and religious affiliation in general – is in decline in this country is not up for dispute.

    Just to be clear on my position, I have little doubt that the West is becoming more secular, particularly Europe. Indeed, from a Christian perspective the inevitable trend of humanity seems to be to gain prosperity from stable integrated and self-sacrificial communities which share a common faith, to self-serving secular societies that feed off the prosperity of earlier generations.

    So I disagree with the contention that secularism is a necessary product of education or scientific progress per se; particularly given that in the US the more educated are more likely to be religious, while the less educated are less so .

    What I think one sees in the ARIS survey isn’t so much a ‘growth’ in one group or another, but an increase willingness to identify oneself a certain way, and a clarity about what certain terms mean. Whereas in the past calling oneself a ‘Christian’ might have been a function of denominational or family association rather than a function of sincerely held beliefs, I think now when one calls oneself a Christian it is more a reflection of what one actually believes. This would be why, according to the same ARIS survey, it shows the number of non-denominational Christians more than doubled between 2001 and 2008. In the same vein, there is more clarity about what it means to be an atheist or agnostic.

    Whereas previously someone may have felt there was no way to know whether God existed, or didn’t think the existence of God really mattered and still identified themselves according to their family’s denomination, I think more recently such a person would call themselves an agnostic or atheist. So I am not sure in the US we are seeing a particular growth in one sort of group or another, but rather a greater willingness to associate with a particular term. In short, there is now greater polarization with much less fuzzy middle and much stronger willingness to strongly identify with a particular group.

    And I think it’s adorable that you dismiss the secularization in the West because people in poorer, less educated countries tend to be more religious and golly, they’re reproducing more. Well, they’re also dying of treatable and/or preventable diseases, starving to death because of political feuds, living in filth, fighting horrific tribal wars, living far shorter lives, recklessly polluting the environment, often lacking basic education and health care, and in some cases raping each other like it’s going out of style.

    Controlling population growth, having a higher quality of living, being at peace, and putting less stress on the environment are all good things. So yeah, go ahead and have your thousands of rocks – we’re happy with our stealth bomber.

    Mike, your categorization of 90% of the word as poor, diseased, and stupid doesn’t change the fact that Christianity is exploding in the developing world, and the birthrate is sub-replacement rate in the Western world, particularly in Europe. That being true, even from an evolutionary viewpoint Christianity certainly has the advantage. Also, Christianity transforms societies, which is why we aren’t afraid of the poverty and pain of the developing world – because we have real answers to those difficulties.

    And the prosperity of the West isn’t a product of New Atheism – it’s just that New Atheism survives best in places where it is subsidized by the wealth of others – welfare states, university campuses and the like. New Atheism didn’t create the prosperity of the West, it inherited it, and now pretends that it is had something to do with creating it. It’s a story as old as the Bible.

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