OK. I'm officially sick of it. The very moment folks started calling themselves “members of the reality-based community,” it made me want to wretch on my Pumas. Why not be honest and call yourself a proud member of the “you're either stupid or evil if you don't agree with me community?” I understand the supposed contrast with “faith-based” and the ironic embrace of its derisively intended non-opposite. But come on, really. I think we all understand and appreciate what a hard-headed empiricist you are by not attending Sunday school. Your epistemic virtue bowls us over. But just maybe it's time for new blog slogans, people. Why not try something along “my scat smells like honey-based” or “self-congatulation-based” lines?

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center

18 thoughts

  1. One very important omission in the chart is the failure to disaggregate Protestants. The original data show that the number of Evangelicals is exploding but the number of liberal Protestants is imploding faster. But this means that as a whole American Christianity is becoming more orthodox, even if it’s numbers are shrinking. This may counteract a bit of your joy, Will.
    Not only that, but I’m concerned that many of these ‘no religion’ folks felt that way twenty years ago. The main thing that has changed is that it is more acceptable to say you have no religion. I could be wrong, but I bet the numbers would be somewhat smaller if you knew who really had no religion before. Most people don’t like to admit it to themselves.
    And the Catholic drops are misleading too. Lots of these people were ‘ethnic’ Catholics and never went to mass. When the scandals hit, they just said, “To hell with that sick shit.” I mean, maybe I’m wrong, but that looks pretty plausible to me as an explanation.
    Interestingly, the US has had far more secular periods in the past, like in its early decades. We have a cyclically religious history, with periodic Great Awakenings. Maybe we won’t have another one, but the 21st century is proving as recalcitrantly religious as the 20th.

    1. In what sense of “tradition” and “orthodox” is it possible to jettison the intricate theology of the denomination to which your family has belonged for 400 years in order to embrace the easy “conservatism” of the local mega-ego-church?

    2. The “tradition” and “orthodoxy” is the same in both cases. “Tradition” and “orthodoxy” are code-words for “tribalism”.
      The East African Plains Ape is a social species. Your social group, tribe, religious sect, was never chiefly about a belief system. It was about the comfort that came with collective responsibility, mutual support, and so on.
      So today, the local “mega-church” replaces the “tradition” and “orthodoxy” as the source of this social comfort. Nothing very mysterious about it. All that’s happened in Europe, and what’s happening here, is that this definition of “tribe” has expanded to include the collective social responsibility.

  2. Will, this general trend (especially as it applies to liberal social issues) is why I think it’s important to focus on economic liberty. Social liberty has generally been trending upward and will continue to do so.

  3. A lot of people have made the findings of this survey out to be far more omnious for American religiosity than they really are. Here’s the actual pdf:
    I’d highlight Table 1 (page 3 of the pdf). Since 2001 the percentage of Christians has remained nearly the same (why didn’t this get a lot of press in 2001?); the total percentages of Christians have been 86.2, 76.7, and 76.0 in 1990, 2001, and 2008, respectively. Clearly, Christianity’s declining trend has nearly stopped. To argue persuasively that the rate of decline will pick up again, one needs other data or theories.

  4. There’s a very welcome trend where more and more Americans are smoking half a pack of cigarettes a day.
    The health effects of being irreligious are just as bad.
    Every civilization in decline has its Will Wilkinson’s cheering on the end.

    1. What amuses me is that when you consider the incentives people have historically had for taking an adversarial position against the state, the list pretty much includes every item the Will Wilkinsons denigrate: people have typically have rebelled against incursions against their religions, their families, their local communities, their ethnic identification – in short, their “tribes”. And yet, you visit the website of a reputed “anti-statist” and right on the front page every one of those things is either attacked or, at minimum, contemptuously dismissed.
      Somehow, I don’t get the feeling many people are willing to man the barricades in defense of gay marriage, or for the privilege of having their countries crap-flooded with foreign nationals. Indeed, it’s more likely they’ll rebel at having those things imposed on them from a central authority – not once has gay marriage survived a popular referendum, even in California.
      In short, the Will Wilkinsons propose to make us free by undermining the appreciation of values that have historically made freedom desirable enough to strive for, even to fight and die for.
      Libertarianism == totalitarianism-in-waiting.

  5. Increasing moral liberalization and secularization within the confines of an ever-increasing social welfare system is not a very welcome trend. It is a recipe for financial disaster.

  6. The East African Plains Ape is a social species. Your social group, tribe, religious sect, was never chiefly about a belief system. It was about the comfort that came with collective responsibility, mutual support, and so on.

  7. I’m not a republican, but I do hate democrats.
    It’s not exaggeration by much. The words of your leg-tingling Obama prove that. The fool actually thinks he can stop booms and busts…only a god could do that.
    Delusional democrats…if they only have the right people writing the right words on pieces of paper, then magic can happen!

  8. Well i see the stats and its astonishing to see The 2008 results [of the American Religious Identification Survey], to be released today, are based on 54,000 interviews with a margin of error of plus or minus 0.5%. It finds that, despite population growth and immigration adding nearly 50 million more adults, almost all denominations have lost ground since the first ARIS data was released in 1990.

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