Christianity Losing Relevance for Americans

A recent survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life details religious life in America. Based on interviews with more than 35,000 Americans, the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey finds that religious affiliation in the U.S. is diminishing.

The study shows twenty-eight percent of American adults have left the faith in which they were raised in favor of another religion — or no religion at all. Forty-four percent of Protestant adults have switched Protestant affiliation. Catholicism has experienced the greatest net losses. While thirty-one percent of Americans were raised in the Catholic faith, today twenty-four percent describe themselves as Catholic. Catholicism’s losses would be considerably greater were it not for the offsetting impact of Latin American immigrants.

The survey found that the sixteen percent of people (42 million) who say they are unaffiliated with any particular faith today is more than double the number who say they were not affiliated with any particular religion as children. Among Americans ages 18-29, an even greater twenty-five percent say they are not currently affiliated with any particular religion.

The dissatisfaction with Christianity is certainly understandable. Its allegedly omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent god has recently proven to be totally indifferent, if not completely inept. Where was this god on 9/11, or when Katrina struck New Orleans, or when tornadoes obliterate so many predominately Christian towns like Greensburg, Kansas?

Why didn’t this god alert Minnesota’s Christian Governor Pawlenty that the I–35 bridge was about to collapse? America’s dollar proudly proclaims, “In God we trust” yet under Christian President George Bush the dollar has lost 50% of its God entrusted value and America appears headed for a serious recession with 1,000,000 homes in foreclosure.

The track record of the Christian god, whose major attribute is purportedly love and faithfulness for his people, shows he is no more caring than Allah, Vishnu, or any of the dozens of other savior-gods of history. (Maybe if this god were a she, things would be different) A bible full of contradictions, inconsistencies and errors plus no credible 1st Century historical confirmation of a Jesus of Nazareth or for that matter a town called Nazareth compounds Christianity’s credibility.

Why is secularism growing and Christianity declining? Perhaps because Christian faith demands unquestioning allegiance to fantastical stories and mind numbing dogma which squashes an intellectually stimulated mind. More and more people are asking questions that demand rational evidence-based answers. Christianity like any religion provides nice philosophical platitudes, but they are shallow and dissatisfying to a mind free of “don’t dare ask” religious restraints. The free thought mind-set is like a butterfly hatched from its cocoon, free to think, reason and explore any and all there is to discover. Thus, cosmologists and astronomers find the cosmos to be 13 billion years old and biologists find the theory of evolution unites all fields of biology under one theoretical umbrella. As a college student said, “a man without religion is like a fish without a bicycle.”

Does this mean religion and Christianity are useless? I do not think so! However, it does mean people need to put religion and Christianity in proper perspective. All religions are simply the institutionalization of mythology. Mythology is valuable in the sense that its heroes, whether Jesus, Zeus, Dionysis, Horus, Mithra, or Zoroastrianism’s Ahura Mazda have magnificently inspirational stories that inspire us mortals. Their humble beginnings, miracles, teachings, deaths and resurrections are allegories that inspire and teach life’s lessons.

Seen in this light, our attitudes should appreciate myth’s allegories, yet give greater credence to everyday nature’s rhythms of existence. Winter is the time of death. Nothing grows, all appears dead. But, winter is always followed by spring. Resurrection time happens year after year, soon trees will blossom and birds sing. No matter how bleak life appears, a resurrection of a new start is on the way. The vast majority of us humans need new starts from time to time.

Where religion and its adherents inevitably foul things up bringing division and animosity in society is when they declare their particular brand or denomination of religion the one and only true religion. This childish exclusivity sending heretics and non-believers to an eternal hell and damnation exposes its true man-made fabricated origins.

Fear is the tried and tested motivator of the ignorant and gullible masses. Clergy who preach love, mercy, grace, hope, and forgiveness benefit society. Clergy who preach prejudice against blacks, women, Jews, gays, and non-theists are a detriment to society.

After a long history of religiously motivated wars and two World Wars that killed 40 million people, Europeans have largely rejected Christianity. Europe’s churches are museums mirroring outgrown meaningless traditions. Even in Italy with its Vatican and Papal splendor, only twenty-seven percent of Italians consider religion important.

Like Europeans, Americans too are wising up. They have had it with the condescending divide and conquer tactics fomenting religious and political polarization.

As with Daniel’s King Nebuchadnezzar myth, the handwriting is on the wall. The question is: which Christians will wake up to reject the literalized myth and which Christians will faithfully hang on to their spiritual fire insurance policies hoping for an afterlife of heavenly bliss of eternally strumming harps and singing How Great Thou Art?

Lee Salisbury was an evangelical minister for 14 years. After a sabbatical leave in 1986, he finally looked objectively at the bible and Christianity. Lee began Minnesota’s Critical Thinking Clubs in January, 2001. Read other articles by Lee, or visit Lee's website.

20 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Bill said on March 18th, 2008 at 11:22am #

    To the Author: Brightest Blessings.

    From a happy pagan who’s goddess has suited him just fine.

    Peace.

  2. HR said on March 18th, 2008 at 11:31am #

    It is inevitable that religions will pass. Superstitions are not reality. Being “inspired” by gods or earthly leaders who invoke them has cost millions of lives and destroyed much of our natural environment. In this country, the backlash against religions that would return us to a feudal state is gathering steam.

  3. Arch Stanton said on March 18th, 2008 at 11:39am #

    “… Christian faith demands unquestioning allegiance to fantastical stories and mind numbing dogma which squashes an intellectually stimulated mind.”

    Well sure, but let’s not forget: the destruction of the Cathars, pagan purges, the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, witch hunts, “missionary” work amongst Indigenous peoples, etc, etc, in a long history of imperious intolerance, culture destruction and wanton slaughter.

  4. Rodney Sheffer said on March 18th, 2008 at 11:48am #

    While it is difficult for most people, and nearly impossible for many, to erase the indelible impressions made in the minds of children, it is becoming easier and easier to understand why the Christian scheme of things has relevance for fewer and fewer people even in America which is probably the most religious nation on earth. Since theology is nothing more than subjective speculation and unsupported conjecture, critically thinking adults (even those who are carrying a lot of the intellectual detritus from their religious indoctrination) find the monotheistic religions profoundly lacking in genuine cognitive merit. Fantastical stories that defy and deny the known laws of the universe can no longer be seen as justification by thinking people for the absurd claims and assertions of the clergy as they attempt to perpetuate their paradigm of ignorance, superstition and magical thinking. “Garbage in results in garbage out” came from computer technology, but it is just as applicable to archaic religions. Lee Salisbury has it right–as usual. I am cheering him on!

  5. hp said on March 18th, 2008 at 11:56am #

    The trouble with this anti-religious talk is the people who have destroyed our economy, waged imperialistic wars of greed and created a media of propaganda and barbaric conduct are not religious at all. They are the non-religious. Just because they say they are religious doesn’t mean they are. Duh.! Obviously the ones who have wreaked these devilish crimes and continue to do so are atheists and so-called agnostics, who are in essence liars and deceivers.
    So all you atheists, agnostics, pagans, undecided and don’t knows have already gotten your wish but don’t even realize it. You continue to blame a mirage of what you perceive to be real. The truth is it is non-religious people who have done all these devilish things. Pseudo religious scapegoats work well, however, to alleviate any culpability of your own.

  6. Bill said on March 18th, 2008 at 12:09pm #

    I am surprised Christianity in this country hasn’t fallen apart long before now.

    The entire sham of American Christianity is this: As a group, these Christians don’t practice what they preach.

    Question: What day is the most segregated day of the week?
    Answer: Sunday, because so called Christians seem to only like to worship their loving God with people who look just like them. Judging by this you’d think heaven was segregated.

    Funny, I thought Jesus taught tolerance and love of fellow man. Judging by how his “followers” act, you’d think Jesus was a gun toting,
    minority and fag hating bigot who can’t get enough war and spits on the poor.

    These people have allowed their wonderful religion to be sullied by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Fox Noise and the republican party.

    When did Jesus ever say the poor deserve what they got?

    Can you imagine if Jesus took one look at the lepers and said, “they are just welfare cheats” instead of healing them?

    The so called Christians in this country need to read the bible again until they get it. It is not their job to look down their noses at everyone not just like them while sneering these people they see as different as automatically going to hell…

    Which reminds me: Who WOULD Jesus bomb?

  7. AaronG said on March 18th, 2008 at 8:21pm #

    Lee

    I agree in principle with your thoughts on religion’s appalling record (what right-minded person wouldn’t – the record is there for all to see).

    However, as “hp” alluded to above, let’s not lose faith in the document called the Bible just because Big Religion has claimed to represent this book. We don’t throw away the hammer just because a bad tradesman couldn’t use it properly.

    Jesus said “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” There are thousands of religions in the world. Now, by definition of the word “truth”, a lot of these religions cannot have the truth. You cannot have partial truth. For example, if my religion teaches (as the Bible does) that the earth is older than 7000 years, then that is truth (backed up by human fields of geology etc). However, if my same religion also allows pedophilia to run rampant in the clergy, then that is not truth. And vice versa. So a 50% pass mark is not enough when discussing the word “truth”. Either is 80%……… or 99%. Either you go to heaven with 70 virgins or you don’t. Either reincarnation is true or it isn’t. Either standing by and condoning genocide is acceptable or it isn’t. There is no middle ground with some of the fundamental teachings of the world’s religions.

    I agree, Lee, that religion has a long and bloody history. But let’s not focus so much on the hypocrites who have misrepresented the book. Let’s focus more on the book itself – a book that was translated into Latin so that none of the real people could read it, a book that people painstakingly and clandestinely translated into the people’s tongues by candle light, a book that some people deemed important enough to be martyred if found in possession, a book that has survived to our day and still features in the bestseller lists.

    For the leaders who have hidden the Bible from us all these years (directly or by their bad example) I ask “Why don’t you want us to read it?”. To the brave people who have ensured it’s preservation I say “We won’t disappoint you by leaving it on our bookshelf to collect dust”

  8. Chris Crass said on March 18th, 2008 at 8:24pm #

    “These people have allowed their wonderful religion to be sullied by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Fox Noise and the republican party.”

    This only makes sense if you ignore a couple thousand years of history. Ya know, Crusades, witch burning, genocide, pogroms, etc, etc…
    Christianity’s been shitty since its inception. It’s based on a religion that proclaims racial superiority and misogyny are God’s will. It’s all trash and it was fucked long before Rush Limbaugh oozed forth unto the world..

  9. unaffiliated atheist said on March 18th, 2008 at 9:51pm #

    AaronG, the representation by big religion is in line with the content of the Bible. Read Numbers 31: God orders Moses to

    1) destroy an entire town,
    2) kill all the men,
    3) kill all the women,
    4) kill all the boys, but
    5) “save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.”

    Okay, so it’s the Old Testament and Jesus was different. Unfortunately, Jesus didn’t speak out against any of this but in fact said quite the opposite: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17)

    Amen. [passes around collection plate]

  10. Alex said on March 18th, 2008 at 11:30pm #

    I agree with hp’s assertions. Let me add a few thoughts of my own.

    All religions start out as cults which become the foundations of new ‘cult’-ures. Culture is the glue that holds a society together and creates larger and larger ‘us’ versus ‘them’ type mentalities. Sooner or later we all will be in a one world government (one ‘us’) exploring the stars not unlike many science fiction movies.

    People who don’t believe in the literal interpretation of religious texts DO NOT HAVE TO, but can still derive value from them. How? Think about religious texts and stories as being “symbolic” and not literal. Not to mention there is new evidence to suggest that Moses and Jesus unsuspectingly ingested hallucinogenic plant matter.

    The government will always lead the flock and sometimes lead them astray. After all, the government can always say ‘black’ is ‘white’ and eventually people will believe it. Are you following me here? The government, given enough time, can rewrite history and school books (a Fahrenheit 451 done in slow motion) to change the attitudes of the present and thus attempt to change future circumstances. Thus, the texts with the widest circulations (most set of eyes) would be the most difficult for the government to change. Which texts have the widest circulation, the most readers?

  11. Michael Kenny said on March 19th, 2008 at 9:20am #

    I think the problem is that, in the US at least, religion has degenerated over the last 30 or 40 years into mere “belief”. The yuppies even use the word “faith” as a synonym for religion. America’s certainties all drowned in the Mekong River. In the post-Vietnam world, frightened and disoriented Americans clung to irrational belief systems because they were trying to cling to an irrational belief, namely, that America was God’s gift to the world. Because that proposition flew in the face of all logic but “had” to be true, it necessarily had to come from some mystery beyond human ken. That started what might be called the “denial industry” with its tv tub thumpers and its megachurches. As denial becomes les and less real, people see less and less reason to cling to the irrational belief system.

    In the US Catholic Church, an ignorant, loud-mouthed, oafish element, totally out of sync with the Church worldwide, presented themselves as “typical” Catholics and reduced the Church in the US to the “sex church”, frothing about abortion, gay marriage and the status of women, while throwing the other 95% of Catholic morality out the window. I’m talking, for example, about the things that make up the right to life: the right to a job, a fair wage, a decent place to live, education, financial help if you are unable to work etc.. That alienated some American Catholics to the point of leaving the Church. The mentality of the immigrants, not just Latinos but Africans as well, is very different from the old Irish/Italian/Polish “mafia” that dominated the Catholic Church in America until quite recently. So I would expect things to change there as well.

  12. David Roberts said on March 19th, 2008 at 10:47am #

    The appalling ignorance of the contributors to this angry article is beyond polemic. They betray their complete lack of academic authority to comment on the Christian religion or any other faith, thus making their opinions worthless, except to each other. Sad.

    For a group who supposedly elevate reason to preeminence, these comments here are biased, illogical, emotional, and vapid. Try reading a book before you again express your ignorance.

    Why is it I’ve never read an atheist with something positive to say?

  13. D.R. Munro said on March 19th, 2008 at 3:18pm #

    Perhaps one day the masses of people will understand that religion is a tool used by non-religious predators under the facade of holiness to convince easily-molded minds to carry out their will . . . errr . . . their God’s will.

  14. D.R. Munro said on March 19th, 2008 at 3:23pm #

    And you never see an atheist with anything positive to say because once you deconstruct the illusion of a creature living in the sky, apparently watching everyone with his six-billion eyes, you realize what is left.

    And what is left is not positive.

    Schopenhauer, I believe (perhaps Pascal, I cannot really recall correctly) presented the argument that God, even if he did exist, is limited in his powers. For a mere mortal can end his own existence, kill himself.

    God cannot.

    Therefore we can conclude that God is not all-powerful and all-knowing.

  15. hp said on March 19th, 2008 at 4:36pm #

    “They (the Vedic Upanishads) have been the solace of my life and they will be the solace of my death.”
    Arthur Schopenhauer

  16. Chad said on March 20th, 2008 at 10:42am #

    It is interesting that people seem to be reading the 25% of the people between 18 & 29 as a number that will grow over time. Isn’t that generally the least religious group in any society? Also, the 16% who are unaffiliated with any faith now which is twice the rate as people who grew up in no religion does not particularly surprise me. Keep in mind the birth rates of the religious are higher than the non-religious, and the fact that only 8% of people go from a religious childhood to a non-religious adulthood. It is highly possible that with a higher birthrate among the religious the 8% difference could be self-sustaining.
    Why did the poll not compare the portion of the population today that attends church to that of 10, 20, 30 years ago? Why not compare the number of people professing to be Christians to years past? Why not do meaningful statistics rather than claim the 25% who switch from one religion to another is completely abnormal?
    The study strikes me as less ignorant than the comments on the study, but not by much.

  17. mark almlie said on March 20th, 2008 at 11:37am #

    ” [there is] no credible 1st Century historical confirmation of a Jesus of Nazareth…”

    umm, Paul, James, Peter, and then 3 gospels are all first century. Furthermore, Josephus is first century.

    Do you really think all 7 of these authors are not credible? There is not one “credible” biblical scholar–or “credible” historian–that would agree with your statement above.

    Paul is arguably the most credible and he is the earliest author!

    Critical thinking is wonderful, but your skepticism of your former religion has not led to clear, thoughtful, critical thinking in this comment.

  18. messianicdruid said on March 21st, 2008 at 4:40pm #

    here we go again…

    The unquestioning acceptance of simple contradiction is the beginning of ruin. Anytime men add to or take away from {ie: the law has been nailed to the cross} the scripture they create imperfection. Most people are following a religion instead of a person. It think it is important to keep religion {man-made belief systems} separate from what God has told us. It is when the one is taken in place of the other that the problems begin. You cannot improve upon perfection and it is man’s innovations that constantly attempt to do this. It is unfortunate that most are satisfied with an excuse to ignore spiritual matters.

  19. hp said on March 21st, 2008 at 7:01pm #

    “Give up all forms of religion and surrender to Me. I will protect you from all sinful reactions.”
    Sri Krishna

  20. eileen fleming said on March 22nd, 2008 at 7:25am #

    “The problem is not with Christianity, but that too few have actually done it.”-G.K. Chesterton

    2,000 years ago the cross had no religious meaning and was not a piece of jewelry. When Jesus said, “Pick up your cross and follow me,”

    Everyone understood he was issuing a POLITICAL statement, for the main roads in Jerusalem were lined with crucified agitators, rebels, dissidents and any others who disturbed the status quo of the Roman Occupying Forces.

    Jesus was never a Christian, that term was even coined until the days of Paul, about 3 decades after Jesus walked the earth a man. Jesus was a social justice, radical revolutionary Palestinian devout Jewish road warrior who rose up and challenged the job security of the Temple authorities by teaching the people they did NOT need to pay the priests for ritual baths or sacrificing livestock to be OK with God; for God already LOVED them just as they were:

    Sinners, poor, diseased, outcasts, widows, orphans, refugees and prisoners all living under Roman Military Occupation.

    What got Jesus crucified was disturbing the status quo of the Roman Occupying Forces of his time, by teaching the subversive concept that Caesar only had power because God allowed it and that God preferred the humble sinner, the poor, diseased, outcasts, widows, orphans, refugees and prisoners all living under Roman Occupation above the elite and arrogant.

    Some strains/cults of western Christianity have made JC over into a militant fundamentalist, and some Christians go to church to socialize and not for the social gospel,

    The Forgotten Faithful/Palestinian Christians, the decedents of first century Christians, actually follow the Prince of Peace/Emmanuel/God is with us.

    In the afternoon of the eighth day of my second Reality Tour through the West Bank, sixty international ecumenical Christians were introduced to Sabeel’s [Arabic for THE WAY] Contemporary Way of Cross.

    The Sabeel way, transforms the traditional Christian tradition of meditating upon the journey that Christ took after his condemnation as he carried his cross to where he was crucified with an updated meditation on empire and occupation.

    In Jerusalem there are fourteen plaques along The Via Delarosa hanging on the walls of buildings depicting where Christ may have fallen three times, meets his mother, is stripped, nailed and dies.

    The Contemporary Way suggests fourteen reflections beginning with 1948, The Nabka: The Catastrophe which followed the failure of the UN partition plan of ‘47 when the Irgun and Stern Gang [Zionist terrorist groups] depopulated 400 villages and forced 726,000 Palestinians to flee to Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt.

    Station Two reflects on those refugees and the 460,000 more that fled during the War of 1967. Currently there are 675,670 registered refugees in the West Bank, 938,531 in Gaza and over two million in Arab countries who have never received compensation and have been denied the right to return as guaranteed in Articles 13 and 15 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in UN Resolution 194.

    I was astounded to learn that in Anata, Jerusalem’s refugee camp The Wall is butted up to the boy’s high school. The ‘playground’ where 780 adolescents gather is in reality a slab of cement ground about the square footage of a basket ball court. There is no view as it is walled in on all four sides by the high school, The Concrete Wall and two smaller cement walls.

    A refugee informed our group that on a daily basis, “The Israeli Occupation Forces show up when the children gather in the morning or after classes. They throw percussion bombs or gas bombs into the school nearly every day! The world is sleeping; the world is hibernating and is allowing this misery to continue.”

    I wandered around taking photos and was warmly greeted by a teenage boy who asked my name and where I was from. I cringed when I said America, for I am ashamed that over one hundred billion USA dollars since 1948 has supported the occupation, promoted violence and helped build the friggin’ wall.

    “Financed with U.S. aid at a cost of $1.5 million per mile, the Israeli wall prevents residents from receiving health care and emergency medical services. In other areas, the barrier separates farmers from their olive groves which have been their families’ sole livelihood for generations.” [Washington Report on Middle East Affairs Page 43, Jan/Feb. 2007]

    A few miles from the refugee camp, one enters into an Orwellian Disney Land of lush green grounds in the illegal colony of the Pizgatzeev settlement. I was sick at heart and in my gut when we drove less than a mile into the illegal colony for I counted three playgrounds and a swimming pool. I still wonder how many USA tax dollars helped to build them, and why the same was not done for the refugees.

    As our group was praying a gunshot issued from the Anata refugee camp, then another and another in rapid succession. I was told that the IDF was showering the refugees with gun fire and terror, and that it was just a normal daily occurrence. I lost it completely then, and sobbed uncontrollably. I felt like the Magdalena when she could not find her Lord, but then I thought of Jesus, and how he cried buckets of tears over Jerusalem.

    2,000 years ago roving bands of politically radical and religious Jews rose up and openly resisted Roman rule in Palestine. They were called Zealots, and I imagine if I had lived back then, I might have been tempted to join them.

    But, I am a 21st century Christian of the Beatitudes and abhor and denounce ALL violence.

    So, instead, I ardently, fervently, zealously curse + PRAY the empire WAKE UP and see that the violent terrorizing of innocent people- just because they are Palestinian, Iraqi, Afghani,

    Suffer as do the occupiers; victims of the occupation.

    Godspeed; it be this Easter Week.