Sunday, October 25, 2009

Secularism Is Growing; But What Kind of Secularism?

10/25/2009--A few weeks ago a new report from the Religious Identification Survey came out with further analysis of the 2008 data that led to their original report last spring. The 2008 report had dramatically identified 15% of the American people as reporting their religion as "none". There had been criticism of at least the implications of the 2008 report because most of the growth in that category seemed to have taken place prior to 2001. Now new analysis suggests to the authors that the "none" category is continuing to grow. [New Report]

If this is true, it comes as no surprise, but not for any statisical reasons. The social trends driving secular growth are very powerful and there is no reason that the drift from religion should not continue once the basic hold of religion began to weaken. Nevertheless, precise predictions of this kind are inherently unreliable.

The more significant question may be, what kind of secularism is growing? Apparently a little more than half of the "nones" continue to report that they believe in God or a higher power. Then one must ask why such people have not found some religious orientation? It is one thing to leave religion because one no longer believes. Why leave if you still do?

It would be unfortunate if the growth of secularism turned out to be in large part a flight from religious authorities. If that does turn out to be the case, America will end up with rootless believers who may fall for the next snake-oil salesman who comes along.

1 comment:

  1. Religious orientation, as in which denominational box you check on a survey, isn't very important to the believing nones. It also isn't very important to a portion of those who do check a denomination. See "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism" from the National Study of Youth and Religion survey data.

    "Spiritual but not religious" is a huge category your project needs to address. It straddles the line between nones and those with denominational identifications, so it messes with the entire idea of what is secular. What is your definition of secular, hallowed or not?

    Last paragraph - way too late for your concern, the horse has left the barn a long time ago. Snake oil sales is probably the second oldest profession. Also, snake oil salesmen have much more luck with "believers" - whether that means the prosperity gospel, motivational speakers, new age medicine, etcetera - than non-believers.