The Data Keeps Coming…

Emerging data goes a long way toward explaining the increasing visibility–and acting out–of America’s White Christian Nationalists.

 As commenters to this blog frequently point out, the racial animosity so vividly on display these days is itself not a new phenomenon–far from it. But the visibility–the shamelessness– is new. The willingness to “come out”–to publicly flaunt beliefs and attitudes that had previously been soft-pedaled or hidden–and the virtually complete capture of a major American political party by people who believe that they are the only “real” Americans is a recent (and unwelcome) phenomenon.

Fear often makes people discard the veneer of civility, of course, and these folks are currently terrified. 

It’s bad enough when fear is “ginned up” by propagandists warning of immigrant caravans or computer chips hidden in vaccines, but it turns out that the White Christian Evangelical fear of being “replaced”–of becoming just another thread in a colorful American tapestry–is actually well-founded. 

I’ve recently read several media reports about a study conducted by PRRI , the Public Religion Research Institute. One, by Michelle Goldberg for the New York Times, characterizes PRRI’s findings as “startling.” Goldberg began her column by noting the major role played by the Christian Right in the election and administration of George W. Bush, and she notes that many of the leaders of that movement assumed they were on the cusp of even greater control.

The PRRI results–and others–suggest otherwise.

The evangelicals who thought they were about to take over America were destined for disappointment. On Thursday, P.R.R.I. released startling new polling data showing just how much ground the religious right has lost. P.R.R.I.’s 2020 Census of American Religion, based on a survey of nearly half a million people, shows a precipitous decline in the share of the population identifying as white evangelical, from 23 percent in 2006 to 14.5 percent last year. (As a category, “white evangelicals” isn’t a perfect proxy for the religious right, but the overlap is substantial.) In 2020, as in every year since 2013, the largest religious group in the United States was the religiously unaffiliated.

It isn’t just the shrinking numbers. White evangelicals were also the oldest religious group in the country, with a median age of 56.

“It’s not just that they are dying off, but it is that they’re losing younger members,” Jones told me. As the group has become older and smaller, Jones said, “a real visceral sense of loss of cultural dominance” has set in.

White evangelicals once saw themselves “as the owners of mainstream American culture and morality and values,” said Jones. Now they are just another subculture.

In the Washington Post, Aaron Blake also reported on the “striking”  PRRI findings.

The Public Religion Research Institute released a detailed study Thursday on Americans’ religious affiliations. Perhaps the most striking finding is on White evangelical Christians.

While this group made up 23 percent of the population in 2006 — shortly after “values voters” were analyzed to have delivered George W. Bush his reelection — that number is now down to 14.5 percent, according to the data.

Blake also notes the age disparity and the lack of youth replentishment. While 22 percent of Americans 65 and over are White evangelicals, the number is just 7 percent for those between 18 and 29 years of age.

Goldberg quotes Robert Jones, the Director of PRRI, who connects some bizarre dots.

From this fact derives much of our country’s cultural conflict. It helps explain not just the rise of Donald Trump, but also the growth of QAnon and even the escalating conflagration over critical race theory. “It’s hard to overstate the strength of this feeling, among white evangelicals in particular, of America being a white Christian country,” said Jones. “This sense of ownership of America just runs so deep in white evangelical circles.” The feeling that it’s slipping away has created an atmosphere of rage, resentment and paranoia.

QAnon is essentially a millenarian movement, with Trump taking the place of Jesus. Adherents dream of the coming of what they call the storm, when the enemies of the MAGA movement will be rounded up and executed, and Trump restored to his rightful place of leadership.

These QAnon people are unwell. If I were Christian, I’d consider Trump taking the place of Jesus an unbelievable blasphemy…

Bottom line: the PRRI study, and several others with similar findings, is both good news and bad. The diminished power of a religious sect that has been dubbed (with some accuracy) the American Taliban is clearly very good news. The accompanying rage, resentment and paranoia–and the unrest those passions encourage– is not. 

But as I indicated earlier, it explains a lot.


  1. I don’t know if the link below requires a subscription and I apologize if it does but what the radical white evangelical right may lack in numbers they are making up with intensity. This cult simply has no use for the separation of church and state embedded in our Constitutions. Rather, government at all levels is just one of seven “Dominions” that they are committed to conquering in order to create a “Kingdom of God” on Earth, otherwise known as Dominionism.

    This is nothing new…we’ve had Dominionists as our Governor, US Vice President and US Secretary of Education and our Indiana General Assembly is crawling with them. They have maintained a firm grip on K-12 and higher education laws and funding for years (Rep. Behring and Sen. Kruse are both Dominionists). And the 2020 election gave us little hope there’s much chance of breaking their grip on power. Political tactics must change.

    But what I continue to find more appalling is just how apathetic and accommodating so many of our constituency can be. Even if they’re not religious, or don’t believe QAnon, or even support the former guy, they will still cheer the on the Dominionists because they oppose ALL abortion, ANY gun control, and ALL taxes. A couple days ago I was admonished by a commenter on this blog for my disparaging comment regarding “moderates”. I admit that I failed to use quotes around the word previously but I remain convinced that the “mushy middle” of our electorate is responsible for most of the lunatics sitting in hundreds of elected positions around our country. YOU CANNOT CALL YOURSELF A CENTRIST IF YOU VOTE FOR FASCISTS AND/OR FASCIST POLICIES!

    Instead of talking about how great the American Rescue Plan Act was for Americans and Hoosiers (as the new IN Dem Chair is doing on a road trip) Dems should also be talking about “taking back our government” from lunatics of all stripes and especially restoring it to the secular requirements of the US and Indiana Constitutions.

  2. I must take issue with the inappropriate title given this current denomination of people; they are White Pseudo-Christian Nationalists. Calling themselves Christians does not make it so; we all know what is meant by that term but I have often wondered what their counterparts are called in other religions. Even true Christians do not have a claim on being the only “good guys” but they would certainly not be part of the White Nationalist party we are still fighting within our government.

    I believe the latest data displaying “Christian” behavior in government is the report of those 50 Texas Democrats who removed themselves from that state rather than be held hostage in the position of House members needed to provide a quarum to force the vote on voter suppression by the White Nationalist Republicans.

    “White evangelicals once saw themselves “as the owners of mainstream American culture and morality and values,” said Jones. Now they are just another subculture.”

    If we totaled the combined numbers of religions other than Christian, who would have the greater number? The same question can be asked regarding the total of all minorities, would the white race hold that majority?

    A very wise friend once told me that you can prove any statistical claim if you only know where to look for the information.

  3. Good Stuff. As Patrick pointed out, the wacky folks are deep in government . Thanks to Trump & McConnell, we now have HUNDREDS of these creatures on the federal bench and they are there for life.

  4. Good Stuff. As Patrick pointed out, the wacky folks are deep in government . Thanks to Trump & McConnell, we now have HUNDREDS of these creatures on the federal bench and they are there for life.

  5. May I submit the fear these phoney Xhristians exhibit is antithetical to the words “fear not” expressed so many times in their Bible.
    Quite telling.

  6. Religion keeps coming to the rescue of truth, sanity and honesty. The more extreme the “belief” system, the less it adheres to reality. As Sheila points out, replacing Jesus and his teachings with a complete fool and wretch like Donald Trump justifies my basic comment. They are intellectually slothful and will follow any bright, shiny object that gets their attention.

    Trump is now in his mid-70s and probably teetering on the cusp of senility. What shiny object will Yahoo Nation follow when he dies and they martyr him?

  7. Seems the problem might be related to seeing themselves “as the owners of mainstream American culture and morality and values,” . Once you sell your soul, you are no longer the “owner” of morality or values. The evangelicals sold their souls to the GOP for perceived power. The GOP has used them like a cheap rag. Morality? Values? Neither is very evident in their words and deeds.

  8. Nobody’s going to church, being part of a formal denomination, so what? They’ve got the judges (for life), the legislatures and (gulp) the guns. What else do they need?

  9. We need to stop being respectful toward religion.

    Call it out. It’s a pathetic mix of superstition and lies designed to control stupid people.

    There is NO need to be tolerant of lies.

  10. I totally agree that these people are not really Christian. Neither was Constantine, by the way. And certainly not the 2 Bishops of Rome who created a Christian civil war in their fight for power(4th century).

    Even a minority can have a powerful voice especially when the media pays undue attention to them and representatives in state legislatures i.e. Texas and Indiana. “The creaky wheel, gets greased.” They are loud, because they are fear and shame based. They feel existentially threatened as their political influence decreases and their membership declines .

    In the theories about moral development, they remind me of kids fighting about the rules of a game on the playground because they are sticklers for a black and white morality.

    Millenials and other younger generations are leaving these churches because they see the hypocrisy. They are not concerned that LGBTQ people are now allowed to marry and are not as focused on pro-life issues. They want their elders to focus more on loving their neighbors who are in need, on racial justice, on climate change. They want them to be true to the teachings of Jesus. I don’t know, however, if this is also happening in small, rural communities where some of the youth remain.

    I can only hope that younger unaffiliated people take the teachings of great spiritual teachers like Jesus and Buddha to heart , that western and eastern spiritual teachers will arise to help guide us forward, and that we all awaken to the simple truth that we are acting like the prodigal son who wasted his inheritance. I believe that our Mother Earth is our divine inheritance.
    May all sentient beings be well and happy.

  11. The new “religion” of young people: 100% screentime, video games, social media influencers, super heroes, now-legalized weed. Who needs boring politicians when I have ME, living “my brand”?

  12. I always imagined the dinosaurs being grumpy when they were going extinct too. The pressures on them though were real not imagined and largely implanted by propaganda.

  13. The best news that Michele Goldberg passed on from the PRRI is that “the largest religious group in the United States was the religiously unaffiliated.” Her atheism made Madalyn Murray O’Hair both famous and hated in the 70s and 80s. She almost seemed to stand alone in her conviction. Since then the number of public atheists, including Bill Mahar, Kevin Bacon, Isaac Asimov, Richard Feynman, Jodie Foster, Christopher Hitchens ( my personal favorite), Penn Jillette, Seth MacFarlane, and way too many to mention are taken for granted or not even thought of for their lack of religious conviction.

    Belief in religion can be considered the cardinal sin. By accepting apocryphal stories about magical men and women and fictional versions of how we and the universe came to be, we lay the groundwork for todays lying society which permits making up facts and demanding that they be accepted as true. Any individual who accepts one set of delusional notions is more likely to accept another, mutatis mutandis, such as Trump is the new Jesus. Fighting against these kinds of absurdities can be viewed as one of the great achievements of 19th century men like Robert Ingersoll and 20th century men like Richard Dawkins.

    But religion’s greatest transgression is its insistence on dogma that deprives individuals of the right to use their own minds to examine facts and reach conclusions. Once a religious proselytizer has preempted a person’s right to think for oneself, what remains? Reducing the number of religious believers is a move in the direction of a more reality based world.

  14. Terry Munson, “the largest religious group in the United States was the religiously unaffiliated.”

    Machiavelli considered religion to be a very important element for uniting people in peace and order.

    Is Machiavelli’s thinking outdated, no longer valid?

  15. If the “White Christian Nationalists” feel threatened, scared, see their “flame” going out, one can expect them to fight, and claw their way against those they see as presenting the threat. That, in itself, is not surprising. A surprising aspect of the situation is how conveniently their drive to thrive has been wedded to, and by, McConnell’s Machiavellian need for power.
    In “The Prince” Machiavelli does not come across quite so Machiavellian as he’s since been portrayed.
    I can only agree that these folks are not behaving like what I would call true Christians, but that’s my own spin on it all. And, it is horribly ironic that they would be drawn to as sick, and disgusting, a person as Trump, for their leader. But, maybe that is a symptom of their terror.

  16. Just read this from yesterday’s Washington Post. I felt depressed and deflated afterwards. There are so many delusional people out there looking for someone/something to tell them exactly what to believe.

  17. Aethism is not believing in God, or believing that god is just a made up being. Religion is the oraganized every day practice of ones beliefs. I would suggest that people can reject the negative, aspects of religous practice i.e exclusivity and still believe in a higher power. Joeseph Campbell devoted his life to studying religions over all places and eras. He even studied the ancient languages i.e Aramaic so he could read what people believed & wrote during those times.
    I agree that Christian Nationalist is a discription of a sect, and in the true sense an oxymoron. Would true Christians follow a cult of hate & dominion over others?

  18. Gordon,

    Machiavelli is still correct in his analysis of religion as a uniting factor. Countless wars have been started by or fought in the name of some religious group, so I don’t know about the “peace” part. One of the reasons designing men came up with religion as a ruling ploy is to compel order among those who might stir up trouble without it.

    There are many good things that can be said about religion. Conformance with reality or truth is not among them.

  19. To characterize young people as all about “me” does as much of a disservice to the majority of that cohort as characterizing the boomers as all about wealth and the control it buys. Neither is true of the majority.
    The Christian Nationalist are all about control and authoritarian means to attain and keep control. They are much more Pharisee than Publican.
    Gerta Thunberg, Malala, David Hogg, Emma Gonzalez and the young people who started the Sunrise Movement, to name just a few who are prominent, are not “all about me” in any way at all. They have, as a group, held up a mirror to their elders and asked the big question. Is this the world you want to pass along to the future generations?

  20. The YouTube algorithm sends me ENDLESS videos of skeptical debaters tearing up brainless ideologies like religion. You can enjoy this algorithmic backpatting by watching a few Christopher Hitchens videos, and then the algo will do the rest.
    Soon you will join the throng. If you wish to see theists get their butts kicked mercilessly, Talk Heathen, Atheist Experience (25 years old) with Matt Dillahunty, CosmicSkeptic, Aron Ra debunking Young Earthers, Sam Harris debunking religion in general….

    Most atheists are basically skeptics: You postulate supernatural things, skeptics then ask for discernible evidence. Never happens, of course.
    It’s the age-old battle between convenient comfort and Inconvenient Truth. (snicker)

  21. The idea that a creature like Donald Trump is the new Jesus is absolutely nauseating. What is wrong with people’s brains?

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