American adults who say their religion is “none” began to explode in the 1990s and climbed to one-fourth of the population. Among those under 30, the churchless ratio is close to 40 percent. Church membership has dropped 20 percent in two decades. A stunning 13 percent of American adults are ex-Catholics. Southern Baptists have lost 2 million members since 2005. Mainline Protestantism has collapsed so much it’s called “flatline Protestantism.” Rejecting religion has become socially acceptable.
The retreat from supernatural faith has been swift and profound. The Atlantic magazine has observed:
History does not often give the satisfaction of a sudden and lasting turning point. History tends to unfold in messy cycles – actions and reactions, revolutions and counterrevolutions — and even semi-permanent changes are subtle and glacial. But the rise of religious nonaffiliation in America looks like one of those rare historical moments that is neither slow, nor subtle, nor cyclical. You might call it exceptional.
Research has established that nonreligious people have higher intelligence than believers do. And the Flynn Effect shows that IQ in the West is rising about three points per decade. People are getting smarter — and smart people are less likely to accept gods, devils, heavens, hells, miracles, prophecies and other magic claims of religion. Rising intelligence means sinking religion.
A Sept. 28 Pew Research report stated:
Religiously unaffiliated adults — a group also known as religious “Nones” — are more likely to express accepting views of homosexuality, less likely to prefer traditional gender roles in marriages, and more likely to identify with the political left than are adults who identify with a religion.
That’s why if America is lucky, the erosion of churchgoing will bring a steady increase in support for humane public policies.
Do you want universal health care as a human right for everyone? And college that is easily affordable for all, without crushing debt? And continuation of women’s right to choose to end pregnancies? And security for gays against cruelty? And police reforms so white officers stop killing unarmed black men? And greater American involvement in the global battle against the menace of climate change? And sensible protections against gun massacres? And matter-of-fact sex education to reduce unwed pregnancies? And solid support for the public safety net that aids less-privileged families?
Nobody can predict the future — but I think a significant hope lies with the Secular Age that is blooming all around us.
FFRF Member James A. Haught, syndicated by PeaceVoice, was the longtime editor at the Charleston Gazette and has been the editor emeritus since 2015. He has won two dozen national newswriting awards and is author of 12 books and 150 magazine essays. He also is a senior editor of Free Inquiry magazine and was writer-in-residence for the United Coalition of Reason.