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Christianity Declining, Secularism Rising

More Americans are leaving the fold.

This week, the Pew Research Center released its latest national survey data concerning religious identification in America. The main finding: fewer Americans are identifying as Christian, while more Americans are identifying as non-religious.

Here are some highlights from the study:

* Back in 2007, 78.4% of Americans identified at Christian; now only 70.6% do so. This is the lowest level of Christian identification in American history.

* Back in 2007, 16.1% of Americans identified themselves as atheist, agnostic, or “nothing in particular.” Now 22.8% do so. This is the highest level of secular identification in American history.

* The ranks of the non-religious have grown by 19 million since 2007; there are now approximately 56 million Americans who do not identify with any religion, and these so-called “nones” are now more numerous than Catholics or mainline Protestants, making “non-religious” the second largest “religious” group in America, behind only evangelical Protestantism.

* For every American who was raised without religion but has since joined a religious group as an adult, four Americans who were raised with religion have dropped out as adults; thus, secularism is clearly winning the joining/leaving game by a ratio of 4 to 1.

* Non-religious Americans are more likely than ever to describe themselves in specifically non-theistic terms; one third now openly self-identifies atheist or agnostic.

This is all really good news.

First off, it means that more and more Americans are choosing to not believe creeds, doctrines, and teachings that are manifestly untrue. Heaven, hell, purgatory, angels, demons, devils, jinn, God, gods, virgin births, resurrections, judgment days, souls, talking snakes, flying horses, tongues of fire, and so on are all figments of the human imagination. They don’t exist. They aren’t real. So the fact that millions of Americans are acknowledging this and living their lives without such falsities is reassuring. Reason, logic, and evidence-based empiricism are truly needed, necessary traits in our world today. Faith is fine, but not when it comes to solving social problems or figuring out how to make the world a better place.

Second, religion is a major divider of humanity. For thousands of years, religion has kept people apart, creating deep us-vs.-them divisions that have kept men and women from marrying one another, eating together, being buried beside one another, letting their kids play with one another, etc. For religious Jews, all non-Jews are other, big-time. Same goes for how devout Mormons view all non-Mormons. For believing Christians, you’re either Saved or Damned, and throughout history, the consequences of this silly distinction have been savage. For faithful Catholics, non-Catholics are not to be wed, among other things. Muslims consider all non-Muslims kafir, and the internal rift between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims continues to result is bloodshed. Hindus kill Muslims in India. Muslims kill Baha’is in Iran and Christians in Libya and Jews in France. Christians kill Muslims in Bosnia. One could go on and on, but the bottom line is that religiosity is a pernicious form of tribalism. What the world needs now is cosmopolitanism. And religion’s decline is sure to make that dream slightly more possible.

Third, religion has historically been a leading source of misogyny and homophobia. Indeed, numerous studies show that strong religiosty is highly correlated with being against women’s rights and gay rights. Not all religious people are haters of women and homosexuals, to be sure. Many celebrate women’s rights and gay rights. But the ones who do tend to be highly secularized in their worldviews. The devoutly religious tend to be the number one resisters to women’s progress and homosexual equality. So the decline of religion in America is good news for our sons and daughters, who will hopefully grow up in a world that is just a little less hateful and restrictive.

Fourth, the weakening of religion will add sanity and safety to our sex lives. And it will help win the the right to die peacefully and painlessly.

Will the decline of Christianity and the rise of irreligion end all forms of wickedness in the world, from racism to Exene Cervenka? Of course not. Religion does a lot of good in the world – from charity to hospitals – and secularism comes with its own bag of problems – from individualism to a lack of meaningful rituals. So I’m not arguing that all will be well in the world if only religion went away. Surely there will still be problems. But those problems will be just a little less toxic with God no longer in the mix.