I meant to put a link up to this fascinating little essay earlier, but forgot in the blitz that is the final week of the semester at the Washington Journalism Center. Remember that survey not that long ago from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, the one (yes, it's hard to keep track of them all) that led to the headlines about the sharp increase in the number on secular and "spiritual but not religious" folks in postmodern America? We'll you do remember the nonNewsweek cover about "The End of Christian America"? The key stats for those who have forgotten: The percentage of Americans calling themselves "Christian" went from 86 percent nearly two decades ago to 76 percent, while the "no affiliation" tribe zoomed up from 8 percent to 15 percent.
Well, along comes our friend Steven "Beliefnet czar" Waldman, with an essay in The Wall Street Journal offering an interesting counter-spin on those numbers. Instead of the "traditional religion in American is diving" spin, coupled with the "here come the new secularists and post-Christian sort-of believers," Waldman offers a perfectly logical twist.
The key: Lots of people, for a long time, who have said they were believers were sort of, well, lying. All of those Easter Christians and Passover Jews? What if they were just going through the motions with their lips zipped shut?
Here's Waldman, talking some sense:
From the hoopla, one might have the sense people are driving straight from church services over to their secular humanist meetings. But based on a new survey that came out from Pew Religion Forum, I'd like to pose a different theory: what we're seeing is not a flight of the religious but rather the changing nature of the irreligious.
The Pew study founded that 79% of the currently unaffiliated -- also known as "nones" in the survey -- started off life connected with a religion. But get this: only 30% of "nones" who used to be Catholic and only 18% of former Protestants said they'd had strong faith as a child. This is true even for those who attended church regularly. In other words, perhaps it's not that the devout have lost their way, it's that the nominally religious have stopped pretending to be religious. Perhaps what we're seeing is not an increase in the number of "nones" but an increase in the numbers willing to admit it.
Now there is good news in the numbers for the religious left, that is if their goal in life is to see religious conservatives loss some numbers. If the goal of the religious left is to stop declining and to actually grow and win converts, well, the numbers still don't look very good.
Waldman notes that people headed out the exit doors said that they were doing so for three reasons:
* "Religious people are hypocritical/judgmental/insincere" * "Many religions are partly true, none completely true" * "Religious orgs. are too focused on rules, not spirituality"
Other than that last one, those sound like reasons to exit any formal church or another building containing sinners of the liberal or conservative stripe.