November 2, 2018
In just a few days we will have the 2018 midterm elections. No. I am not writing about politics this week end. My concern, rather, is to take a look at the contemporary American (USA) religious landscape.
My airport experiences seem to be memorable….During a long wait at the airport in Atlanta, last week, as I was waiting for my flight to Brussels, I was re-reading the 2016 book by Robert Jones: The End of White Christian America. When I put the book down to check an email on my phone, the fellow sitting next to me saw the cover and practicality yelled at me: “That’s our problem. That’s why I voted for President Trump. He will bring white America back to its senses.” I told him I had no desire to get into a political discussion; but that the USA was undergoing a major cultural and religions re-configuration. He gave me that “you crazy old liberal” look, then said he had to catch his plane and got up and walked away. Just as well.
Recent political campaign rallies have been marked by vitriolic and racist outbursts, harsh rhetoric, and even violence. Recent events in Pittsburg are symptomatic. The United States is undergoing major cultural-religious changes that make some people anxious and fearful. Others hateful. The changes of course are not going to disappear. We can only turn our clocks back one hour. On Wednesday, just four days after 11 people were fatally shot in the deadliest attack on Jewish people in U.S. history, anonymous posters on a website popular with white supremacists, Stormfront, claimed the bloodshed at Tree of Life synagogue was an elaborate fake staged by actors. The site’s operator, a former Ku Klux Klan leader, said traffic has increased about 45 percent since the shooting. Ignorance rules. Hatred is growing.
Thanks to research done by Robert Jones’ Public Religion Research Institute, as well as the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, we can point to twelve major changes in the US religious landscape. The future is now, becoming tomorrow:
(1) White Christians now account for fewer than half of the USA public. Today, only 43% of Americans identify as white and Christian. In 1976, 81% of Americans identified as white and Christian.
(2) White evangelical Protestants are in decline—along with white mainline Protestants and white Catholics. About 20% of today’s Americans self-identify as Catholic, which is a drop from 24% in 2007. The Catholic decline continues, due especially to clerical sexual abuse revelations. Revelations are not over, and the Catholic eclipse has begun…
(3) Non-Christian religious groups in the USA are growing, but still represent less than one in ten Americans. Jewish Americans constitute 2% of the public while Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus each constitute only 1% of the public. All other non-Christian religions constitute an additional 1%. Please note: a Muslim takeover of the United States is not just around the corner.
(4) America’s youngest religious groups are all non-Christian. Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists, for example, are all far younger than white Christian groups. At least one-third of Muslims (42%), Hindus (36%), and Buddhists (35%) are under the age of 30.
(5) The Catholic Church in the United States is experiencing a major shakeup and an ethnic transformation. Twenty-five years ago, 87% of US Catholics were white, non-Hispanic. The figure of white non-Hispanic Catholics today is 55%. Currently 36% of US Catholics under the age of 30 are non-Hispanic white, and 52% are Hispanic. (In the 2016 election, 56% of white Catholics voted for Trump, compared to only 19 percent of Hispanic Catholics.)
(6) The cultural center of the Catholic Church is shifting south. The Northeast is no longer the epicenter of American Catholicism. Today, a majority of Catholics now reside in the South (29%) or West (25%). Currently, only about one-quarter (26%) of the U.S. Catholic population lives in the Northeast, and 20% live in the Midwest.
(7) Jews, Hindus, and Unitarian-Universalists stand out as the most educated groups in the American religious landscape. More than one-third of Jews (34%), Hindus (38%), and Unitarian-Universalists (43%) hold post-graduate degrees. Notably, Muslims are significantly more likely than white evangelical Protestants to have at least a four-year college degree (33% vs. 25%, respectively).
(8) Asian or Pacific-Islander Americans have a significantly different religious profile than other racial or ethnic groups. There are as many Asian or Pacific-Islander Americans affiliated with non-Christian religions as with Christian religious groups. And one-third (34%) are religiously unaffiliated.
(9) Nearly half of LGBT Americans are religiously unaffiliated. Nearly half (46%) of Americans who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) are religiously unaffiliated. This is roughly twice the number of Americans overall (24%) who are religiously unaffiliated. Many Americans no longer feel at home in their churches.
(10) Politically, white Christians have become a minority in the Democratic Party. Just 29% of Democrats today are white Christians, compared to 50% one decade earlier. Only 14% of young Democrats (age 18 to 29) identify as white Christian. Forty percent identify as religiously unaffiliated.
(11) Curiously, white evangelical Protestants remain the dominant religious force in the GOP. More than one-third (35%) of all Republicans identify as white evangelical Protestants, a proportion that has remained roughly stable over the past decade. Roughly three-quarters (73%) of Republicans belong to a white Christian religious group.
(12) Americans ages 18 to 29 are considerably less religious than older Americans. Fully one-in-four adults under age 30 (25%) are unaffiliated, describing their religion as “atheist,” “agnostic” or “nothing in particular.” In their social and political views, Millennials are clearly more accepting than older Americans of homosexuality, more inclined to see evolution as the best explanation of human life, and less prone to see the Internet as threatening their moral values
And so, alert to the signs of the times, we move ahead. We must move ahead. We cannot regress.
And I conclude this reflection with just one pre-election reminder: Power over people is not a virtue; and history shows again and again that in religion and in civil society absolute power corrupts absolutely.