Cleaning up the lost and found: The Religion Guy rediscovers three journalistic morsels

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You know how it is. A newswriter comes across a really interesting item and sets it aside for a serious second look.

Then the pile of other goodies continues to grow and said item disappears amid the clutter on your desk. Weeks or months go by, you force yourself to clean up, and there it is. At this particular weblog, the GetReligionistas like to talk about finding things in their "Guilt Files." Well, we all have them.

In just such a cleanup, The Religion Guy unearthed three set-aside articles about U.S. culture with solid story potential for fellow writers on the beat:

One more time, “Nones” explained: Writing last January 23 for the scholarly, Richard Flory of the University of Southern California culled current research for the five chief factors behind the recent rise of religiously unaffiliated Americans (“Nones”):

(1) With widening access to knowledge, “everyone and no one is an authority,” which “reduces the need for traditional authorities” of all types, including religious ones.

(2) Fewer Americans think important social institutions have “a positive impact in society,” again, religious ones included.

(3) U.S. religion developed a “bad brand” from things like sex scandals or “political right” linkage that turns off moderates and liberals.

(4) Increased “competition for people’s attention” from work, family, social media, whatever, making religious involvement “yet another social obligation” that clogs schedules.

(5) More young adults were raised to “make up their own mind about religion” and end up without any.  

Flory doubts the increase in “nones” will have much impact on U.S. politics, since they register and vote less often than others. But he sees serious problems ahead in finding enough volunteers “to provide important services to those in need.” Long term, how will non-religious Americans create the necessary “infrastructure” and  “communities of caring”?

The “evangelical mind” revisited: In 1995, Wheaton College historian Mark Noll rattled the ranks with his book “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.” The scandal was that there wasn’t enough of one, in other words intellectual endeavors were overshadowed by more immediate religious agendas.

Noll subsequently moved to Notre Dame University, retired last year, and was interviewed for a March 21 piece by editor Ciera Horton in The Wheaton Record, his former campus’s student newspaper (founded in 1890, the same year as The Guy’s beloved The Michigan Daily).

Asked about the “mind” games, Noll said he’s more optimistic than he was 22 years ago. This is no “golden age,” but “there are lots of serious Christian people who are doing really serious thinking about politics, about history, about science.” However, there’s probably also a growing “disconnect” between such thinkers and the grassroots.

Question for reporters: Does the Donald Trump Era display this?

Whither the “religious left”? With all the coverage of the political “religious right” this past generation, we get regular claims that a religiously motivated political left is gaining. Daniel Cox, research director of the Public Religion Research Institute, was skeptical in an April 20 article.

First problem: There are far too few religious liberals (and they have few children and converts). The General Social Survey says 38 percent of political liberals report having no religious affiliation, more than double the number back in the 1990s, and half think religion’s impact on society is more harmful than helpful. Young liberals are even more irreligious, numbering 49 percent of those  under age 30.

Also, religious alignments are complicated among groups liberals target. Latinos support gay marriage but are more wary about abortion and lean toward traditional gender roles. Muslims are likely to be conservative on the marriage issue. Black Protestants generally favor abortion rights but are reticent on LGBT matters. White “mainline” Protestants lean left on social issues but to the right on economics. Etc.

Upshot: “It’s unlikely that a reinvigorated religious left will become a major player in American politics anytime soon” and liberal religion “has never faced more serious challenges” as it fights for “relevance.”

Mull these over, please.

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