Allergic To Religion?

Remember that old Chinese curse? “May you live in interesting times.”

Boy, do we ever!

I can’t help wondering what people living  40-50 years hence will think about this fraught time in America. (Actually, wondering about that is an exercise in optimism–it assumes climate change hasn’t eradicated what we call civilization…)

The multiple offenses of Donald Trump will of course receive treatment by historians, but I wonder how those future scholars will connect the various “dots” that led to his “election” and especially how they will view what may be the roots of a newly secular, evidence-based age. (Okay, I said I was an optimist…)

A month or so ago, FiveThirtyEight–Nate Silver’s blog–reported that Christian fundamentalists were driving more liberal people–especially young people– away from all religion, and as a consequence, away from the GOP.

A few weeks ago, the Democratic National Committee formally acknowledged what has been evident for quite some time: Nonreligious voters are a critical part of the party’s base. In a one-page resolution passed at its annual summer meeting, the DNC called on Democratic politicians to recognize and celebrate the contributions of nonreligious Americans, who make up one-third of Democrats. In response, Robert Jeffress, a Dallas pastor with close ties to Trump, appeared on Fox News, saying the Democrats were finally admitting they are a “godless party.”

This was hardly a new argument. Conservative Christian leaders have been repeating some version of this claim for years, and have often called on religious conservatives and Republican politicians to defend the country against a growing wave of liberal secularism. And it’s true that liberals have been leaving organized religion in high numbers over the past few decades. But blaming the Democrats, as Jeffress and others are wont to do, 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.

A number of surveys, including those by Pew (the “gold standard” in survey research) have found the percentage of religiously unaffiliated Americans increasing substantially over the past few years . The reasons for that shift are complicated, but as the article notes, politics has been 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.”

Nearly one in four Americans today is religiously unaffiliated. Nearly 40 percent of liberals are, and that’s an increase of 12 percent since 1990, according to the 2018 General Social Survey. The number of self-identified conservatives and moderates who are unaffiliated has also risen, but less dramatically.

Social scientists were initially reluctant to entertain the idea that a political backlash was somehow responsible, because it challenged long-standing assumptions about how flexible our religious identities really are. Even now, the idea that partisanship could shape something as personal and profound as our relationship with God might seem radical, or maybe even a little offensive.

But when two sociologists, Michael Hout and Claude Fischer, began to look at possible explanations for why so many Americans were suddenly becoming secular, those conventional reasons couldn’t explain why religious affiliation started to fall in the mid-1990s. Demographic and generational shifts also couldn’t fully account for why liberals and moderates were leaving in larger numbers than conservatives. In a paper published in 2002, they offered a new theory: Distaste for the Christian right’s involvement with politics was prompting some left-leaning Americans to walk away from religion.

Subsequent research confirmed the thesis. The newly political Christian right energized religious voters, but Christian conservatives’ social agenda prompted other people to opt out of religion entirely. “It’s like an allergic reaction to the mixture of Republican politics and religion,” said David Campbell, a political scientist at the University of Notre Dame.

Campbell also warned that increasing secularism is reducing churches’ ability to bring a diverse array of people together–something that, theoretically at least, helps to break down partisan barriers.

Add this social shift to the other massive social changes we are experiencing, and the ability of those future historians to make sense of it all looks pretty daunting.


  1. Racism Trumps Secularism: I am beginning to count my secular (atheist, agnostic, and skeptic) acquaintances who have bought back into religion because religion seems to them to have adopted their racist views. I count more than a few. Let future historians untangle that mess.

  2. “The newly political Christian right energized religious voters, but Christian conservatives’ social agenda prompted other people to opt out of religion entirely.”

    In many recent years I have known and been aware of more friends who have become “former members” of various organized religions. They are now considered being “liberals” and anti-religious when in fact their faith and spirituality has strengthened; minus the control, confines and demands made by organized religions.

    With Pastor Pence named in the list of those to be questioned regarding the impeachment inquiry; the only religious connection I can imagine him sermonizing is that Trump’s release of the transcript of that now infamous July 25th phone call to the new President of Ukraine is that it is merely “casting pearls before swine”.

    “Add this social shift to the other massive social changes we are experiencing, and the ability of those future historians to make sense of it all looks pretty daunting.”

    Rudy Giuliani’s said his support of Trump’s “favor” request of the president of Ukraine is covered in the Constitution in Article II, Section 3. The interviewer confronted Rudy with the fact that his statement meant if Trump had not broken the law with his request for a favor he would have been breaking the law. Can we get any lower? I will retain my faith and spirituality and treat my allergy to Republican evangelical christianity (sic) by voting for any Democrat running for any position.

  3. It seems to me that people make much more of religion than God does. Still, it makes me a little sick that evangelicals call themselves Christian while violating nearly every tenet of Christianity.

    Happy New Year!

  4. Great analysis. Has always been true. Secular Judaism remains a great example. Secular Jews way more liberal.

  5. Why can’t we live in the 1950s? #MAGA

    Nostalgia or conservatism go hand in hand. Liberals and progressives are forward-thinking while conservatives are backward-thinking. Globalism is terrifying to conservatives.

    Trump/Pence has hit all those notes. Unwinding agreements with our trade partners and withdrawing from climate accords, all fit this pattern. Brexit is both anti-immigrant and wanting to go back in time when the U.K. was a great western empire.

    As AI hits the scene, how will the religious leaders and their followers react?

    The Oligarchs who thrive in Capitalism love the religious community because they are conservatives and traditionalists. I see memes all over FB about the Democrats wanting “free stuff” — in a mocking and condescending style. It’s almost as if their critical thinking skills have been switched off.


    Religion should bring us together as One, but it does not. On a global stage, religions have a problem serving the people because they cannot seek Unity — religion sows division. Historians will view this period in time as an awakening. We are currently taking the two steps backward that always comes during Change.

  6. As my wife likes to say, the problem with organized religions are that they are organized. If my understanding of early Christianity is reasonably correct, the gnostics rejected organized religion in the sense that “religious authorities” should tell us what we should believe. You had to come to an understanding on your own.

  7. Larry you’re right. Racism trumps Secularism. I would also add: As in Nazi Germany, Fascism trumps Christianity, proved by the 60% of the Christian churches who voted to be Nazified.

  8. It was technology….e.g. internet and access to it.

    Most millennials got their first access back in the early/mid 90s.

    It also marked the advent of Windows graphical interface, Apple’s Mac as well as the first graphical interface browser Internet Explorer.

    And they were off……..

  9. Authoritarians love their pecking order especially but not necessarily only when it favors their race, religion, country of origin, or other traits.

    Liberals love their freedom especially when everyone else shares it which is the only kind that works.

  10. Hocus Pocus doesn’t pay. Prayers don’t get answered. Nobody has come back from the dead. People who spend most of their waking hours staring at an iPhone (Hoping for an image makeover, no doubt) can’t fit the abstractions, fantasies, and fairy tales of organized religion into 280 words.

    Allergic? Sure. Politicians have ALWAYS used religion as a cudgel for their agenda. Why do you think shamans are so well connected to tribal leaders?

  11. Many forces have driven people–especially young people–away from organized religion. The ‘I’m spiritual, but not religious,’ schools organizing athletic games on Sunday morning, and the endless stream of criminal behavior from some denominations. But, nothing is as powerful as the political beliefs that have become so much a part of the ‘creeds’ of the religious right that many people just can’t stomach it. As a progressive Christian, I find this really disheartening. The policies and practices around immigration, healthcare, racial justice, gun control, stewardship of the environment, pro-life only when it serves as a justification to control women, to name the most obvious, are so contrary to anything Christ ever preached, the hypocracy is just too much to stomach. It’s telling that we have a presidential candidate, a Hoosier, who is finally calling this out.

  12. Larry, I don’t believe we can afford to “Let future historians untangle that mess.” From USA Today, less than an hour ago:

    “In a series of late-night tweets on Sunday and early -morning Monday, Trump raised the specter of “Civil War,” accused one key investigator of “treason,” said some of his own aids may be “spying” on him, and accused the Democrats of trying to “destabilize” the country a year ahead of his 2020 re-election.”

    In his defense, I don’t see any other choice for him, since he failed in his attempt to play the American Jews and the African-Americans against each other, as he and Steve Bannon had originally planned.

  13. It is no wonder our “Constitutional Fathers” rightfully debated and concluded with the enduring wisdom in support of separation of church and state. Today’s discussion demonstrates beyond reason of doubt they were prudent then and right today.

  14. “In response, Robert Jeffress, a Dallas pastor with close ties to Trump, appeared on Fox News, saying the Democrats were finally admitting they are a “godless party.”

    No doubt Robert Jeffress is Trump’s man to speak-out since he is the pastor at the First Baptist Church of Dallas which is the GROUND ZERO for the spread of the deadly religious hatred that has permeated not only the U.S. but also for much of the rest of the planet for over 50 years.

  15. The most comprehensive data we have on religious groups was the last census in 2010. There were 50,013,107 self identified “Evangelical Protestant”s.

    A different way of looking at it

  16. when the America dream supports the goals and intrests of all, many are walled in by a social science of religion. i travel around the country,and being in the working class,and working everyday,i talk and discuss many a item,with many. many as in, the type and lifestyle they are persuing.
    research being mentioned here in this subject today,maybe i dont say whether the final conclusion is the same,maybe im in the fringe. as the religious question gose, the working class many believe in a god,but rarley practices it. many are profoundly religious,and this now in many times becomes a heated discussion, one said a word,its the tone from these people. many see and realize they are being,not questioned,but subject came up,or,in a passing reference. cut and trimmed manners,conservative vehilcle,white picket fence,kids in a near white school. did they trample on a reason why? no, they made the decision. many follow because its their past upbringing,and the friends that keep the circle. im being critical here. if you walk on the side they walk on,you are expected to,follow,place of buiness,and what you do on what free time you have. i was once delivering a load into a yard of a private home,religious,and well kept ,and nice people…in conversation,he passed onto me,you should belong to a church,mine offers loans and financing for a buisness…morman? no. just a mega church with the conservitive following,(do they single out,for this help?)by standards,yours..are they ours? this was near san bernardino,ca.
    not down south..religious orgs have sprouted out and taken a political view,and demandship,from its followers. sounds freaky,and it is.religious institutions,many have become outright demanding your time,money,and their so called needs. when im confronted by religious people who claim we cant survive in todays world,i just say,try living in todays one tells you,you can not practice,or have a church,in your view,the people who want to join,or in your neighborhood. but damn us if we want to live in America, living our dream.. recent attitudes i get seem to place me in the same pool as those who,are denying the religious to even survive,since when? never..if you wish to,practice,then enjoy,if you wish to convict via a bible and your precieved moral standings via,the bible,then you tread on me. some convict,and persecute via religion,because the moral standards are threatning them.
    i find evangicals professing a shria type religious law,and want our democracy to adopt it. (present day issue,trumps phony hypocrites)opps,that wouldnt be democracy anymore,more like authoritarianism. may be they are driving away many,and many are finding it a centeries old scam to opinion,but well discussed…

  17. John,

    “The most comprehensive data we have on religious groups was the last census in 2010. There were 50,013,107 self identified “Evangelical Protestant”s.

    A different way of looking at it.”

    That’s also the right way of looking at it. Where are the brave souls who plan to oppose all of that? I’m 82, am I too old?

  18. Great comments today.

    The bottom line for me is that many organized religions have been created to control people and to have power over others. Wars have been started and fought over religious beliefs. Innocent people have been tortured and murdered in the name of religions.

    ALL organized religions were created by human beings. It is very unfortunate that some of them became so bastardized over time in order to exert mental and physical power and control over others in order to maintain or grow their numbers. The extreme actions their leaders are willing to use can work only on the weak-minded or on the children who grow up within their twisted religions.

    In this country the evangelicals love to sow fear about the “Sharia Law” of Islam and that is why we cannot accept Muslims into our country. Those of us who are sane enough to be capable of critical thinking view those evangelicals as already having their own Evangelical Sharia Laws that they have been attempting to force onto the rest of our country for decades. With pence as the VP, they can see the possibility of their Sharia Laws becoming a reality. He has given them the conservative supreme court they wanted and so much more.

  19. One of my quotes … and I don’t know who said it….is: “I feel about Jesus the way I feel about Elvis. I love the man, but I have trouble with his fan club.”

  20. Mystery of apostate liberals solved: Churches tell their people what to think, while liberals are far more focused on how to think. Critical thinking is anathema to religionists and the gold standard for liberals. Churches insist that members’ highest duty is to authority figures, while liberals believe that dissent is the highest form of loyalty. Churches raise con men and fools to positions of authority while liberals attempt to limit their damage. Churches institutionalize then ignore pedophilia while liberals promote efforts to protect children. Churches support anyone who agrees to enhance their power while liberals insist on an ethical base for governance. Conservatives believe that all men are self-made and fully independent while liberals endorse help for those caught up in destructive systems and insurmountable social problems. Churches and their conservative adherents believe people should be told how to think and act while liberals believe in freedom with accountability. Churches believe in ghosts, angels, saints, turning wine into blood and wafers into bread, resurrection, life everlasting, dressing up in robes and all manner of insupportable nonsense while liberals rely on scientific evidence to lead them to fact-based conclusions. Churches approve of making up stories to support anything that sounds religious or supportive of religion (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the one true church) while liberals require logic, thoughtfulness, and provable reality as their daily bread. Religions (some more than others) are death cults which advocate that dying to be with Jesus/god/Mohammed, etc. is preferable to living on earth while most liberals have a common goal of living life to its fullest. Each religion sees itself as favored by God over other religions, while liberals believe that the path to true spirituality to to love others, lead an ethical life, and do good works.

    None of this is meant to denigrate the good works that many members of churches perform. But it is an attempt to point out that kind acts do as much good in a secular context as they do when the agent is bowing to the a holy (wholly) ghost.

  21. 2000 US Census reports total evangelical Christians to be (then) a puny 2,154,000.

    Ten years later that number has increased to over 50 million evangelicals? And some of us are claiming a decrease in evangelicals and an increase in non-affiliated/non-believers. Something isn’t adding up.

  22. As a matter of fact, most Democrats, as well as, Republicans are WISHFUL THINKERS, both believing there will be a positive future on the routes they are moving along. It’s best called: FUTURCIDE.

  23. Despite its many flaws and sins, organized religion has at least one very useful virtue.

    I’ve had the unhappy experience of wanting to help needy people but did not have the means. Sometimes the needs of people are multiplied by sheer population, for instance, famine in Yemen, which makes my $25 nearly useless. That is where organized religion demonstrates its priceless value.

    There are times when, aside from “helpful”Nations with strings attached, only organized, very large religions have the means and the organization to provide large scale help.

    For example, in Indiana, when there is a catastrophe such as a tornado, the Adventist church makes itself immensely useful. It owns its own fleet of semi-trucks and stores in warehouses its own emergency supplies of food and medicine, and often it is the first relief aid a devastated community receives. I could not manage that level of help and neither could any of you.

    Despite its many flaws and sins, organized religion has at least one very useful virtue.

  24. As I sometimes question elsewhere, do we have the religion of Jesus or one about him? I think the latter, and I think the pecking order of its administration belongs to medieval monks, as in, Charlemagne and other so-called Holy Roman Empire emperors who had first to be approved by the then pope before assuming the throne, and as an aside and at the risk of being labeled an elitist, I note that Charlemagne was illiterate.

    I also think Falwell and others of his ilk with their authoritarian airs have and are undermining the religion of Jesus today, quite aside from politics. Jesus was our first known separation of church and state aficionado with his admonition to “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what was God’s.” Barry Lynn agrees, but Falwell and his TV preachers who preach a religion about Jesus disagree. There’s more money in merger, not to mention the publicity available in consorting with politicians, a sickening exercise to those who believe in the religion of Jesus.

    Given such an environment as we have today, both religious and political, I am not surprised that we are witnessing a rather precipitous drop in those who identify themselves as religious and an increase in those who identify themselves as spiritual rather than religious. Figures.

  25. Larry and Marv,

    My source is Michael C. LeMay’s book “U.S. Immigration Policy, Ethnicity, and Religion in American History” His “Table 1.2” cites “Source: Data from 2010 Census.”

    Scary, when you reflect on the fact that Trump had 63M votes in 2016

  26. In my own experience, many of the deeply religious people I know or have known, find it much easier to turn their lives over to authoritarians who would have them believe whatever their Bible or holy book of any kind tells them to believe. They don’t have to ask any questions, have any doubts, examine any other perspectives. They believe they have a map to follow to the treasure and will follow it no matter how dangerous, absurd or futile those directions are.
    I would pity them if they were not often evangelizing and encouraging others, especially children, to embrace that same mindless obedience to authority. Pedophiles and other abusers find those most vulnerable easy prey, ripe for the picking.

    Jeffress is a Southern Baptist whose brand of religion does not allow women as pastors, which in reality means they cannot preach. The same can be said for the Catholic Church, as well as less well known denominations. His public and very vocal support for a man who lies with nearly every breath, is a serial adulterer, a fraud and sexual predator should tell any potential new members of his flock, especially women, to run away as fast as possible. Then again, it is sometimes easier to let someone else make all the decisions. You don’t have to think , question or doubt. Someone else will always be there promising to take care of you, no matter what. Just send us your money.

  27. I walked away from organized religion almost half a century ago and the Republicans’ embrace of both fundamentalist Christianity and racism [and their mixing of the two] long ago convinced me I did the right thing.

    That said, I predict that secular folks will find their own causes to unite around — in fact I’ve seen it happening for a number of years now. There’s feeding the poor, for instance. Welcoming the stranger. Finding common cause with “the other.” You know — the things religion used to advocate before it started telling you who to vote for.
    Rather than putting their money into the collection plate on Sundays, people have been finding causes they support and “tithing” their money and time to those. It’s not about religion. It’s human nature.

  28. Republicans, at their core, are opportunists. They saw the opportunity to exploit the weak-mindedness and bigotry inherent in evangelical Christianity. And so they did just that. These particular sheep really didn’t need much coaxing since they were half-way down the rabbit hole of racism before Nixon played the race card.

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