Saturday, October 1, 2011

Is America Moving Away from Religion?

It would be nice if it were true but I don't see it quite the way Tana Ganeva does in her Alternet piece, "5 Signs That America Is Moving Away from Religion". In the introduction she talks about how fed up people are with the "Tea Party" and the GOP, especially the manner in which they use religion. It does not seem to occur to her that she is conflating a loss of faith in the Religious Right with a shift away from religion itself. Just because people are gradually come to realize that mixing religion and politics is a terrible idea does not mean they as a whole are becoming less religious.

It also seems obvious, once you take a moment to analyze them, that the 5 signs really end up being 2 signs. Again, those two don't necessarily mean there really is a move away from religion. The first sign listed by Ganeva, "American religious belief is becoming more fractured", may help some theists realize that religion is a very personal and subjective aspect of life. This may in turn lead to the conclusion that religion should not be involved in public policy. I would certainly encourage such a process but do not think it helpful to misinterpret it as a sign of irreligion. It isn't. The last "sign" listed, "Getting married by friends", also may indicate a softening of religions influence on peoples lives but then again it may mean something else entirely. It is just as likely an interpretation that people want a more personal ceremony. Most faiths allow some choices within how they conduct marriage ceremonies but civil ceremonies offer far greater options. Part of the trend does seem to correlate with choosing family and friends as officiates. How many people have family members that happen to be clergy?

The last point leads to another distinction that should be made but alludes Ganeva. There is a difference between religion and organized religion. Many mainstream Christian denominations/sects are shrinking in membership. This coincides with a growing trend that amounts to little more than a shift in semantics. A lot of people who end up being classified as "non-religious" in various surveys and studies really are not. The tend to self identify as "spiritual" rather than "religious." What that indicates, apparently, is a move away from a specific denomination/sect. Those who claim to be "spiritual" are still religious they just don't like the term. They are still believers and therefore not "non-religious." It is this lack of distinction and confusion of labels that basically nullifies her second and third "signs."  How you identify yourself is important, of course, but that does not change basic facts. If you believe then the label "non-belief" does not make sense.

Ganeva's forth sign, "Hate group that exploited religion to bash gays hemorrhaging funds", makes no sense to me. It is almost entirely focused on one group and it really does not say anything about religion in general. It is revealing only in regard to one version of one faith and even that is more about mixing politics with religion than about anything strictly theological.

It is still an interesting article and in its own way encouraging. Moving away from religion being so influential on public life is certainly a good thing. It is a positive direction for everyone, theist and atheist alike. Strengthening separation of church and state can only help guarantee freedom of thought. The sooner those seeking to use religion for political and economic gain are exposed for the scum they are the better. They may never completely go away but if we can keep them as powerless as possible society will be better off.

No comments:

Post a Comment