America’s relentless slide toward secularism worries faithful GOP

America’s relentless slide toward secularism worries faithful GOP October 3, 2019

America is spiritually and politically transforming into a more secular nation, but not with the suddenness of a tornado strike.

secularism politics christianity
Ripples in a pond. (Rod Brazier, Flikr, CC BY-ND 2.0)

It’s more like a pebble thrown in a pond, with its ripples slowly but relentlessly fanning out and eventually reaching everywhere on the water’s surface.

This complex and unfurling phenomenon is very readably presented in an excellent Jonathan M.S. Pierce post published Sunday in his A Tippling Philosopher blog in the Patheos nonreligious hub.

Titled “The Christian Right Is Helping Drive Liberals Away From Religion,” Pierce’s article references an article with the same headline in the ABC News online site FiveThirtyEight, which discusses how “liberals are being pushed away from religion, and by extension, into the arms of the Democratic Party.”

Pierce notes that the Democratic National Committee (DNC) “formally acknowledged” recently that nonreligious voters are now “a critical part of the party’s base,” comprising about a third of Democrats. He points out that Christian Right apologists, such as top evangelical Trump confident Robert Jeffress, a Dallas pastor, contend it shows the Democratic Party is officially “godless.”

 “But blaming the Democrats, as Jeffress and others are wont to do,” the FiveThirtyEight piece argued, “doesn’t capture the profound role that conservative Christian activists have played in transforming the country’s religious landscape, and the role they appear to have played in liberals’ rejection of organized religion.”

FiveThirtyEight added these explanatory notes:

“Researchers haven’t found a comprehensive explanation for why the number of religiously unaffiliated Americans has increased over the past few years — the shift is too large and too complex. But a recent swell of social science research suggests that even if politics wasn’t the sole culprit, it was an important contributor. ‘Politics can drive whether you identify with a faith, how strongly you identify with that faith, and how religious you are,’ said Michele Margolis, a political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of “From Politics to the Pews: How Partisanship and the Political Environment Shape Religious Identity.” ‘And some people on the left are falling away from religion because they see it as so wrapped up with Republican politics.’”

Pierce’s take on this is that “rather than looking at the nonreligious and liberals as being behind their own move towards the Democratic Party, this is arguably more about them being repelled by the Christian hard right.”

Margolis also wrote:

“Politics can drive whether you identify with a faith, how strongly you identify with that faith, and how religious you are. And some people on the left are falling away from religion because they see it as so wrapped up with Republican politics.”

Pierce acknowledges that the religious-political transformation is not “neat and tidy,” as there are still “some secular conservatives and even more religious liberals,” but he believes the trendline is clear toward a far less religiously doctrinaire society at some visible but indistinct point in the future.

Many religiously unaffiliated citizens seem to share an almost “allergic reaction to the [current] mixture of Republican politics and religion,” Pierce writes, quoting David Campbell, a Notre Dame political scientist who co-authored a study on recent religious-political trends.

Of particular interest to the DNC is the fact that, according to recent surveys, “the youngest liberals — who have never lived in a political world before the Christian right — are also the most secular,’” Pierce stresses. And they tend to marry secular spouses and have religiously apathetic kids.

Pierce credibly points out that the DNC knows full well that the religious and political future belongs to the young (of today), who are largely secular in worldview.

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