-- And Why it's Time to Knock Off Saying That 9 in 10 Americans Believe in God
It is still widely held that religion is somehow so integral to the human psyche that it is nearly universal among humans, rather like language. A few also remain in denial about the loss of faith in America and abroad, among this behind the curve cohort is the notoriously proreligious sociologist Rodney Stark whose What America Really Believes is not accurately titled. To get a more perceptive appreciation of the rise of the nongodly and how it challenges to myth of religious universalism consider how the more objective albeit unhappy evangelical authors of the World Christian Encyclopedia lament that no Christian "in 1900 expected the massive defections from Christianity that subsequently took place in Western Europe due to secularism". and in the Americas due to materialism". The number of nonreligionists". throughout the 20th century has skyrocketed from 3.2 million in 1900, to 697 million in 1970, and on to 918 million in AD 2000". Equally startling has been the meteoritic growth of secularism". Two immense quasi-religious systems have emerged at the expense of the world's religions: agnosticism". and atheism". From a miniscule presence in 1900, a mere 0.2% of the globe, these systems". are today expanding at the extraordinary rate of 8.5 million new converts each year, and are likely to reach one billion adherents soon. A large percentage of their members are the children, grandchildren or the great-great-grandchildren of persons who in their lifetimes were practicing Christians" (italics added). Only western irreligion is proving able to achieve major growth by spontaneous conversion in the face of low breeding at low rates. Islam is the one major religion to make major proportional gains to a current fifth of the planetary population, but mainly through rapid reproduction. In comparison Christianity has remained stuck as a portion of the world's population at about a third over the last century, with gains in underdeveloped nations being offset by the severe declines in the 1st world. Hinduism remains at about a seventh of the globe despite the very rapid growth of India.
The withering of popular piety in the most prosperous democracies and some other parts of the world has been detailed in the classic Sacred and Secular by Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart, and Steve Bruce's God is Dead: Secularization in the West that explains that major Eurochurches are in danger of shrinking to the demographic point of no return. This does not mean that the 1st world portions of Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan are chock full of dedicated atheists who after deep thought realized the God thing is absurd. It is more that so many have in the main lost interest in matters religious -- check out Phil Zuckerman's interviews of casually nontheistic Danes in Society Without God to get an idea of how they do care all that much about what Jesus said back then or would do in response to modern matters. The waning of the religious component of American Exceptionalism is documented in American Grace senior authored by Robert (Bowling Alone) Putman, gravely concerned Christian David Olson's The American Church in Crisis, and American Religion, Contemporary Trends by Mark Chaves. In the US the no response to the three Gallup questions they have asked since the last world war is always about the same when the questions are asked at about the same time, so the no responses can be used to track proportional changes in stanch proatheist opinion over time. The resulting quadrupling of outright atheists since the 60s and doubling since the 1990s is a growth rate that Mormons would die for. Numbering two to three million in the sixties as were Mormon at the time, the strongly atheist now exceed 20 million, compared to just 6 million Mormons (about half of which are not active) whose much vaunted growth is due largely to their having lots of unprotected sex, and over 5 million Jews many of whom are atheists. When the agnostic wing of atheism is factored in the one in five Americans Harris and Gallup find are not theists amount to sixty million nonreligious, rivaling Catholics and evangelicals respectively. Note that the hope by many theists that the 9/11 tragedy would help revive Amerofaith did not pan out, if anything the example of what supernaturalistic thinking can lead to may have contributed to secularization.
The attempt by Gallup to pretend that their latest results show that "More than 9 in 10 continue to Believe in God" is an egregious example of proreligious bias; note how they shove the more sophisticated and telling poll showing that the actual result is 4 in 5 Americans are theists is shoved to the back of their press release of their simplistic poll that's so obsolete it had not bee asked for decades (click here) -- despite its flaws asking the old query every few years is useful for longitudinal comparisons. Belief in a "higher power" is not a form of theism because the latter is requires belief in at least one specific god, and because even some atheists go for the presence of some idea of higher power. The old nine in ten Americans are god believers line is just so twentieth century, so never ever repeat it. Never. Nor should atheist groups continue to cite as they are wont that ~15% of Americans are none religious, it's more like 20%. The expansion of atheists of various sorts provided the market base for the appearance of assertive atheist best sellers.
Christians made up 95% of the nation according the WCE in 1900, now it is three quarters. Church membership has been slipping since the 1950s when Ameroreligiosity may have peaked, these days only a fifth to a quarter attend church on nonholiday Sundays, and the much talked about megachurches draw in only a couple percent of the nation. Protestants are heading for unprecedented minority status and Catholics are holding their own only because of Hispanic immigration as northern EuroAmericans leave the scandal ridden church in droves -- if not for the large influx of immigrants the nation would be markedly proportionally more atheistic than it already is.
The shift towards Ameroatheism should be having an impact on the evolution versus creationism part of the culture war, and it is. Because the rise in support for evolution without the involvement of supernatural guidance from the upper single digits to the mid teens since the 1990s recorded by Gallup closely tracks with the parallel rise of atheism tallied by the same concern, the increasing support for the science is largely due to increasing atheism rather than convincing the religious to accept Darwin's Dangerous Idea. Support for humans being created recently by God was stuck between 43-47% until 2008 with at most a slight downward trend towards the end, but in 2010 Bible creationism dropped to below 40% for the first time. If this trend hold up it makes sense since the Bible literalism that supposedly underlies fundamentalist creationism has been in strong decline for decades to abut 30%, leaving the latter increasingly vulnerable to collapse. Meanwhile the Bible skeptics that used to be only a fourth as numerous as the literalists have been steadily rising and should match and then exceed the later in coming decades. The slide of Bible literalism and creationism helps belie the myth that the religious right minority is ascendant, they too are feeling the demographic heat like the more liberal sects.
The Great Secularization of the West including America is not just a matter of stats. When I drive across stretches of the country I seem to observe a decline of FM religious programming in favor of a revival of classic rock. In a recent Parade magazine article about how to make weekends less busy, going to church or synagogue was not mentioned. When I was a little fellow Puritanical Blue Laws still restricted Sunday retail activities, encouraging church attendance. Profit oriented retailers organized to eliminate most of those laws, allowing Home Depo and Wal-Mart parking lots to be packed on Sunday mornings -- that the latter is owned by an evangelical Christian family that keeps their stores open on the Sabbath helps show where the priority of the nation now is. Theoconservatism owned the western mainstream culture up until the Great War, but the religious right has been increasingly driven into a minority parallel culture as the secular and hypermaterialistic corporate-consumer culture has become increasingly ascendant. When was the last time you watched a traditional religious themed program on the broadcast or cable/satellite channels? Long past is when Catholic Bishop Sheen hosted the ABC prime time hit Life is Worth Living at the height of the its us Godly Yanks against the Godless Bolsheviks Cold War, when Gallup found that two thirds thought religion was gaining influence and those who opined the opposite were in the teens. Where would you find a such a mainstream media program in a country where three quarters now and quite correctly think that organized faith is losing influence? Some of the most popular programs -- House, The Mentalist, Big Bang Theory -- feature atheist lead characters, a trend likely to help mainstream the fast growing ungodly minority and alleviate the bigotry they remain the target of (click here) much as did media exposure of blacks and gays. But unlike the latter two cases that involve strong genetic components, growing acceptance of atheists is likely to accelerate the growth of the optional opinion as it already has in the rest of the west, where being devoutly godly is often seen as peculiar. Also note that the religious right is correctly aghast at the fast rising acceptance of gays especially among youth, theocons are all too aware that it heralds a further weakening of their grip on American culture and politics (richarddawkins.net/articles/568418-the-gays-are-winning-%E2%80%93-and-the-religious-right-is-losing-what-nontheists-can-learn-from-the-success-of-the-homosexual-rights-movement).
The reactionary and godly Tea Party (three quarters of TPs believe God favors the US, http://www.publicreligion.org/research?id=428) reflects both the power of the religious right, and its weakness with a majority of Americans currently disapproving of its positions. The waning of theoconservatism has long term political implications because Pew finds that the Republican base is shrinking (click here). American remains the most faith based prosperous democracy, to the degree that open atheists remain hard pressed to get elected in most of the nation (click here), but that means much less than it used to in a nation were the theist elites admit Ameropiety is a shallow as it is broad, and as the country continues down the secular road in a process driven to a great extent by science and prosperity, boosted by commercial interests whose resources overwhelm those of the increasingly cash strapped religious industry (http://www.rationalresponders.com/forum/16619).
So the financial wherewithal and public relations campaigns of the western churches are proving insufficient to stem the decline of organized supernaturalism in the face of modernity any 1st world democracy. Nor are creationists holding their own despite the construction of Biblical creation "museums" and theme parks. The demographic problem for faith is that each new generation is intrinsically more secular than the last. Nor has there ever has been reversal of western secularization, and the possibility that there will be one can be ranked as low for a number of reasons including that Amerofaith is already so shallow among so many (also see http://www.gregspaul.webs.com/questionssolved.pdf). So western religion is increasingly an activity such as it is of the aged. In the world at large organized supernaturalism is progressively becoming a feature of developing countries, but even there religion is often not as healthy as it may seem (http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/paul07/paul07_index.html). Catholic Brazil, for example, now has a below replacement fertility rate lower than the US because women influenced by a profeminist media just do not care what the men of the church tell them what is moral or not. The women of Brazil can make up their own secular minds.
Much as the dog not barking solved the famous Holmes case, that the rise of atheism went down so broadly, easily and quietly -- without the fuss and bother of a culture war like that underway in America -- in the rest of the 1st world tells us a lot about the core nature of supernaturalistic religion. Also vital to understanding the question is how western secularization occurs without much in the way of organized support and in the face of organized opposition from the churches, and that in every single prosperous democracy religion especially of the Jesus variety is trending downwards. No two ways about it, religion is not universal in the manner of the language skills and materialism in terms of wanting stuff that humans are genetically programmed for ( gregspaul.webs.com/sciletter0415.pdf; http://www.epjournal.net/filestore/EP07398441_c.pdf ). That means religion is a much more optional opinion that can be and of late often has been easily cast off by majorities of populations. That ought to increase the fear factor of the leaders of organized supernaturalism.