I have frequently made the argument that the flight of the under 30 generations from organized religion bears a direct correlation to the anti-gay jihad that many denominations continue to conduct against LGBT citizens. Many more of this age bracket have LGBT friends and/or know LGBT individuals. As a result, they are repulsed by the standard depiction of gays disseminated daily by "family values" groups and church organizations like the Southern Baptist Convention and the Roman Catholic Church (both of which are suffering from membership losses - especially if non-active members are stripped from church rosters). Indeed, many of these supposed Christian groups and churches represent the strongest argument for not being a Christian that one can find. Wayne Besen has a column in Huffington Post that sets forth thoughts like my own on this topic. Here are some highlights:
A new poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reveals that a record number of Americans (19.3 percent) have abandoned faith and now consider themselves unaffiliated with any particular religion. According to USA Today:
This group, called "Nones," is now the nation's second-largest category only to Catholics, and outnumbers the top Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptists.If you want to understand the reasons behind this trend, take a moment to read a disturbing letter that Twin Cities Catholic Archbishop John Nienstedt sent to the mother of a gay son. In it, the holy man told the mother that her "eternal salvation" might depend on whether or not she embraced the anti-gay teachings of the Catholic Church, thus rejecting her own child. Talk about family values!
Such a callous admonition might have worked in the past, when people had little education. It might have resonated in bygone eras, when gays and lesbians were invisible and easy to demonize as the "other." It might have held sway had the Catholic Church's credibility not been left in tatters after the church spent more than $2.5 billion to clean up the wreckage wrought by pedophile priests and their enablers.
While Nienstedt's arrogance and cruelty stands out as particularly odious, it isn't just Catholicism that is in decline.
I, for one, believe that the 19.3-percent figure for Nones is too low. A substantial number of people identify themselves in surveys as belonging to a particular faith for one of three reasons:
When people see their own sons and daughters and friends and co-workers coming out, it creates a crisis of credibility for religious institutions. It leads to countless situations where mean-spirited men like Nienstedt demand blind, irrational obedience and say "take it or leave it" -- and more people are now following their consciences and walking away.
- Habit: People over 30 were brought up in a world where everyone was presumed to have a religious affiliation as both a mark of faith and cultural identity. So, when asked whether they belong to a faith group, they reflexively check the box, with little thought to their own belief system or actual adherence to the religious convictions they claim. As the "Nones" make themselves more visible, it gives these folks a new box to check -- and many of them will.
- Fear: For centuries it was dangerous for people to acknowledge their genuine beliefs. "Today, there's no shame in saying you're an unbeliever," Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler complained in USA Today.
- Politics: Even today, if an ambitious person wants a successful career in politics, it is easier to fake having faith than to acknowledge being a nonbeliever. The result is that politicians appear significantly more devout than the general population. Once this taboo falls, which is likely to occur in the next decade, it will open the door to a more honest dialogue about the role of religion in public life.
Add to this premise the reality that science is proving that the Adam and Eve of the Bible are fictional characters and that, therefore, there was no Fall through Adam, and the whole literalistic approach to the Bible begins to collapse. And it is happening most rapidly in the mainline churches which as I have noted before have the highest levels of education (see the charts below). It is no coincidence that anti-gay bigotry and Bible inerrancy are increasingly confined to the most conservative denominations which also happened to be those with the lowest educational levels.
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