Creative Challenge #58: What’s Going On?

You’ve probably seen the news. If not, this article at the CNN website will bring you up to date: There are now as many Americans who claim no religion as there are evangelicals and Catholics, a survey finds. One excerpt should be sufficient:

For the first time “No Religion” has topped a survey of Americans’ religious identity, according to a new analysis by a political scientist. The non-religious edged out Catholics and evangelicals in the long-running General Social Survey. Ryan Burge, a political scientist at Eastern Illinois University and a Baptist pastor, found that 23.1% of Americans now claim no religion. Catholics came in at 23.0%, and evangelicals were at 22.5%. … “It is the first time we have seen this. The same questions have been asked for 44 years,” Burge told CNN. The meteoric rise of religious nones began in the early 1990s and has grown 266% since 1991, he said.

We can’t find where the actual study was published, so that’s all we have to go on. The form of today’s challenge is that you must tell us, with reasonable brevity:

Why are people increasingly choosing “No religion” as their preference?

Your Curmudgeon’s view, which we’ve expressed before, is that it’s primarily due to the work of people like ol’ Hambo and his counterparts at the Institute for Creation Research and the Discovery Institute. Loads of young people look at what they’re doing and say to themselves: “If that’s what religion is, I don’t want any part of it.” But you may have different ideas.

You know the rules: You may enter the contest as many times as you wish, but you must avoid profanity, vulgarity, childish anatomical analogies, etc. Also, avoid slanderous statements about individuals. Feel free to comment on the entries submitted by others — with praise, criticism, or whatever — but you must do so tastefully.

There may not be a winner of this contest, but if there is, your Curmudgeon will decide, and whenever we get around to it we’ll announce who the winner is. There is no tangible prize — as always in life’s great challenges, the accomplishment is its own reward. We now throw open the comments section, dear reader. Go for it!

Copyright © 2019. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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28 responses to “Creative Challenge #58: What’s Going On?

  1. It’s not just Hambo and his ilk who are driving folks away, but also a lot of evangelical and main-line churches who do not allow women in any leadership positions, are very anti anything LGBQT and defining who’s in and who’s out, and are more concerned with money and themselves rather than “the least of these.”

  2. The Curmudgeon asks, “Why are people increasingly choosing “No religion” as their preference?” Answer……vaccines. If these people would only NOT have their children vaccinated for measles and smallpox, diphtheria etc they
    would be accepted back into the fold of the righteous.
    Okay I know I’m obnoxious but personally , I think that answer deserves at least honorable mention in the august and hallowed pantheon of The Curmudgeon’s Creative Challenge reader responses.

  3. @och will
    And what about wind turbines? They cause cancer, so why not atheism, which is cancer of the soul.

  4. Charles Deetz ;)

    The internet.

  5. The Internet — both for exposure to atheism and other faith traditions, and for exposure to creationism-debunking info — and the association of Christianity with far-right politics are two major factors in my opinion.

  6. Dave Luckett

    According to the US State Department, the number of US passports issued cracked 5 million for the first time in 2016. This, however, is only a very modest increase proportional to population since 1970. It is estimated that only 35% of US adults hold a passport, compared to 65% of Canadians and 75% of Australians. It would appear that US citizens are only very slowly becoming more likely to travel abroad, but it is happening, and certainly the raw numbers are increasing. This may explain the slow percolation of the knowledge that the other democracies, including the Anglophone ones, are far more secular, but rains of frogs still seem to be rather rare there.

    But are Americans much influenced by what other countries do, even close friends, allies and nations with western cultures quite like their own? Even those they can travel to and not have to cope with some foreign language? I don’t know. I do know that the US has enthusiastically taken up ideas and customs from other cultures, from sushi to surfing. Perhaps irreligion is another.

  7. Before explaining the de-churchification, I’d like to understand why the USA is about the only one of the prosperous western countries where religion has such a strong foothold (some would say stranglehold). Do the roots lie in colonial traditions, perhaps even originating with the Plymouth Colony? (These people were so crazy even the Dutch got rid of them, go figure).

  8. “Your Curmudgeon’s view, which we’ve expressed before, is that it’s primarily due to the work of people like …..”
    Ah yes, because either
    1) our dear SC once again forgets that the USA isn’t the only western country;
    2) our dear SC thinks the USA are unique and have nothing in common with other western countries.

    As a result he asks the wrong question. See, in all other western countries (though I’m not sure about Australia; perhaps ChrisS and/or DaveL can tell us something) ‘people increasingly have been choosing “No religion” as their preference’ for more than 50 years. So the correct question is: how come that the USA has lagged behind for so long? Or rather: why were the efforts of fundagelicals (resulting in creacrap) so successfull in the 1970’s and 1980’s in the USA but not in say The Netherlands?

  9. I think people simply have more options now. Just as women today have more options than their grandmothers did about simply being homemakers or childrearers, people in developed countries can generally pick and choose more freely about what to believe or follow.

    And yes, I tend to agree with SC that evangelism itself turns off thinking people (which makes it doubly ironic that ‘vangies think the solution to the churches’ and the West’s problems is evangelism, and lots more of it).

    Why Americans are more devout — more fervent; nationalistic — than their Western counterparts, I don’t feel qualified enough to answer, though the regulars here have intimated that it’s tied to the Puritan origins of the nation itself. And something about America’s sense of manifest destiny, which they seem to have borrowed or stolen from Judaism, maybe. That’s never a good thing for anyone to hold, and is another further nail in the DI coffin when they start bleating about it, too.

  10. “it’s tied to the Puritan origins of the nation itself.”
    Dunno. Calvinism is hardly less devout, is closely tied to the origins of The Netherlands and was the dominating religion until fairly recently. Even the current prime minister, Mark Rutte, is protestant. That usually means dutch reformed, ie calvinist. Dutch calvinism has been moderate for 200 years. Sure enough there already was a schism in 1834. That’s the origin of the Dutch Bible Belt.
    Rutte’s predecessor Balkenende is reformed and was leader of the Christian Democratic Appeal until 2010. The CDA has been a main stream party for decades; currently 19 seats out of 150. That’s unthinkable in the USA and the UK. The Christian Union nowadays is the second (5/15), has ironically become more moderate over the years. Ironically CU is called social-conservative by English Wikipedia, while it’s views on economical and social issues are about the opposite of our dear social-conservative SC.
    What I don’t understand is that the roaring sixties (flower-power etc.) began in the USA but also had the hardest push-back. From the 1960’s rebellion against authority in The Netherlands automatically meant rebellion against church. Why did the European Baby Boom generation (inspired as it was by its American role model) go along but did so many American prefer Ken Ham, Ray Comfort and various IDiots? Most of them are Baby Boomers themselves!

    Of course here is a real danger for the creacrap movement: there are precious few youngsters. After another 20 years or so all “leaders” lay down six foot under the ground. The only exception I think of is David Rives, but I think this quote from Encyclopedia of American Loons quite optimistic:

    “Good grief. As feeble as you could possibly imagine, but apparently that is the key to success with this particular audience, and Rives seems to be on the ascendance to something resembling stardom in the creationist circus.”

    So I think demograpy may be key to the decline of religiosity in general and creacrap particularly. A large chunk of the American Baby Boom generation was the exception. I have no idea why.

  11. Dave Luckett

    The Australian census data shows that total respondents professing a Christian religion have declined from 72% of the population in 1986 to 51% in 2016. Other religions have gradually risen from 2% to 9% over the same period. “No religion” rose from 12% to 30%, but a certain amount of caution should be taken with that. The question on religious beliefs is the only one in the census that it is not compulsory to answer. “No answer/not specified” has remained close to 10% of respondents for the same period.

    It would appear that people who actually profess a Christian faith are now in a bare majority in Australia – which does not, of course, mean that they are observant. The best I could find was an extrapolation a few years old from figures provided by four of the Christian denominations plus spot figures from others and some anecdotal material that estimated regular service attenders were no more than 5% of the population.

    I don’t think there’s any doubt that Australia is steadily becoming less religious. And it has been many decades since there was a religious lobby of any real influence on the politics of the country. Nothing that resembles the religious right in America; and we regularly elect atheists and agnostics to high political office.

  12. For me, it’s a combination of the Answers in Genesis nonsense and what they’re teaching kids, and the prosperity gospel preachers. And I think the newer generations just want to treat other people better instead of going along with a thousands-year old EDITED text and it’s antiquated ideas of how to be a good human.

    I’m also noticing that the more I read the Bible, the less of a “book of morals” it seems to be. With all the options out there to learn new things, it seems strange to base everything we should believe or want on what’s taught in ONE book.

  13. @DaveL writes: “I don’t think there’s any doubt that Australia is steadily becoming less religious.”

    Yes, that problem is being addressed. There’s a Scottish evangelical named David Robertson aka The Wee Flea who is coming to rectify the situation, single-handedly. I’ve crossed swords with him at his blog over his belief that the problem of declining faith can best be met with a renewed surge of Bible-based evangelism.

  14. Michael Fugate

    Like the people calling the current Pope liberal or progressive – spare the rod and spoil the child – as if one size fits all. Please add your own cliche…

  15. Mike Elzinga

    The US Constitution carries a paradox in its First Amendment about freedom of religion. Freedom to believe also becomes a legal cover for freedom to deceive, as long as it is done in the name of religion. There is a very high percentage of hucksters throughout the right-wing evangelical movement. They are even willing to make a pact with their Devil in order to get what they want. It’s a money-making operation offering “alternative facts” as a foundation for an alternative “world view.” But those alternative facts don’t line up with reality. Most of these characters are self-“educated” and hate anyone who actually makes the effort to obtain objective verifiable evidence about things.

    Rather than learning about and facing up to real world issues, most of what goes on in their minds is their continual angst about being “persecuted” when in reality they are being rebuffed for trying to punish everyone else for no other reason than to be “on top.” They whine to get their way because they believe they are “morally superior” and know the “Absolute Truth.” They never ever participate in understanding issues and finding solutions; they make all the work fall on others while they sit back and whine and rake in money by preaching vapor solutions to everything.

    I think better communications are revealing exactly what this form of “religion” really is; and people are catching on and rejecting it. Also, the population continues to increase. Young people haver fewer options for permanent mates, and the reality of sex is that it is no longer something that can be “exclusive for marriage.”

  16. I have to think the Catholic Church’s pedophilia priest cover-up got the ball rolling for many people.

  17. In the United States it’s more about “going to church” than “being religious.” When I lived in Oklahoma the first question usually asked was “which church do you go to?” In this country, the answer to “what’s your religion” should be “501(c)” because that’s what most “churches” are – some random dude with a babble exclaiming that “jeebus is my friend!” No doctrine, no tradition, only a rudimentary calendar with Christmas and Easter. However, they all have a collection plate.

    Take Joel Osteen (please!) and his entitled “fined by the FAA, sued by a flight attendant” wife, Victoria. They live in a $20 million mansion, have a fleet of cars and, due to a police report of a robbery of their “church,” apparently rake in about $600,000 in CASH per week, excluding credit card pledges and other donations. Do the math. Osteen preaches the “gospel of wealth” aka pay Osteen and odd-gay will replay you a hundred fold. Of course, the payment is in Quatloos. Osteen entertains about 16,000 slack-jawed droolers per service at his “church,” the former home of the Houston Rockets basketball arena.

    Once the social habit of “going to church” is broken there is no compelling reason for people to return. I suspect that there are a lot more “nones” than the survey reveals because a lot of people would rather lie about being religious or going to church than admit they don’t do either. The social stigma of being a non-believer is huge that it’s often better to go along to get along.

    There is light at the end of the tunnel thanks to, ironically, Trump. The Donald has done more to expose the hypocrisy of evangelicals than all of the Jimmy Swaggart’s and Jim Bakker’s combined, and I suggest that the younger generation has taken note and want no part of the circus. Time will tell, but the trend is holding.

  18. Michael Fugate

    Especially when conservatives act as if the abuse and cover-up is recent – it was the 60s!* – when it has been going on since God was boy. The thing that changed was victims finally getting a voice. I sense a fear of women behind their obsession about sex.

    *The Pope who Quit comes out of a life of quiet contemplation to blame the 60s. Can you imagination Ratzinger with flowers in his hair? Neither can he.

  19. Michael Fugate

    Speaking of myths, doesn’t anyone else see a similarity between the Navajo coyote stories and a certain politician currently in high office?

  20. Speaking of myths, there certainly is a recent rise, in the USA at least, of the most outlandish myths.
    There are people who believe that vacccinations in dogs present a danger for autism in dogs.
    There are people who believe that wind turbines cause cancer.
    (Maybe someone could start a conspiracy theory that firearms, which do cause more deaths to birds than wind turbines, cause autism and/or cancer.)
    Those people who believe that immigration into the United States is a danger to the already full US are not, at least so far, suggesting a “one child” policy a la recent China.

  21. Since 23.1% of Americans now claim no religion, that means 76.9% of Americans claim to be religious, which is still a high number. However, I agree with doc bill that that figure is high due to the stigma attached to being non-religious in this country. If a survey could be devised that would guarantee total anonymity, we’d see something more like 50/50. And if we could read minds rather than rely on stated beliefs, we’d probably find that only about 25% (or fewer) truly BELIEVE! — many people want to think they believe because they have been taught to be afraid of the consequences if they don’t.

    And since we can’t read minds, it’s difficult to say why the number claiming “no religion” is steadily increasing. We can only accurately speak for ourselves, and then guess at what others are thinking. That said, I agree with all the commenters — after all, they are speaking for themselves, as well as making educated guesses about why others may be claiming “no religion”. And since this blog attracts a very well-educated (and highly intelligent) audience, they are likely correct.

    Speaking for myself, I have come to the belief that religion developed as a means for a ruling class of people to control the actions of those ruled. Now, that’s not all bad — civilization could not exist if we killed at will, stole at will, and had no compassion for each other. But do we need a fear of God to keep us in line? Perhaps — at least for some people.

    I think the commenters who cited the observed hypocrisy of politicians and religious leaders as a major cause of the increase of “no religion” in the survey are correct. If true, there’s bound to be a major upsurge in the near future as more and more people become aware of how the Religious Right are ignoring the needs of “the least of these my brethren.”

  22. “Why are people increasingly choosing “No religion” as their preference?”

    Possibly because they’re not being offered a more suitable choice (and in some cases, because they don’t recognize a suitable choice when offered). In the 2018 GSS/NORC survey being hyped by Pastor Burge, the “religious preference” question offered no choice for atheists or agnostics or for many established religions ( ). By contrast, the “confidence in the existence of god” question ( ) shows about 4.6% atheists and about 6.4% agnostics (subject to about a 1.5% margin of error due to the tiny (2348) sample size).

    The roughly concurrent CCES large-sample survey ( ) shows about 6.8% each for atheists and agnostics, based on Pew Research-style questions. At least two respondents who answered “Nothing in particular” to the question also self-identified as Baptists, possibly unaware that that is a Protestant sect. Among those who selected “Something else”, there are a number who apparently objected to the name “Mormon”, identifying by the longer multi-word name for that religion. A few who identified as atheists, but objected to the word. Plenty naming specific Protestant sects, many of whom seem to have had difficulty spelling the name of the sect (or non-sect) (e.g. “babdist”, “Babtist”, “Chistian”, “Chrisrian”, “Christine”, “christon”, “Chritian”, “Evangical”, “pennecoastal”, “Pentalcostal”). Also lots of Pagans and Wiccans, among others. There are a number of issues with surveys of this type, some of which are mentioned in Appendix C of Pew Research’s Religious Typology survey report ( ). Because of these issues and others, grouping all of these together as “nones” doesn’t reveal much; it includes many of the religious who are ignorant of their denomination’s category, those who apparently felt that the survey was an opportunity to proselytize (selecting “Something else” and putting a long screed as a specific (e.g. “I am a follower of Christ, The only begotten son of YHWY, the God of Abraham.”), and believers in various forms of “new-age” woo. So much for “the Enlightenment values of reason”. Even among self-identified atheists, a significant fraction believe in some form of “new-age” woo ( ).

  23. TomS Wind turbines as the cause of no religion choice people?? You betcha ! Best entrant of the day……..

  24. I think it’s due to all the things people have mentioned, but it’s also due to the sex scandals that have rocked Catholic and fundamentalist churches. It’s one thing to preach an oppressive sexual morality when your spiritual leaders are setting the example; it’s quite another to go on preaching it while you’re molesting altar boys or committing flagrant adultery with the women of the church. And I think it is becoming almost impossible to persuade young people that gay sex is the worst abomination on the planet. They simply don’t believe it, and they rightly lose respect for pastors who seem not only bigoted but mean-spirited as well.

  25. I don’t understand the suddenness of the reversal of public opinion on gayness. Even several old people I know are of the attitude “what did we think?”

  26. Weemaryanne

    Reason for throwing away / backing away from / giving up on religion? I think it’s love.

    Religion says I must choose between my gay brother and the man he loves, or my church. I choose my brother because he’s my brother.

    Religion tells me I must choose between my trans child and my church. They say the same to my neighbours down the street whose child recently came out as LGBT. The neighbours choose the church, while I choose my child.

    Religion tells me I mustn’t vote for the candidate who wants to educate children properly and provide for a world that those children may be able to live in, because that candidate isn’t One of Us. I may be poor and powerless but my vote is mine, not theirs to command.

    In this as in every other age, religion has thrown in its lot with the proud and powerful, while love has embraced brothers and children and liberty and the future. I think more people are choosing love.

  27. @Weemaryanne
    that candidate isn’t One of Us
    But when the candidate is most obviously unlike what the Bible says one should be, that’s OK, too. One can always find a proof-text.

  28. Tom S – I think that the ‘suddenness’ is related to the increased willingness of gay people to live who they are, causing many others to do what Weemaryanne stated so well – choosing between my gay relative or good friend and the church, and not choosing church.