A number of my atheist friends have celebrated the new Pew surveys (purportedly) indicating the collapse Christianity in America. That’s not what the polls say. For instance, evangelical Christians, the Christians my atheist friends most mistrust and dislike, are doing fine:
While it should be noted that evangelicals’ share of the overall U.S. population dropped by 0.9% over the last seven years based on denominational affiliation, the percentage of U.S. adults who self-identify as evangelical rose from 34 to 35% over the same period of time. Don’t miss that: More than one-third of Americans call themselves evangelical.
And despite what many are saying, evangelicals are attending church more than ever. The latest (2014) General Social Survey found that in the last two years of the study a greater percentage of evangelicals are attending church than in any other time of the last 40 years. Currently, 55 percent of evangelicals attend church at least nearly every week.
The religious people going secular are people with low conviction and/or political and religious moderates – people who take positions between the extremes of evangelical faith and secular progressivism (and secular libertarianism).
I think we should all recognize a downside to this social phenomenon, regardless of our views. The great good mainline Protestantism provided this country for centuries was the good of having political and social “moderates” in general. They create the social space for political and religious partisans to translate their concerns into language that the other side could understand (think Mr. Rogers or Jimmy Carter when he was president). Having lots of social, political and religious moderates makes that easier, since there are a lot of people prepared to take both sides seriously. The guy who goes to church every so often both respects his wife as a woman of faith and his scientifically oriented son. When mother and child disagree, he can smooth things over. Similarly with religious and political moderates in the public square.
The more moderates we lose, the harder it is for those of us at different ends of the political and religious spectra to understand and respect one another. After all, there are fewer people insisting that we do so.
So with regard to the new data, score 1 for those who give their lives meaning by trying to defeat their religious and political opponents. Score 0 for those of us who would like to live well with people different from ourselves.