Sunday, March 22, 2015

Rise of the Planet of the Nones

New research released a month ago by the Public Religion Research Institute shows that the religiously unaffiliated are now the largest “religious” group in the United States.

Nationally those who respond “None” to religious affiliation surveys are 22%. White evangelical Protestants come in second at 18%. White Mainline Protestants are third at 14%. White Catholics are 13%, followed by Black Protestants and Hispanic Protestants, both at 8%. All the rest are 5% or under.

In thirteen states the “Nones” comprise the largest group, including in New Hampshire. In fact among all fifty states New Hampshire is second only to Oregon in having the highest percentage of “Nones.” 

In the Granite State 35% are unaffiliated, 28% are White Catholic, and 16% are White Mainline Protestant. White Evangelicals come in fourth in New Hampshire at 9%.  All the rest of the groups are 2% or under.

Of course I could argue with the way the groups were divided along racial and ethnic lines. (For example, I don’t see Black or Hispanic Protestants as religiously different than White Protestants!) But no matter how you look at it, I am part of a minority group.

On the world scene the situation is much more serious. It is open hunting season on Christians of all kinds as persecution and destruction of historic Christian communities accelerate.

Back here in the United States, there is no persecution of Christians. Just an ongoing loss of numbers, power, prestige, and influence. And that is alright. Many Christians bemoan the ongoing cultural shift and wring their hands in despair. I kind of like it, as long as it does not turn into intolerance.

To tell the truth I never cared for the so-called “glory days” of American Protestantism, as my church in Lowell, Massachusetts, used to call the 1950’s and 60’s. I grew up in that era. I remember those days well, and I didn't like them. That was the type of Christianity that I, like so many Baby Boomers, rebelled against.

It was the time when pews were filled, and Mainstream Protestantism had power and influence. If you wanted to get ahead in business or society, you had to be a member of a church. That is no longer true. Good riddance. It fostered a hypocritical form of Christianity.

Nowadays it is counter-cultural for a person to be a part of a church. That fits me better. It is now culturally “in” to be a skeptic, agnostic, atheist, or at least “spiritual but not religious.” Although recent studies have shown that this last group is actually better described as “neither spiritual nor religious.”

Christianity has always been at its best when the underdog.  That is why it thrived in the first three hundred years of the Christian Era. Only when the Roman Emperor Constantine decided to make Christianity the official religion of the empire in the fourth century, did the real problems begin. Masses of people joined the church for reasons other than religious conviction.

That was the downfall of the Christianity. Since then believers have always been “a church within a church.” Nowadays people come to church for much better reasons. Sure, there are those who come mostly for the social dimension, and that is fine. We all need community and friends. But there is now a much more sincere search for, and finding, a sense of the Presence of God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, than ever before.

So I will not complain about the Nones or their growing numbers. It just means there are that many more people to reach with the gospel.

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