Surveys from Pew and Gallup and other respected pollsters have identified sharp declines in Americans’ religiosity, especially among the young. Some twenty percent of Americans currently report no religious affiliation; among younger cohorts, the percentage is much higher.
The other day, I had a conversation with someone who viewed this rejection of traditional religion with alarm, and wondered what might have caused it. (Video games? Bad parenting? The ACLU, with its insistence on obeying the First Amendment?)
I have a different perspective.
I talk to a lot of students, and what I hear from them is that they are repelled by ostentatious piety displayed by high-profile people who are being hateful or judgmental. They are contemptuous of the fundamentalists’ war on science. They are impatient with people who want to use government to impose their own religious beliefs on others–who want to deny women access to birth control, and who refuse to support equal treatment of their GLBT friends. They roll their eyes when people like Bill O’Reilly or Sarah Palin whine about a “War on Christmas.”
As impatient as they are with rampant hypocrisy, however, the rise of the nones is not simply a reaction to Christians (and Jews and Muslims) behaving badly. The young Americans I know take issues of social justice and ethical behavior very seriously, and a growing number of them have concluded that any morality worthy of the name must be a product of reason rather than blind obedience to dogma.
They are examining all beliefs–secular and religious–and they are testing outcomes. If a belief system promises to improve society, if it promotes equal human dignity and compassionate and loving behavior, it passes the test. If it generates power struggles, if it requires women to be “submissive” and consigns GLBT folks to second-class status–if it marginalizes or denigrates those who are different– it fails.
Works for me.