Utne Blogs > Mind and Body

Are Americans Losing Their Religion?

 by Keith Goetzman


Tags: Spirituality, atheism, agnosticism, religion, religious affiliation, cultural trends,

Church with flagWhy are increasing numbers of Americans declaring themselves as having “no religion”? Don’t automatically assume that a new wave of godlessness is sweeping the land, writes Christopher McKnight Nichols in the Fall 2009 issue of Culture magazine. Nichols attributes the trend to three different factors, none of them having to do with humanism, paganism, socialism, or Satanism taking over:

“First, over the past few decades there has been a marked trend toward sharper polarization among religious outlooks.” Nichols cites the rise of evangelical Christian influence under the George W. Bush presidency, but also the more recent emergence of polemic “new atheists” such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris.

“Second, diverse changes on the geopolitical stage have had profound impacts on images of public religion.” Americans’ common enemy used to be the godless powers of Europe and Asia. Now we are chilled by the specter of Islamist extremists driven by a deep religiosity—and suddenly it’s not so clear whose side God is on. “No doubt there will be important consequences for American civic culture,” he writes, “now that affirming America’s godliness no longer servers to distinguish ‘us’ from ‘them.’ ”

“Finally, alienation from organized religion is growing for other reasons.” While Nichols is hard pressed to speculate on these reasons, he notes that while fewer of us are calling ourselves “religious,” more of us are calling ourselves “spiritual,” indicating a growing acceptance that the two are not synonymous—and that “one can believe in God and yet have no religion.”

Source: Culture (article available in PDF)

Image by *BGP*, licensed under Creative Commons.

annie ory
10/28/2009 7:23:18 AM

I find it interesting that poster Lloyd lists Esther, the most murderous queen in the bible as someone who stood up for what is good and right in difficult times. Esther was a Jewish queen to a non-believing king who decreed at the advice of his counselor to have all the Jews in the kingdom killed. Esther appealed to her husband as a wife and he changed his mind, allowing her instead to arm her people to defend themselves against an assault that never came. Instead the Jews of the kingdom slaughtered the non-Jews for three days and when Esther's love asked his beloved queen if she were satisfied, she asked for another 3 days of murderous revenge against a people who, while racist and hateful, never in fact lifted a finger against her people. In the end, the whole question is why we as a race of beings on this Earth use the notion of a non-existent magic man in the sky to justify our horrible tendency to hatred, and alternately use him to justify our goodness. We all have goodness and hatred inside of us and we are personally responsible for choosing goodness, and for deciding what it means to be good. In Indonesia today they are voting to put a law on the books that will allow them to stone people to death in the name of God and his laws. What kind of god is this? No god at all in my view, it is the ugly hatefulness of humans and a standard excuse for whatever behavior, good or bad, a person or society chooses to engage in.


lloyd_1
9/30/2009 8:45:44 AM

Whether spiritual or religious, we can stand in awe and/or praise of God and the glory of creation, and still abandon the world and human community to destructive human actions. I am certainly not sure about all religions, but Christianity at least, I believe, is damaged and made smaller whenever we are called to speak and act over injustice, but fail to do so. Our silence essentially teaches the broader community that we have nothing to say about justice. I am a Canadian, and attended a preaching conference in the U.S. not that long after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. It was humbling to listen to the predicament in which U.S. preachers were finding themselves. Prophetic preaching about the war, which many felt was called for, was not welcome in their congregations. But it is the same for us all. I think of this excerpt from the biblical book of Esther: "Don't think that just because you live in the king's house you're the one Jew who will get out of this alive. If you persist in staying silent at a time like this, help and deliverance will arrive for the Jews from someplace else; but you and your family will be wiped out. Who knows? Maybe you were made queen for just such a time as this." (The Message, Esther chapter 4). Maybe it is less about where we find God in times such as these, and more about where God finds us.


jeff courter
9/29/2009 7:31:53 PM

What really matters most, here? An individual's self-proclaimed religious identity? Or that person's behavior? It's one thing to SAY we're affiliated with a particular religion - but what counts is whether our actions are consistent with that affiliation. When St. Augustine wrote his "City of God" at the height of the Christian Roman Empire, he noted that although Rome's "official" religion was Christianity, the name alone didn't necessarily make Rome "Christian." In fact, he maintained that Rome COULDN'T be considered Christian, because most of its citizens didn't live up to those standards. And so it is today. Yet I can't help asking - fundamentally, who cares what we SAY we believe? What matters is our behavior. What counts is the degree to which our society continues to demonstrate that "Christian" values such as charity and compassion remain alive and well through daily deeds. As long as these virtues are represented among us, God is still with us, no matter how formally we choose to acknowledge His presence (or not). Jeff Courter www.LifeLoveandTruth.com


michael j contos
9/29/2009 3:39:34 PM

I tell people that I am a "Zen Christian," rather than a follower of Buddhist dharma. It is easier for them to accept and actually permits me to blend the newly discovered teachings of the East with my Catholic up-bringing. It works for me and I don't see it as "religion" per se, but a spiritual outgrowth of the two forms of guidance.


chip miniard
9/29/2009 12:45:14 PM

We do not have to go anywhere to look for God; for God is within us! It's like being a fish and asking where the water is.


ricky barnes
9/29/2009 12:34:40 PM

It should also be noted that one can be, and I'd argue MUST BE, spiritual without a belief in a "god" or gods, goddess, godesses, the supernatural or any other sort of mysticism. There is, I believe, a more mature definition of "spiritual" that encompasses a genuine sense of wonder, awe and joy regarding human life and all of nature that seems too complex and dynamic for traditional religions and common understandings of "spiritual". Because it is spirituality that connects the real with the real, it is the only authentic human spirituality. The purely imaginary can be inspiring and fun, but one cannot live strictly within or from it. A real life in a real world must have a real spirituality. Mysticism cannot provide that.


katje james
9/29/2009 12:07:39 PM

Another very valid reason that people have gone away from organized religion is that people in organized religions seem to have strayed from the value and viewpoints that started those religions in the first place. They proclaim that they are the only ones with a connection to God and they are the only ones that will "make" it so to speak. All the whilst telling you what you can and cannot eat and can and cannot speak... Spirituality is another word for freedom of choice. And it means that you can do good and be good and not because someone told you that you had to be that way...