Losing Faith

One of the biggest cultural megatrends happening in America today also happens to be the least-reported: American Christianity is collapsing.

While 61% of the white population 65 and older identifies as mainline Protestant or Catholic (and 26% of those as “evangelical”), only 22% of those 18-29 do. There is a steady and sustained shift towards identification as “Nones” – respondents who report no affinity for a given faith, or indeed, any faith at all.

This tracks with a lot of prior research that demonstrates that younger Americans are increasingly turning away from traditionally organized religion. And while many of these people do report being “spiritual” in less traditional ways (professing belief in an abstract higher power and/or praying daily, for example), more than a third do not. In fact, there’s research that suggests that as many as 10-20% of Americans are actually atheists, and simply eschew the term because of stigma.

It’s not axe-grinding to observe that the core of those self-professed Christians who remain are, on the whole, generally more ideological than in the past. Indeed, the term “Christian” itself has taken on a distinct and recognizably political tone in the culture, rather than as primarily a rubric of moral guidance. A perfect example of this is the arc between two generations of leadership in American Christianity: the late reverends Billy Graham (“America’s pastor”) and Jerry Falwell, and their respective sons.

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