Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell wrote an article, Walking away from church, for the LA Times (10/17/2010) summarizing their recent book, American Grace. It seems that churches might want to hear what their research has uncovered.
“As recently as 1990, all but 7% of Americans claimed a religious affiliation, a figure that had held constant for decades. Today, 17% of Americans say they have no religion, and these new “nones” are very heavily concentrated among Americans who have come of age since 1990. Between 25% and 30% of twentysomethings today say they have no religious affiliation — roughly four times higher than in any previous generation.”
It is no surprise that young people are leaving the church (or faith or Christianity) in droves. The question is: why is this happening? Obviously, it is a function of secularization. Contemporary society and government believe that secularization provides the greatest hope for world peace and a host of other social “benefits.” But what exactly does secularization mean? The dictionary defines it as “The activity of changing something (art or education or society or morality etc.) so it is no longer under the control or influence of religion.” And what is the primary instrument that is used to bring about this change? Public education. That’s why it effects the young more than the old. Public education is getting better at what it does.
Current sociological evidence provides proof that the secularizing efforts of public education over the past couple of decades are paying off because the younger generations are more secularized than the older generations. Think about this for a moment. Public education is intentionally and successfully undermining the traditional religious beliefs and values of America. The government extracts taxes in order to “educate” our children away from traditional Christian values.
Putnam and Campbell theorize that the reason is politics rather than education. They think that it is the conservative politics of Evangelical churches that are disaffecting the youth, that the young are opposed to conservative politics. They suggest that people have “adjusted their religion to fit their politics,” and that conservatives are more guilty of this than liberals. The fact that too many people are Republican or Democrat before they are Christian cannot be denied. But it seems to me that the guilt should be equally shared.
What particular social issue seems to drive the drift into secularization? Homosexuality. “The fraction of twentysomethings who said that homosexual relations were ‘always’ or ‘almost always’ wrong plummeted from about 75% in 1990 to about 40% in 2008. … the association between religion and politics (and especially religion’s intolerance of homosexuality) was the single strongest factor in this portentous shift.”
Gregory Paul disagrees with their analysis in another LA Times article, What’s really hurting Christianity in America. He agrees with their findings that “The nonreligious are far and away the fastest-growing group, with nonbelievers having tripled as a portion of the general population since the 1960s and nonreligious twentysomethings doubling in just two decades.”
Paul argues that “Where Putman and Campbell go off track is in their second claim: that aversion among young Americans to the religious right is the primary secularizing force, and that skeptical youth may flock back to the churches if the latter embrace a less strident tone. This is almost certainly incorrect.” He identifies that secularization is a global, transnational phenomenon. And that “Because hard-right Christianity has never been a major force outside the United States, it cannot be a leading cause of Western secularization.” He cites studies that suggest that where socialism is most entrenched religious commitment is not. Where the civil state meets all of the bodily needs of a population, that population does not look to God for anything.
“Another factor behind Western secularism is the growth of the popular corporate-consumer culture.” When people are caught up in popular corporate-consumer culture, they have no time for God because they are busy with their gizmos and gadgets. “The now dominant corporate-consumer culture has driven the religious right into a shrinking parallel culture that most young Westerners see as pathetically square” – uncool, not hip, unpopular.
So, the second most powerful factor that steals the minds of children is the profit-driven corporate-consumer culture. We must not miss the fact that this culture is corporate, that it is being primarily driven by global corporate profits, and those who covet such profits, small corporations that emulate the big dogs.
I suspect that the recent concern for jobs, driven by the recent global economic fleecing, I mean crisis, will drive both public and higher education to serve the desires of the corporate-consumer culture in the hope of creating jobs. Indeed, that process has already begun. So, we can look for an increase in global socialization (as opposed to mere national socialism) to be the primary cultural force in the 21st Century, driving secular education and job training for a global culture that is increasingly hostile to religious belief.
What can Christians do to stem the tide? Get your kids out of public education, and shun the drive for global corporate-consumer culture. The best and only effective tool for this will be serious biblical education. Learn the truth about the Bible and teach it to your family. In addition, I suspect that the only viable institution that has any chance to counter the corporate-consumer cultural momentum of globalization is the local church. Real Christians need to recapture local churches.