Non Religious in America Part 1 – Leaving Religion Behind

stained glass ChristPew Research Center: America’s Changing Religious Landscape

If you are American and not religious, you are part of a growing group.  It looks like more and more people just don’t care when it comes to religion.  The recently released report by the Pew Research Center says that in 2014 22.8% of the U.S. population described themselves as “unaffiliated” regarding religion.  That is up from 16.1% in just seven years.  Christianity has taken the biggest hit, dropping from 74.4% of the population to 70.6%.

What’s Not To Like About Religion?

I am sure a lot of people are fretting about this decline.  After all, for a couple of centuries, religion and particularly Christianity have seemed like the moral and spiritual foundation of this country. But I think that we can learn a lot by looking closer at the decline of religion.  Isn’t reality the best teacher? Maybe a good place to start is with ourselves.

If you are “unaffiliated” when it comes to church, I wonder—why did that happen?  Maybe one of the following reasons fits you. (If you are affiliated with a church, please read on anyway.  You may find this interesting!)

  • I don’t believe in hell.
  • Christians are all hypocrites and/or too judgmental.
  • The church teaches that gays are bad. I think they are just different, not bad.
  • I think most of the Bible stories are bogus.
  • I don’t even believe in God. Why go to church?
  • I am way to busy.
  • I would rather read the Sunday paper or go golfing.

Another factor stands out—lots of people, especially those younger than me, feel free to do as they please regarding religion and church.  More and more, people don’t feel societal or family pressure strongly enough to get them involved in religion against their will.

My Steps Away from Religion

I know one person’s story about leaving religion quite well—mine. I was in the “affiliated” group most of my life (and that was a lot of years!).  I was following in the pattern of my family.  In my early adulthood, I think I needed the framework of meaning that Christianity provided.  And I just liked going there on Sunday.  Now I am not affiliated with any religion.

The steps in my slow march away from formal Christianity went something like this:

  1. I believed in evolution since I was eight years old. I just didn’t know what to do with the Genesis creation stories until I was forty.
  2. I quit believing in hell (Blame very religious but non-judgmental parents.)
  3. I discovered that the Bible wasn’t a specially God-inspired infallible book, but a compilation of dozens of books written over about a thousand years by fallible men—emphasis on men). (Blame a liberal preacher and lots of reading on my own.)
  4. I read some history of the early church and found about equal parts of the inspiring and the disgusting.
  5. I found out that what little I understood of biology, sociology and psychology was more helpful in understanding people than the Bible was.
  6. I felt more “spiritual” looking at the woods behind my house or up at the stars than I did when I prayed.

It was a long time before I totally let go of established ideas about salvation, the Bible, and the God-hood of Jesus.  I think I was hanging on to a few pieces of belief in the hope that they would make the whole puzzle work.  But that never happened.  I have friends who also only gradually questioned what they were taught, but I also have friends who were critical of church at a very early age.

From 2007 to 2014 Americans unaffiliated with religion rose from 16.1% to 22.8%.  Self-described Christians fell from 74.4% to 70.6%. See the Pew report “America’s Changing Religious Landscape.”The younger you are, the more likely that you have left.

When I was young, it was rare for young people to question religion.  Now, it seems that the younger people are, the more readily they desert religion—particularly Christianity. And not only question it, but desert it.  The Pew report indicates that 36% of younger millennials and 34% of older millennials are unaffiliated, sharply up compared to older generations.  As these groups age and another generation arrives, maybe religion will decline even faster.

What Is Wrong With Christianity?

So let’s talk about this. What do you think it is about Christianity in America that is causing it to decline so rapidly?  And here is an even better question: if you have disconnected from religion, why? Please share your thoughts in the comment space. And, please, if you are a Christian—or if you never were—share your thoughts too.

Go to Part Two of “Non Religious in America,” where we will talk more about thinking for yourself when it comes to religion.

Read Part Two of this series “Non-religious in America: Thinking for Yourself
Part Three: “Life’s Lines and the Faithless Man,” a poem
See the Pew report “America’s Changing Religious Landscape.”

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