Why 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)