Saturday, August 27, 2016
Faith-Based and Leaving Fast
When the Christian themed motion picture remake, Ben-Hur – with a nine-figure production budget – was released this August, that it opened with a domestic box office of about ten percent of what it cost to make it (not counting the tens of millions more to market the film) got tongues wagging in Hollywood. It was a major box office flop. “It didn’t have stars,” said some. “People weren’t familiar with the earlier, 1959 Charlton Heston version,” said others. But the MGM and Paramount marketers had worked assiduously with what Hollywood called “affinity marketing” to reach pastors and passionate Christians across the land. They believed that they had it in the bag. But the folks in that bag were hardly enough to make a difference.
There is a much bigger reason behind this little reflection of changes in American beliefs and attitudes, one that augurs badly for the future of Christian social conservatives and their desires for moral mandates. Deeply-rooted devotion to Christianity, a faith that literally once bound small American towns and rural communities together, is fading fast. Ben-Hur found traction pretty much in the over-25 (actually skewing much older) demographic and not much with any other segment. The trend is reflected heavily in which constituencies are supporting Donald Trump and comparably-oriented conservatives.
For those on the Christian right, the numbers have to be terrifying. Those folks at Pew Research are filling in the whys and wherefores gleaned from a recent poll. “Americans have been believing in God less and less in recent months, and new research is shedding light on why that may be.
“According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center as part of a broader Religious Landscape Study, 78 percent of people who do not identify with any religious group were raised in a faith system and then left as adults.
“Further, about half of those people said that a lack of belief caused them to leave their faith, citing, among other things, ‘science’ and ‘lack of evidence’ as reasons for this skepticism… ‘I'm doing a lot more learning, studying, and kind of making decisions myself rather than listening to someone else,’ one respondent explained in the survey.” U.S. News & World Report, August 25th. The younger the respondent, the less he or she showed a commitment to organized religion. And more the Evangelical community has fought against scientifically-substantiated “theories” on evolution and climate change, the more it has challenged the LGBT community, the more it has lost traction with upcoming generations.
“About 20 percent of people who left their childhood faith oppose organized religion generally. ‘I think that more harm has been done in the name of religion than any other area,’ one respondent said. ‘I think religion is not a religion anymore. It's a business... it's all about money,’ said another.
“Another 18 percent said they were religiously unsure, meaning that they had some connection to religion or spirituality but didn't identify with any particular religious group. One participant explained: ‘Right now I'm kind of leaning towards spirituality, but I'm not too sure. I know I can pray to my God anywhere. I do believe in a higher power, but I don't need a church to do that.’
“Yet another 10 percent said they ‘didn't have time to go to church’ or ‘participate in any of the rituals of the church.’ These respondents were classified as ‘inactive’: that they may hold certain beliefs, but that they do not currently practice religion.” U.S. News & World Report. Welcome to the over-connected world of modern urban living. Small town values have yielded to urban hectic speed, diversity (religious, ethnic, cultural and gender) and those infamous huddling masses.
“In 2010, a total of 80.7 percent of Americans lived in urban areas, up from 79 percent in 2000… Conversely, 19.3 percent of the U.S. population lived in rural areas in 2010, down from 21 percent in 2000… At the same time, the population of urban areas grew by 12.1 percent, much faster than the country's growth rate of 9.7 percent from 2000 to 2010.” Reuters (3/26/12) The 2020 Census will reflect an even greater urban skew.
America is no longer the amalgamation of small towns and rural communities held together by the social fabric of the local church, from Sunday services to church-sponsored socials. The world has changed and America with it. “In 1790, only about one out of every twenty Americans (on average) lived in urban areas (cities), but this ratio had dramatically changed to one out of four by 1870, one out of two by 1920, two out of three in the 1960s, and four out of five in the 2000s.” Wikipedia.
Welcome to the new New World, where traditional white fundamental Protestants are becoming the latest American minority. They set the rules and the values in the past but have decreasings sway with the population at large with every passing year. There also are many in this dwindling constituency who are largely passionate about gun ownership and their perceived “constitutional right” to use those weapons to unseat a government that they believe no longer reflects their definition of “American values.” Will this transition be determined at the ballot box… or…? Time will tell.
I’m Peter Dekom, and the changes all around us will indeed disrupt a whole lot of lives… and how they respond to this disruption goes to the heart of whether these United States will indeed remain United.