Living in Post-Christian America

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  November 27, 2012 — 13 Comments

After the 2012 elections here in the United States I posited that this was a post-Christian election, and that the results could be a glimpse into the future of America’s electorate. Now, as information from the election is further dissected and analyzed, it’s becoming increasingly clear that something significant has indeed shifted in the religious outlook of our voting public. The Public Religion Research Institute calls it the “end of a white Christian strategy.”

Romney and Obama Coalitions vs Age Groups

Romney and Obama Coalitions vs Age Groups

“The foundation of Romney’s base consists primarily of white evangelical Protestants, who constitute 40% of his coalition. Obama’s coalition rests on two very different groups: minority Christians—a group that includes black, Asian, Hispanic, and mixed-race Christians—(31%) and the religiously unaffiliated (25%). […] Notably, Obama’s religious coalition resembles the religious composition of younger voters, while Romney’s religious coalition resembles the religious composition of senior voters. For example, 26% of Millennial voters are white Christians, compared to 72% of senior voters.”

In short, it doesn’t really matter that Romney decisively won white evangelicals, as minority Christians and non-religious voters more than made up for that deficit. At Religion Dispatches, Katherine Stewart says that the religiously unaffiliated (ie “nones”) are the demographic that should really worry Republican strategists who’ve placed almost all of their eggs in the evangelical Christian basket.

“Like any group of this size, the religiously unaffiliated aren’t monolithic. About a third self-identify as atheists, while the rest say they are agnostic, “spiritual but not religious,” or simply uninterested in religion. They are spread fairly evenly across education and income levels. And they’re politically diverse when it comes to economic ideas. But they do seem to largely agree on one thing: that mixing religion with politics is a bad idea.”

“Mixing religion with politics is a bad idea.” It has always sounded good as a principle, but often ignored as evangelical Christians (and Catholics) were seen as vital to winning national elections, and so politicians from both sides of the aisle catered to them, willfully mixing religious rhetoric into their political stances. However, if you read the tea leaves in the run-up to this election, you could see some shifts starting to appear. Like the fact that both Obama and Romney spurned Rick Warren’s religion test/presidential forum, or that the Democratic party was willing to play offence on gay marriage and abortion, areas where they usually play defense.

“Never before have the culture wars been fought so forcefully on both sides. While the spectacle of Republicans declaring holy war has become old hat, this was the first election in which one of the parties explicitly endorsed same-sex marriage; this was the first election in which one party defended a woman’s right to reproductive freedom without apology or hesitation; and this season also saw the passage of a number of same-sex marriage ballot initiatives, as well as the election of the nation’s first openly lesbian senator.”

For years I’ve been yammering on about post-Christianity, slow demographic shifts, and the “nones,” thinking this tipping point was years away. Now, everyone seems to be talking about how “post-Christian” and “European” we suddenly are.

“There isn’t any question that American culture is in a transition from a dominantly Christian culture to a dominantly secular culture. We can no longer expect America society to uniformly embrace Christian values or morality. How the Christian community chooses to respond to this will be critical. Angry rhetoric, and bitterly contested lawsuits and elections create adversaries, but no one ever made an enemy by offering the hand of friendship, helping the down and out, mentoring kids, giving generously to others or helping people after a hurricane get their lives back together.”

That quote, from Richard Stearns, president of World Vision, isn’t unique. While the reliable fire-breathers are getting apocalyptic, some of the more thoughtful conservative Christians are starting to realize that non-Christians, and the non-religious, aren’t going away any time soon, and that younger voters are far more liberal on social issues than previous generations.  As R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said: “It’s not that our message — we think abortion is wrong, we think same-sex marriage is wrong — didn’t get out. It did get out. It’s that the entire moral landscape has changed, an increasingly secularized America understands our positions, and has rejected them.”

So, the question now is what will future election battles look like? Obviously in heavily conservative Christian districts the old Christian culture-war stand-bys will hold true for a while longer, but what about the swing states? What about the national elections in 2016? Will religion cease to be an issue at all? Will campaigns actively court the non-religious, will they even court non-Christians? Will there be a true cease-fire on the old culture war lines of birth control, abortion, and gay rights? All of this remains to be seen, but for now, it seems we’re living in the post-Christian future faster than I had ever envisioned.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    Who knows, soon you guys could even have elections based on politics rather than religion(s). ;)

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1186404199 Crystal Hope Kendrick

      That would be a breath of fresh air.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1678081929 Bill Wheaton

    Out of curiosity, which bucket do they put Pagans into? I would think, “Non-Christian Religious”, but knowing what I know, it would not surprise me if they counted us as “unaffiliated”.

  • Kilmrnock

    Gods willing , i hope your right LS.All this culture war , RR stuff is getting old really fast . Hopefully now the right wing republicans will jump that sinking ship , that thier defeat in this last election was a wake up call.As someone outside thier religious base i for one am tired of being beat over the head with it .I do realise this is still a Christian Majority Country , the Christianised pledge of alegiance , in God We Trust on money all that stuff isn’t going away anytime soon. But atleast things are starting to swing back to a more religious nuetral bias.As a minority this bodes well for us on the fringes . The Whole idea of religious right run America[NAR types ] scared the shyte out of me. That those of us Non Christians would be unwelcome in our own country , what a nightmare. If those folks had their way the US would be a Christian Theocracy , Biblicaly Based law etc .For now atleast cooler, more level heads prevailed . The nation of my birth isn’t going away from me and those like me .Sorry for rambling on a bit , this one matters to me . Kilm

  • Jay

    “…an increasingly secularized America understands our positions, and has rejected them.”
    I’m so glad that this is finally getting through their thick skulls.

  • devi mcgrath

    Theocrats are not nice people and they still have significant power in congress and the supremes. when faced with imminent defeat I don’t underestimate their willingness to support coup d’etat.

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

    In all of human history no group has ever given up power without a fight. In other words, this is far from over – and it is going to get ugly. How ugly? Look at what the British, the French, the Belgians, and the Portuguese did in their futile attempts to hold on to “their” colonies in the second half of the 20th century.

    Also there is the fact that outside of Europe, North America and certain other enclaves of (fading) white power, there is a very different dynamic being played out. It might seem ironic to some (but in fact makes perfect sense) that Christianity in what we used to call the “Third World” is starting to make Todd Akin look like a San Francisco liberal. And especially in Africa there is no secularizing trend to check the Christian lust for power.

    • Kilmrnock

      Agreed , Raging extremist Christianity is way to powerful in Africa , My wife showed me an article last night where as a leader in Uganda was giving her nation a Christmas Gift , a law allowing the killing of Homosexuals , Bisexuals , or anyone with Aids , Wonderful huh? These so called Apostles are a mix of radical Christianity, spread by US and European missionaries , and African pagan beliefs , Witchcraft is considered extremely evil there as is demon possesion , twisted to be even worse by the apostles . Someone either ill,or outcast is considered possesed.Most die during so called, violent exorcisms or are outrite killed in the name of a warped beyond recognition religion . Extremist Christianity caused this mess , but at this point i’m not sure how to fix it . But i do believe they should be involved in correcting this situation. Kilm

      • Kilmrnock

        This i believe is one of the biggest problems with Christianity as it is now and has been for atleast the last 1500 years or so . It doesn’t play well with others . Altho it has a history of coopting beliefs that can’t be eliminated . The Conversion , prostytalisation doctrine has destroyed , along with diseases brought from foriegn lands many societies Christian conqueres and missionaries have come in contact with.The whole idea that more civilised[in their view] people have a right and responcibility to conquer, convert and civilise savages is at the root of many evils/attocities perpitrated on native people over the centuries . The Romans used this as a justification for conquering Gual and parts of the island Celtic nations.What invading armies couldn’t do missionaries have done since. There is hardly any real pagan culture left in Europe and the Americas, Other than what we and others like us , Native Americans etc are attempting to re establish.Christian domination was almost total . And the Concept of manfest destiny used here in America the last few centuries is based on the same type of thinking .That conquering and civilising savages was done for thier own good , that the conquer was actualy doing a service to the people they were subjigating/ civilising.The whole situation in Africa stems from this kind of thinking and policies gone horribly wrong .That Christians and thier churches have a mandate to convert all non belivers and that thier faith is the only true faith in the whole world . All the rest of us are wrong in their eyes , we need to be made to see things their way at almost any cost .The one thing that really bothers me at this time is that these churches have taken no responcibilty or tryed to help prevent this type of thing from happening, they are actualy supporting these so called apostles.sorry i rambled a bit

        • Charles Cosimano

          And of course they have no reason not to prevent it. On the contrary, it would seem very much in their pragmatic interest to encourage it.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          “That Christians and thier churches have a mandate to convert all non
          belivers and that thier faith is the only true faith in the whole world.”
          That would be what I see as the core of modern spiritual warfare. Christianity, at a dogmatic level cannot coexist with other religions.

  • Mike the Heathen

    I’m far more concerned about what is increasingly becoming post-Liberty America, regardless of one’s religion.

    • http://twitter.com/Mjausson Apel Mjausson

      The culture wars are a threat to our liberty. Evangelical Christianity is pro-authoritarianism. They support legislating away our rights to privacy, right to science-based education, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, you name it.