There’s a wonderful post about Religious affliation and sociological trends on the blog Gene Expression.
The question of exactly what is contributing to the decline of folks in the states identifying themselves as “christian” has been a focus of a number of conversations that I’ve been part of lately.
Here’s an interesting point from the article:
“Was an America that was 10% churched in 1776 far less religious than the 75%-80% churched America of 1950? I am not sure that that was the case, the fact that most families lived on farms away from urban areas (where churches were concentrated) likely explains the low rates of affiliation. As America became more urban, and rural areas became denser with churches, there was a natural gravitation toward various denominations. This did not necessarily mean that Americans became more religious, just that the outward institutions scaffolded their beliefs. Similarly, the decrease in church affiliation in much of the modern world suggests a reverse process as individuals decouple their spiritual beliefs (if they have any) from religious institutions. A dynamic such as this explains why at least half (usually more) of those surveyed with ‘No religion’ in the United States express a belief in a God or Higher Spirit. One can have religiosity without religion. One can also have irreligiosity with religion when one considers the norm in some societies of church membership because for cultural reasons (Scandinavia is a case of this). So when people say that ‘religion is not important’ in their lives, one must be cautious, because there are people who would self-characterize as very spiritual and supernaturalist in their belief systems who would nevertheless balk at being associated with ‘organized ‘religion.””
(There may be some good news for those of us in the mainline denominations that are struggling to retain a close connection with secular culture while not being subsumed by it – the large numbers of people who believe in God but who are not “religious” are probably very similar to the “God-fearers” that were common during the early years of the Church. And who were the most productive mission field, especially for people like St. Paul who specifically reached out to them.)
Read the rest here: Gene Expression: Why the gods will not be defeated
I agree this is interesting, Fr. Nick. I really do think the Episcopal Church is doing the right things; even with all our struggles, we are one of the few out there that allow and encourage a spiritual journey, rather than demanding an instant conversion. And I do feel we – or at least something – is/are having an effect on the religious landscape in an up-to-now unanticipated way: the atmosphere in our church is really loving, when much of Christianity now has the reputation of being harsh and rulebound. I think this has started to change (not everyplace, of course); I think we’ve turned some sort of corner, and that we’re going to come out OK, mainly because of this.
Take a look, though, at the comments on some of the British “secular” websites – this one, for instance: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/0,,2093752,00.html – and it’s evident how hostile the environment is in some places. So it will still be hard work – but we’re on the right road.