By Alan Bean
“About 19.6 percent of Americans say they are ‘nothing in particular,’ agnostic or atheist, up from about 8 percent in 1990.” That statistic is from a report released by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Most of the folks in the broad “None” category (68%) believe in a God of some kind; it’s just that they have no use for organized religion and don’t relate to any of the traditional religious labels.
And then there’s the surprising fact that the Unitarian Universalists grew nationwide by 15.8% in the past decade. Who knew?
Meanwhile, Southern Baptists have been experiencing five straight years of membership decline and have now fallen below the magic 16 million figure they worked so hard to attain.
Overall, evangelical churches are still growing (albeit with less vigor than formerly) while old mainline Protestant denominations like the United Methodists, Presbyterians and Episcopalians continue a half-century plunge in membership and cultural influence. In other words, we are seeing growth among those who define God and the godly life in explicit terms and among those who don’t want to nail anything down.
How do we account for the significant growth on the liberal end of the religious spectrum? According to the WP acticle, the “none of the above” people
are strongly liberal on social issues, including abortion and same-sex marriage, but no different from the public overall and the religiously affiliated on their preference for a smaller government providing fewer services. If they have an issue, it’s that they don’t believe religion and politics should mix.
The “Nones” celebrate the separation of church and state because the Religious Right has become such a dominant force within the Republican Party. Back in 1972, Dean Kelley argued that conservative churches are growing because they place strong doctrinal and behavioral demands on their members. The liberal mainline was in decline because their “can’t-we-all-just-get-along” piety gave congregants little for the heart or the head to feed on. (more…)