Is the Influence of Religion declining or rising?

Members of the Jansenist sect having convulsions and spasms as a result of religious fanaticism. Engraving by Bernard Picart.

The question sounds simple until you give it a bit of thought?

Here is what I mean.

If you measured it by the rapidly rising numbers of people who are quitting religion, then you can argue that the influence of religion within the US is indeed in decline. Simply look at the vast number of people who now identify as “None”. Your argument would be solid because there is a measurable trend

Case closed, question answered right?

Actually no.

A counter argument is this. The influence of religion is rapidly increasing in US society. Roe vs Wade has been overturned for religious reasons, IVF and also contraception is under attack for religious reasons. Many deeply fanatical religious people are no longer content to keep their beliefs to themselves, they now also believe that they have a divine right to rule and dictate to all of us. They seek to not only grab power, but utilise that power to impose all that they believe upon everybody.

The term used to describe them is “Christian Nationalism“, and way too many still don’t see what is now happening.

We might perhaps complain about Republican political extremism that manifests as book bans, anti LGTBQ, and anti woke, but bubbling away under the surface is not political but fanatical religious belief. This Nationalistic religious belief has successfully hijacked Republican politics and bent it for its own goals. If there was a red wave in Nov then the threat we face from religious extremism is very distinctly real because it has gone mainstream.

Once again the argument concerning the rising influence of religion is solid. There is a rising tide of Religious fanaticism that is successfully gaining more and more power

Can both answers be right?

Yes indeed.

Raw numbers are in decline, but those that remain are no longer constrained by moderates. They are being distilled down into a group of hard core fanatics that have been successfully radicalised. Their influence is increasing, and it continues to ramp up to a very dangerous degree. (Yes SCOTUS and Judiciary, we also mean you).

Are people aware of what is now going on?

Pew Asked the question – we now have an answer

Pew published on March 15, 2024 the results of a poll.

When asked, “At the present time, do you think religion as a whole is … Gaining/Losing influence in American life?”, these are the results they got …

OK yes, I’ve primed the pumps here. Obviously those that said “losing” are right, because just look at the numbers of nones. But those that also said “Gaining” are also correct because look at what is happening in politics.

Rather obviously we don’t get to vote on reality, it is what it is even if nobody believes it. So what does the above Pew chart actually tell us?

Insight 1: It tells us that there are potentially vast numbers of people who may be oblivious to the danger that we now face from the rising tide of religious influence. It has risen to a very dangerous new high water mark and threatens to swamp all of our lives with fanatical extreme religious BS.

Pew being pew, they wisely did a bit of a deeper dive, as they usually do, to probe a bit more.

What do people think, is the decline of Religion a Good thing or a Bad thing?

The answer the poll yields is really not a surprise …

For a breakdown of the results from a poll asking “Is religion Good or Bad?” the above is what you might guess. This is because it more or less mirrors individual religious stances. In a society where roughly two thirds are religious we get roughly two thirds saying religious influence is Good. And again for the other one third, that in turn decomposes into those that are non-religious and also the “I just don’t care” folks.

If indeed you are sincerely religious, then it is very much part of your identity. You will very naturally advise “religion is the side with all the guys wearing white hats, and those outside are the nefarious ones wearing black hats“. Or to put the above outcome another way … “Well duh!”.

However, if I may borrow a popular idiom, the devil is in the detail.

Ask a deeply devoted adherent of almost any specific belief and they will advise you that only their specific belief is the true one, all the others are false man-made beliefs.

In other words try this. Identify what specific belief is retained by the person being polled and then phrase the question in a different manner like this …

  • Ask an evangelical – is the decline of Catholic influence in society a good thing or a bad thing?
  • Ask a Catholic – is the decline of Evangelical megachurch influence in society a good thing or a bad thing?
  • etc…

… and the answers you get will very obviously be rather different.

Insight 2 – When people state that the decline of religious influence in society is a bad thing, they really only mean the decline of influence by people who embrace their specific beliefs.

Imagine how horrified many of the deeply religious evangelicals would be if there was a very sharp uptick in any of the following religious demographics influencing wider society – Catholicism; Mormons; Jehovah’s Witnesses; Islam; Scientology, etc… You would be met with a resounding “Oh no, not that religion, that’s all bad stuff”.

In other words, take the poll results regarding religious influence being good or bad with a rather large mountain of salt because when you think about it a bit more, you will appreciate that it gets fuzzy and complicated.

Did people even know about Christian Nationalism?

Most, 54%, have no idea what Christian nationalism is and have never heard of it …

Of those that are aware, most do not look kindly upon it, and rightly so.

Insight 3: We are blindly marching into a very dark place. You would think people understood who and what they are voting for in Nov, but very clearly they don’t.

Bible vs Will of the people

The Pew poll also reveals that many believe that the Bible should Trump common sense and the will of the people …

42% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say that when the Bible and the will of the people conflict, the Bible should have more influence on U.S. laws than the will of the people. Just 16% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say this.

The Bible is perceived by many to be the ultimate moral guide, hence that answer.

However, permit me to translate that for you. What that 42% are really enabling with that deeply flawed answer is this –

“When some religious bigotry is not supported by the will of the people, then my interpretation of a bible verse supporting that bigotry should trump the will of the people”

In other words, remember to hate the LGBTQ community just like blond-haired blue-eyes white Republican Jesus says you should.

You can very easily demonstrate the degree of absurdity in play here.

Rather obviously the vast majority, the will of the people, reject slavery. But the bible is a pro-slavey text from cover to cover. As I often point out, it even contains explicit instructions on how to correctly beat your slave. In Exodus 21:20-21 …

20 “Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, 21 but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.

According to the Bible, a slave is just property and so beating them severely is just fine as long as they survive that beating for a few days.


If faced with that, then clearly most of those that advocate for the Bible trumping the will of the people when they conflict would explain, “Ah no, not that bit”, and so you get into the game of selecting specific bits on a whim to pacify specific prevailing bigotry.

Insight 4: When people passionately claim they wish to promote bible-believing scriptural laws, they might indeed sincerely believe it, but they really don’t mean helping the poor and welcoming the stranger. Instead what they are actually telling you is that they wish to impose their specific bigotry and just use the bible as an excuse to justify doing that.

Secularism – The only true guarantee for Freedom of Religion

The Pew Poll also reveals this …

21% of Republicans and GOP leaners say the federal government should declare Christianity the official religion of the United States, compared with 7% of Democrats and Democratic leaners.

If indeed they got their wet-dream wish and “Christianity” became the official religion of the United States, then exactly what would that mean?

The 21% do of course mean their specific variation of Christianity and would be deeply opposed to any other faction getting the same.

History is awash with exactly what happens when religious extremism gains access to the leavers of power. The outcome is never good. You can kiss goodbye to concepts such as Religious Freedom and wave it off as it sails away over the horizon.

If indeed you embrace the concept of religious freedom then the only winning formula is one where the state remains totally neutral.

For those unfamiliar with the history of how we got to where we are, then let’s do a brief recap.

In 1802 Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut in response to a letter they had written to him. They had written on the pretext of congratulating him on his election and then proceeded to get to the real reason for their letter. They were being oppressed by the Connecticut Federalist government for religious reasons and so this was a “Help us please”. They were basically the wrong variation of belief as far as the Connecticut Federalist government was concerned.

Side note – the Danbury Baptists are a great example of what happens to religion freedom when there is no secularism. Unapproved variations of religion face oppression.

Jefferson’s reply is rather famous, and so here is a key extract …

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

You have to truly admire his turn of phrase.

It was not just a letter, Jefferson also used his reply to them as a political tool. He made sure that his cabinet members, who were also politicians in New England, and others got a copy, and that it was published. The revelation that there were also multiple edits and revisions tells us that he put a lot of careful thought into wordcrafting it.

Various supreme court cases over the years have leaned upon it. For example the 1878 Reynolds v. United States case cited the Danbury Baptist Letter as “an authoritative declaration of the scope and effect of the [first] amendment.”. The 1947 supreme court McCullom v. Board of Education used it to support the decision to forbid religious instruction in public schools with the observation “in the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect ‘a wall of separation between church and state’.” 

It has become a fundamental principle that much has been built upon. Abandoning it now would be a deeply stupid step.

Well yes, you know all of the above, but sadly way too many tend to either forget it, or simply dismiss it and pretend it never happened, so there is value in repeating it as a reminder.

Meanwhile …

One last gem.

The Pew poll also reveals that nearly all US adults say it is important to have a president who personally lives a moral and ethical life.

Er … yes evangelicals, we do indeed believe you when you tell us that and then vote for Mr grab-them-by-the-pussy, the rapist who faces 91 indictments, and has also so far this year managed to clock up close to half a billion dollars in legal fines for both corruption and also sexual assault. Your Orange Messiah is indeed truly symbolic of the strident hypocrisy that you now incarnate on a daily basis.

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