James Haugh, author and journalist, has written a posting titled “Christianity is Collapsing“. Within it he cites various credible sources that do indeed verify that a huge demographic shift is ongoing within the US religious landscape.
- He cites a Gallup poll to verify that less than 50% of the US population are members of a church … down from 70% just 20 years ago.
- He cites the loss of 2 million members by the Southern Baptist domination since 2006
- He cites a Barna report that confirms that belief in God, the Bible and much more has collapsed from quite high percentages, once 86%, down to as low as 41%, and leading the charge in this are the Millennials (age 18 to 36)
- He also points out that the once deeply influential Evangelicals have now shrunk to just 14% of the US population
Is he right?
Facts are facts, the sources are credible, and yes the numbers he cites are indeed independently verifiable.
Does this really imply the complete collapse of Christianity?
Probably not. I’ll explain why further on.
What is clear is that a huge demographic shift within the religious landscape is in progress.
Why is it like this?
There is no one reason. Instead, what has happened is the result of many different factors over multiple decades.
Briefly, here are some of the rather obvious big-ticket items.
The Political Divide
Individuals who lean politically left or even more traditional classical Republicans, are finding that the embrace of extreme right-wing rhetoric within many churches has created a highly toxic and deeply hostile environment for them. When faced with that, they don’t stick around, but instead quietly walk away.
Children of deeply religious parents are also finding that the embrace of conspiracy thinking, anti-science rhetoric, and anti-intellectualism is something that they simply can’t go along with, and so many of them put aside the beliefs of their parents.
The embrace of a rather obviously non-Christian as a messiah, the supposed chosen one of god, is something that many also find to be theologically unsound and utterly immoral. It is however not just about Trump. A fundamental failure of basic human decency is something that has been seen increasingly for the past several decades within many Christian circles. Corruption and sexual abuse is also rampant. When swept under the carpet within many churches, then later exposed, it motivates some to seriously rethink their beliefs. If the “Born Again” are like this, then it inspires some to consider the thought that the entire concept is a total sham.
Open hostility to the Gay community is also a very fundamental ethical failure. Demonising people for simply being who they are and striving to deny them basic human rights motivates many to reject such dishonest autocratic thinking. They observe that many of those that take the anti-gay stance do so because the bible declares being gay to be an abomination. Yet they also note that the bible declares eating shellfish to be an abomination, and yet nobody pickets fish restaurants that have shellfish on the menu. Such double standards gives those that ponder over it all considerable pause.
Facts such as evolutionary biology are dismissed as myth, and primitive myths are embraced as fact. The latest example of this has been the rampant anti-vaccine stance adopted by many faith communities. Some who declare COVID to be a hoax, view not wearing a mask as a badge of honour. It has become such an extreme stance that it is viewed by some as a literal pro-death cult.
The roots for the prevailing anti-intellectualism run deep and have a long history. What has changed over the last several decades is the arrival of a disruptive force. We all carry within our pockets a device that opens up a vast new flow of information that penetrates deep inside micro-cultural faith-community bubbles. While older generations are perhaps too deeply invested emotionally in the claims that circulate within faith communities to be able to question traditional thinking, the younger far more tech savvy are exposed to a wider more diverse conversation. Ideas are challenged as never before. The result is that many of the crazy beliefs don’t gain as much traction within the newer generations.
Not All Christians
The diversity of belief is vast. There is no agreement or consensus on anything.
What is inevitable is that the more liberal tolerant welcoming variations of belief will continue to thrive. This is not because they are true, but simply because they are welcoming, tolerant, diverse, and not autocratic raging anti-intellectual bigots. You know in your heart of hearts that if a MAGA Christian was actually faced with a middle eastern individual from Galilee, they would immediate dismiss him as a communist troublemaker because of all his talk about helping the poor, and who is also far too brown and simply not white enough.
There is a huge demographic shift taking place within the religious landscape. Vast swathes of evangelicalism have coupled themselves to a deeply flawed personality cult that has embraced demonstratively false conspiracy thinking as “truth”. When that fails and falls, and it will because that is inevitable, then they will also fall with it. Meanwhile, other more tolerant and open variations of belief will live on.