There’s a big, big difference between being a true follower of Jesus of Nazareth and calling yourself a “Christian”. Putting that aside, the percentage of Americans who say they’re Christians has been going down, while those who claim to be have become more more fervid in their political beliefs.
[According to the Pew Research Center,] since the 1990s, large numbers of Americans have left Christianity to join the growing ranks of U.S. adults who describe their religious identity as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular.” This accelerating trend is reshaping the U.S. religious landscape….
The Center estimates that in 2020, about 64% of Americans, including children, were Christian. People who are religiously unaffiliated, sometimes called religious “nones,” accounted for 30% of the U.S. population. Adherents of all other religions – including Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists – totaled about 6%.
Depending on whether religious switching continues at recent rates, speeds up or stops entirely, the projections show Christians of all ages shrinking from 64% to between a little more than half (54%) and just above one-third (35%) of all Americans by 2070. Over that same period, “nones” would rise from the current 30% to somewhere between 34% and 52% of the U.S. population.
Brynn Tannehill, writing for The New Republic, considers what that may mean for our politics:
As American youths leave home, they leave the faiths of their parents and never return. This is in great part because the teachings of most churches in the U.S. are fundamentally at odds with what young people believe: particularly on topics like abortion, marriage equality, birth control, and premarital sex. They simply fail to see how such out-of-touch institutions are relevant….
The most crucial factor is how Christianity has slowly become primarily a political identity for many (overwhelmingly conservative) people. Over the past 40 years, membership in nice, bland, mainline Protestantism has plummeted, from 30 percent of the public down to 10 percent. Conversely, evangelical membership (and the number of white evangelicals) boomed in the 1970s and ’80s and then slowly declined. But evangelical groups are still much larger than the mainline Protestant denominations, constituting about 23 percent of adults and up to 37 percent of Americans claiming to be “born again.” Because white evangelicals are one of the most consistently conservative groups in the country, the result is that people who identify as Christian or attend church frequently are far more likely also to identify as Republican.
Black churches have held steady for decades at about 8 percent of the population. They are still associated with social justice goals, but they can also tend toward social conservatism, which can produce tension….Latinos were traditionally part of the Catholic Church. However, traditionally white evangelical denominations have had some luck luring Latinos away with social conservatism and the false machismo projected by Republicans, which explains some of the electoral shift seen in 2020.
Just as those who attend church frequently tend to be Republican, the converse is also true: Those with no religion are far more likely to be Democrats. Data analysis by Ryan Burge shows that white evangelicals have had a stranglehold on the [Republican Party] for over two decades and form a clear majority, alongside conservative Catholics. However, by 2018, the “nones” represented a plurality (28 percent) of Democrats, whose gains have come at the expense of evangelicals, mainlines, and Catholics within the party. Today, almost half of Gen Z has no religion….
A 2017 survey of 2,002 U.S. adults age 23 to 30 who attended a Protestant church … in high school found that 66 percent had stopped attending church. Seventy percent of those cited religious, ethical, or political beliefs for dropping out. Other major reasons cited included hypocrisy, churches being judgmental, and a lack of anything in common with other people at the church.
The danger of this widening schism is not a lack of shared sense of community, or people not doing enough charitable work. The danger lies in this creating the conditions for a future that looks more like present-day Russia or Iran.
Conservative Christians have a deep sense of victimhood and fear about a secular America and are willing to end democracy to prevent it. As David Frum noted, “If conservatives become convinced that they cannot win democratically, they will not abandon conservatism, they will abandon democracy.”
It has not gone unnoticed that Republicans are increasingly claiming the mantle of being Christian Nationalists. A recent poll found that although 57 percent of Republicans recognize that declaring the U.S. a “Christian nation” is unconstitutional, over 60 percent would support it….
Tannehill then cites two current instances of conservative (or reactionary) religion being combined with political power. They’re worst case scenarios for America:
First there is the Russian Orthodox Church, headed by Patriarch Kirill. He’s been one of Vladimir Putin’s most loyal allies and has been willing to put the church’s blessing on virtually anything Putin does. This includes supporting Russian actions in Ukraine in the name of stamping out the corrupting Western influence of homosexuality and protecting the Russky mir (Russian world). More recently, he has declared that dying in battle washes away all of one’s sins…. On top of the fascism, Russian Orthodox church leaders have made themselves obscenely wealthy by supporting Putin’s kleptocracy.
What we’re seeing in Iran is what happens when a sclerotic, gerontocratic, authoritarian theocracy tries to impose its will on a younger population that no longer accepts the legitimacy of the government and also rejects some of its core religious teachings. Protests erupted over 22-year-old Mahsa Amini being tortured and killed by “morality police” for wearing her hijab the “wrong” way. Women have responded by tearing off their head scarves and burning them. Men have attacked police, and riots have racked the country for weeks. The internet has been shut down, and at least 75 people have been killed so far. The Iranian regime has reportedly lost control of a predominantly Kurdish town on the border as well.
For millions of Americans, Christianity has become a political identity that favors the creation of a single-party, single-religion theocracy. Russia and Iran demonstrate where that can lead, either to becoming “a corrupted tool of fascism (as in Russia) or an oppressive, omnipresent force (as in Iran) against which the population can achieve change only through revolution”.