Reverberations from the Pew Forum’s groundbreaking U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, the first independent survey to place modern Paganism over the one million mark, are still being felt. Recently The Chronicle Review, a publication of The Chronicle of Higher Education, explored some of the ramifications of these findings.
“…findings in the study shed new light on issues around which there has been no scholarly consensus … it is becoming increasingly obvious that the term “Judeo-Christian” no longer makes sense, given how many Americans are neither. But the favorite terms to replace it – “Judeo-Christian-Islamic” or “Abrahamic” – seem equally inappropriate. It is not just that Buddhists, who do not trace their roots to Abraham, may outnumber Muslims, who do. It is that the combined percentage of those who identify themselves as either Hindu (0.4 percent) or from “other world religions” (0.3 percent) does so as well. We are not one nation divided into three monotheistic faiths. We are a nation characterized by many faiths, as well as by none.”
If America is no longer a “Judeo-Christian” (or “Abrahamic”) country, what does that mean? Alan Wolfe, director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life, claims that the era of a common Christian morality is coming to a close.
“The fact that we now have so many religions in this country suggests either that no common morality is possible, or that, if it is, religion cannot be its most important source. The ways in which religious diversity either increases or detracts from speaking about the common good ought to be a subject stimulated by Pew’s conclusions.”
Which means that we could see a day when divisive “culture war” and other “social issues” will cease to be a tug-of-war between liberal secularists on one side, and conservative Christians on the other. Instead, there will be a variety of viewpoints and moralities involved in the discussion, changing the entire dynamic of debate.
Some will wonder if this is simply a statistical “blip” before some new Great Awakening re-asserts Christian moral dominance in America, but Wolfe says that data points to Christian denominations having retention problems across the board, including the “conservative” and “evangelical” denominations.
“Protestant denominations … were all losers … Pew has found that the strictest of all churches, at least in the sheer amount of proselytizing time and energy it requires, has the lowest overall retention rate … whatever the case in the past, there is no strong evidence of strict churches attracting a disproportionate share of members now … If the religious world of adults in the United States is diverse and in constant flux, the religious affiliations of young Americans, who will be tomorrow’s voters and citizens, are even more so. Three times as many Americans under 30 as those over 70 are not religiously affiliated.”
These problems haven’t escaped the notice of conservative and evangelical churches, but their attempts to fix what they define as an “image problem” may be too little and too late.
“Christians are supposed to represent Christ to the world. But according to the latest report card, something has gone terribly wrong. Using descriptions like “hypocritical,” “insensitive,” and “judgmental,” young Americans share an impression of Christians that’s nothing short of … unChristian.”
Of course, this doesn’t mean that we’ll be living in some sort of multi-religious utopia any time soon. Those in power rarely let go easily, and we may see battles over issues of religious morality and political influence get a lot worse before they attain a new balance. America may have woken up into a new “post-Christian” society, but the hangover from two hundred years of Christian dominance will most likely give us headaches for many years to come.