A mass exodus from Christianity is underway in America

While the number of Americans who celebrate Christmas as a cultural holiday is growing stronger, there has been a shocking rise in the number of people who are abandoning Christianity — what sociologists call “nonverts.”

The Pew Research Center estimates that Christians will be a minority of Americans by 2070 if current trends continue.

And it’s likely that a large percentage of those who lose their religion are young adults, who are as old as that REM reference: people around 30 and under.

It’s a kind of “cultural whiplash” from religion to secularism that has hit the United States faster than the rest of the world, said Stephen Bullivant, a professor of theology and sociology.

Bullivant, a practicing Catholic who teaches at St. Mary’s University in London and the University of Notre Dame in Sydney, spoke to the Grid about why Americans are leaving Christianity in droves and the demographics that are seeing (ahem) godlessness decline. His new book, “Nonverts: The Making of Ex-Christian America,” was released in the US on December 1.

Young adults are leading the mass exodus

Bullivant made it clear that it’s important not to blur out all the young non-adults who have a big reason for leaving the church. “Every person has a complex story, and we need to recognize the individual journey,” he told The Grid. “There are bigger trends we can check,” he said.

For example, a large demographic of unverts, younger adults, raise their children as “nons” – people from non-religious families. And a small percentage of non-converts return to religion, but rarely do anyone embrace religion at any point in their lives.

Bullivant noted that it’s not shocking that young adults drop out at the highest rates. “When people do nonconvert, they do so in their early and mid-20s,” he said.

And for those who buck the trend, it’s just young people trying something different who eventually return to church, the data shows. The percentage of adults under 30 who say they have no religion has increased dramatically over the past 50 years, Bullivant said, adding that other age groups have also seen increases.

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The move toward secularism happened incredibly fast in the US

While the trend toward atheism and agnosticism in Europe has been a slow but steady decline, Bullivant said, the rise of Christians leaving the faith didn’t really begin in the U.S. until the early 2000s, and the decline since then has been steep and rapid. .

For people who study such trends, there was a feeling in the 90s that if the rise of secularism in America hadn’t happened yet, there was no reason to think it would. “Even the most dramatic historical examples of religious growth or decline occur over many generations,” Bullivant said. “But it was something released in the early 2000s.”

“It’s not that long ago, when you’re talking about as big a cultural-religious shift as we’re talking about,” he added.

And Bullivant said, it’s not about an influx of secular immigrants or increasing the number of non-religious baby boomers. Americans decide that they do not belong to any religion. Interestingly, while one-third of Americans say they are atheists or agnostics, Bullivant notes in his book, the rest have varying degrees of belief in God — Christian or otherwise.

And the big question: why now?

If you look at the big picture of 20th-century American culture, you might ask, “Why is that happening now?” Bullivant said he would stop asking. and “Why didn’t this happen earlier?” Start asking that. You can’t blame changing political views.

“It’s about looking at what happened in the 20th century that reduced the possibility of non-religiousness — and what has changed since then?” he asked.

Bullivant says there are three main answers to that question: the Cold War, 9/11 and the Internet.

If you compare the Cold War in Europe to the Cold War in the US, there is a major difference when it comes to religion. In the US, it was very much about Christian America vs. Godless Communism, but in Europe there wasn’t just a religious element.

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In Europe, he said, it’s okay to explore secularism a little bit, but in America it’s not really socially acceptable on a political, cultural or religious level to question their faith or go around declaring that they’re atheists or agnostics.

Also about who the atheist and agnostic influencers are in both parts of the world. For example, in the UK, it is respected establishment intellectuals – such as the mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell. In the United States, Bullivant said, you have people like Madalyn Murray O’Hare, who was “attractive for all kinds of reasons, but it’s very easy to paint her as a Communist who tried to defect to Moscow. A divorcee” that made her a social outcast during the religiously intense Cold War.

Bullivant said the generation born after the height of the Cold War — the early to mid-’80s — didn’t grow up with fears of propaganda and blacklisting, so there was a safe space to open up to the idea of ​​a non-religious life.

When 9/11 happens, Bullivant said, then you have a new atheism and a lot of important people come out and publicly question belief in a supernatural being, like Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, and it’s okay to reevaluate what you believe. , Bullivant said: “He opened up a non-religious space.”

And of course the Internet, Bullivant added. That was happening at the same time and it gave people access to communities of people who were questioning their faith. Bullivant saw this especially when interviewing ex-Mormons and ex-evangelicals.

“If you grow up in Texas or Idaho and everyone you know is some kind of Christian, you’re kind of in a bubble. And then with the Internet, you start getting support groups online with thousands of members, and that helps burst those bubbles,” he said.

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One thing Bullivant says is overemphasized when it comes to examining why people leave the church: changing cultural values.

Bullivant said that as people’s views in the US change on women’s roles in society, abortion and same-sex marriage, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for churches to deal with. He felt it meant “alienating large sections of the people” who disagreed with the church’s positions on issues.

But, Bullivant said, if you look at the Episcopal Church, which has changed along with the culture, its numbers are falling. Churches that change with the times do not seem to “fill the pews.”

“When Catholics say, ‘Young people are leaving because they don’t agree with the church on abortion and contraception,’ they don’t agree with the church, and abortion and contraception, and gay marriage and all that kind of stuff,” he said. “But if the church changes those positions or softens them in a pastoral way, it’s very unlikely that those people won’t leave or they’ll come back or anything like that.”

Rise of secular, religious, cult figures post-Covid

Interestingly, Bullivant said, historically tragic events — the Civil War, World War II — often spur religious revivals on the fringes of the mainstream, such as cults. The fact that it was not evident with the recent tragic event, Covid, is more evidence of a waning religious mainstream, he said.

A more recent group, he said, is the rise of QAnon, but it’s more of a secular than a religious movement.

“In the past, Q was some kind of angel or the Virgin Mary or a Native American shaman or a religious thinker. The question is more of a civil servant, a functionary,” he said, “and the argument is, you need a strong religious center for the wild edges to emerge.”

Thanks to Lillian Barkley who copied this article.


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