IT’S A WEDNESDAY night in early November and the sanctuary of Redemption Church in Olathe, Kan., is full. The audience, mostly 20- and 30-somethings, is listening in rapt attention to Mike McHargue, better known as Science Mike. Self-proclaimed science enthusiast McHargue, co-host (with musician and songwriter Michael Gungor) of The Liturgists Podcast, is doing a live episode of his solo side podcast, Ask Science Mike, as part of a tour for his new book, Finding God in the Waves.
After questions ranging from the neurological effect of belief on the brain to the role of women in the church, a young man stands and shares his story. He works at a conservative church, he says, and finds his beliefs are starting to differ from the people he works with. Finally, he asks, “When you start to ask big questions, and you don’t know where they’re going, and you don’t know where they’ll take you, how do you find the courage to continue to move forward when you know it might have dramatic consequences?”
“I have terrible news,” McHargue answers. “If this continues, you will not fit in where you are. How do I know? There are a thousand people at a Baptist church, who I love dearly, who could not stand to be in a room with me, because I’m the one who rebelled against the tribe.” He pauses a moment before continuing. “Here’s the other thing. This is good. The way you understood God, that served you for so long, isn’t working anymore because you’re growing. ... So I say, get excited.”
McHargue and his Liturgists Podcast co-host Gungor are no strangers to questions about belief, doubt, and straying from the theological tribe. Both men grew up in conservative evangelical churches, and both men lost their faith as adults, regaining it in a different form later on. It’s an experience familiar to plenty of the millennials and Gen-Xers who make up the “nones,” the growing portion of the U.S. population who have no religious affiliation.
A quarter of U.S. adults do not affiliate with any religion, a new study shows — an all-time high in a nation where large swaths of Americans are losing faith.
But while these so-called “nones” outnumber any religious denomination, they are not voting as a bloc, and may have little collective influence on the upcoming presidential election.
The rapid growth of the religiously unaffiliated, charted in a survey released by the Public Religion Research Institute on Sept. 22, is raising eyebrows even among those who follow trends in American religiosity.
Fewer men than women show up in U.S. churches, and women are markedly more likely to pray and to hold up religion as important. But in Muslim nations, it’s the women who are missing in action at the mosque — and yet they’re on par with men in upholding almost all the Muslim pillars of faith.
Bernie Sanders’ primary victory in the Granite State Feb. 9 made him the first-ever non-Christian to win a presidential primary in U.S. history. In addition, depending on whether you count Barry Goldwater as Jewish (his ancestors were Jewish but he identified as Episcopalian), Bernie Sanders could be considered the first Jewish primary winner in history as well.
The run-up to the Feb. 1 Iowa caucus has shifted from who is toughest on ISIS or immigration or Obamacare to an all-out scramble to court evangelicals — an estimated 60 percent of Republican caucus likely voters. However, a new report from the Public Religion Research Institute shows that evangelicals may be sharing their November election clout with a different voting bloc. PRRI found about one in four Iowans identify as evangelical but a similar percentage say they have no religious identity, the nones.
The Secular Coalition for America, a lobbying group with atheist, humanist and other nonbeliever member organizations, has hired a Christian as its new executive director. Larry Decker, 40, was raised in an independent Baptist church but now identifies as a “none” — one of the 23 percent of Americans who say they are religiously unaffiliated, according to the Pew Research Center. Like the majority of nones, Decker is not an atheist; he still identifies as a Christian, albeit a nominal one.
Political candidates are facing a new reality: Within the Democratic coalition, there are more religiously unaffiliated voters than belong to any single religious group.
This is a significant change in American politics, where nonbelief has long been a liability.
Survey data show that Americans with no religious affiliation are a growing share of both major political parties. But the trend is particularly strong within the Democratic coalition, where the unaffiliated now represent 28 percent of those voters, according to a new Pew Research study.
Americans as a whole are growing less religious, but those who still consider themselves to belong to a religion are, on average, just as committed to their faiths as they were in the past — in certain respects even more so.
The 2014 U.S. Religious Landscape Study, released Nov. 3 by the Pew Research Center, also shows that nearly all major religious groups have become more accepting of homosexuality since the first landscape study in 2007.
The new study may provide some solace to those who bemoan the undeniable rise in America of the “nones” — people who claim no religious affiliation.
“People who say they have a religion — which is still the vast majority of the population — show no discernible dip in levels of observance,” said Alan Cooperman, director of religion research at Pew.
Most Americans see a conflict between the findings of science and the teachings of religion.
But “see” is the operative word in a new Pew Research Center report issued Oct. 22.
Examining perceptions leads to some unexpected findings.
While 59 percent of U.S. adults say they saw science and religion in conflict, that drops to 30 percent when people are asked about their own religious beliefs.
It turns out that the most highly religious were least likely to see conflict.
You don’t have to believe in God or identify with any religion to see a creator’s hand in human life and morality, suggests a new survey.
LifeWay Research’s overall finding — that most Americans believe there is a creator who designed the universe and defines human morality — is not surprising. After all, 3 in 4 U.S. adults identify with a religious denomination.
The surprise is that so many people who don’t identify with a religion — so-called nones — agree.
As an undergraduate student at a Christian university, I realize that my degree of experience within American social trends is limited to the last two decades. However, my age does not disqualify my faith as a Christian, nor should my faith as a Christian disqualify my faculty of reasoning.
I cannot speak as one who knows the mind of God, but as a Christian I have been called to have the mind of Christ. And through careful inspection of the texts left for us, it is possible to discern what a Christ-like mind is — what a Christian mind is supposed to be.
The findings show that as many as 45 percent of Americans will look at the church brand on the sign out front — Catholic or Baptist or Methodist or whatever — and drive past, thinking it is “not for me.”
And yet, McConnell said, the survey reveals an openness in most people — if not a very theologically deep one — to stopping by, even if they declare no religious identity, the “nones.”
“Many people view a church like the ice cream parlor down the road. They think, ‘When I’m in the mood, I can go.’ Church leaders can take it as good news: People haven’t ruled them out. But they have to be a little unsettled at how little people are thinking about this,” said McConnell.
As the 2016 election approaches, atheist, humanist, and other freethinking activists are encouraged. They say their longtime goal of creating a cohesive and formidable secular voting bloc from the diverse and scattered category of the nonreligious has taken new life from the study — and could carry them far if they use the data wisely.
“It is going to translate into a lot of political clout and social acceptance if we manage this correctly,” said David Silverman, president of American Atheists.
The rising number of people choosing “nothing in particular,“ a subset of the "unaffiliated” label, has raised hackles across the theo-political spectrum, from some fundamentalist evangelicals decrying the de-Christianizing of the nation to more mainline Protestant handwringing over the loss of current and future members from already-struggling denominations.
The problem with this range of views (as far as I’ve read) is that, while certainly broad, it’s pretty shallow. There’s nuance to the “nones.” I can say this with confidence as someone who has drifted across the borders of that category once or twice or every other day. While there are certainly those in the group who don’t care about religion, there are also those with complicated feelings. These are people who still see their lives, maybe all life around them, as uniquely religious. Many have even done the work to interpret such complicated feelings, which is no small task.
It’s important to listen to the stories told through the numbers as well as the untold stories. As a non-American, it is surprising to hear my brothers and sisters throw out phrases like, “the church is in decline,” when what you are referring to is the church in America. The global church is alive and well and thriving in many areas of the world, and what joy it would be to allow their voices to speak into the congregations of the global North. Many of the polarizing, divisive issues in the American church, such as gay marriage, abortion, and the death penalty, are being discussed by the global church outside the context of the binary lenses of the American left and right. These outside voices can serve to soften the rhetoric hurled by each side, and also give perspective to the priority placed on them in light of the problems faced by the global South.
The issue isn’t that God does not have power; the issue seems to be more that we do not use the power that God gave to us. While we profess to love God and God’s son Jesus, we are all too ready to dismiss what God gave us in, with, and through the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. While we say we are Christian, we bypass too often the words of Jesus and latch onto other parts of the Bible, most often the words of Paul. While Paul’s writings have their own power, they do not have the power of Jesus’ words, nor do they carry with them the promise of the Holy Spirit, which does have the power to sustain and strengthen us.
The recently released Pew Research Center Report has revealed that Christianity within the United States is on the decline. Christians are freaking out and the fear mongering has begun — many seeing it as an apocalyptic sign of the moral downfall of our secular society coinciding with a theological weakening caused by “liberalism.”
Everyone seems to have an explanation of the data, and among Christians, the infighting has already begun, with most denominations rationalizing their growth, decline, or stagnancy by offering the same explanation: We’re theologically sound and remaining faithful to God while everyone else is getting it wrong.
What Christians must understand — and accept — about these statistics is that religious data about a country doesn’t accurately reflect its corporate actions pertaining to following Christ.
A new survey shows in stark relief that what some are calling the Great Decline of religion in America continues: Since 2012, the U.S. has about 7.5 million more Americans who are no longer active in religion.
Last week, the 2014 General Social Survey was released. The GSS is the gold standard for sociological surveys. Funded by the National Science Foundation, this multimillion-dollar study gives us the most accurate data on American society — including religion.
(An important point to remember as you see the data: Each percentage point increase represents a growth of 2.5 million adults. So a 3-point rise in secularity, for example, means that about 7.5 million people left religion since 2012.)
It snuck up this year, as though I’d almost forgotten about it until I saw friends in another time zone posting Mardi Gras pictures. Mardi Gras is this week? I thought. That means Lent begins this week?! Maybe it’s because I don’t go to church right now, or because I’m not in a spiritual community like I was before I moved cities. But for whatever reason, it came fast and unexpected, and something inside won’t let me pass it up. As much as I disagree with some of the traditional teachings about Easter and various interpretations of why Jesus was crucified, I have always had a penchant for Lent.
Lent is a time that draws out the heart’s ability to draw nigh to your Creator. Of drawing closer to God, to others, to the wide open world around us. A time for spiritual reflection and inner examination. A time to pause. A time for simplicity. A 40-day season containing strong, beautiful symbolism. Death from life. Life from death. The two are inseparable. Hope is reborn, recycled out of crushed pain and heartache. The timing of this season enhances the meaning all the more to me, as we begin Lent in the waning winter, in which it is still snowing as I write this. But we end Lent well into spring.
Reading religion surveys can seem like confronting the Tower of Babel: stacked questions, confusing terms, unscientific methodology.
It gets even crazier when results are contradictory. How does that happen?
Some surveys lean like the Tower of Pisa
The Pledge of Allegiance is a perfect example.
There’s almost always a flap over how many Americans do — or don’t — want the words “under God” kicked out of the Pledge of Allegiance. Indeed, on Nov. 19 a court in Monmouth, N.J., will hear the case of the American Humanist Association battling the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District to have schools edit out mention of God.
The humanists claim 34 percent of Americans agree with their view. But, wait. What about a survey conducted earlier this year by LifeWay Research, a Christian research agency? It found that only 8 percent would cut God from the Pledge.
Why four times the difference? Look to the poll language.
LifeWay asked: “Should the words ‘under God’ be removed from or remain in the Pledge of Allegiance to the United States of America?” That’s a straight-up question with no preface.
The humanists’ survey, however, began with a bit of pointed Pledge history — before getting to the (loaded) question:
“For its first 62 years, the Pledge of Allegiance did not include the phrase ‘under God.’ During the Cold War, in 1954, the phrase ‘one nation, indivisible … ‘ was changed to read ‘one nation, under God, indivisible … ‘. Some people feel this phrase in our national pledge should focus on unity rather than religion.