Wednesday, May 13, 2015

"Where's all the people?"

Southern Beale insists Christianity is "dying" (because the only Christians in the world are in America!) and the headline writers at Salon are driven to hyperbolic hyperbole (if that is, indeed possible).  A "record number of Americans consider themselves religiously unaffiliated," declares one. "Fewer Americans than ever identify as Christian" says another.  And all because Pew has released another poll.

As Charlie Pierce might say, this is all my balls.

First, 41% of Americans considered themselves affiliated with religion at all in 1906, so the "record decline" Pew has announced is actually a return to the peak of the last century, in 1998.  That year  70% of Americans declared a religious affiliation, actually a slight decline from the peak for the century just a few years earlier, although an increase from the immediate past.

And then, as Sarah Posner points out:  no.  Just:  no.  She makes 5 points:

1. The  Pew data "does not include its analysis of respondents’ religious intensity or orthodoxy, nor of the respondents’ political and social attitudes." That will come later.

2. "A different Pew survey out last year found a 'growing appetite' for mixing religion and politics, particularly among conservative religious respondents.  Per Posner on that poll, it found “those affiliated with a religion, particularly evangelicals, Protestants, and Catholics, ‘have become significantly more supportive of churches and other houses of worship speaking out about political issues and political leaders talking more often about religion.'”

3. Evangelicals, especially white evangelicals, "have been highly politically organized for decades."  And they still think liberals "stole" America and that they must "take it back."

4. Which is important because "the unaffiliated lack such a cohesive political identity."

5.  Speaking of organization:  "While the percentage of white evangelicals who voted in the 2014 midterms outstripped their share of the population as a whole, as Pew noted in its post-election analysis, “despite the continued growth of religious ‘nones‘ within the population as a whole, the share of the electorate with no religious affiliation also is little changed compared with other recent midterms (12% in both 2010 and 2014).” Political organizing and turnout matter far more than numbers."

So everybody take a deep breath.  Christianity is not coming to an end.  Religion is not coming to an end.  And America is not on the verge of becoming an atheist utopia.  And the real issue of faith is not really how it affects American politics.

Believe it or not.*

*And what's interesting is how much faith we have in polls.  The latest British elections left pollsters with egg all over their faces.  This was excused, however, because people don't respond to polls truthfully, or don't answer their phones, or something.  The poll cannot fail, it can only be failed.  The same excuses were trotted out a few years ago when pollsters got a major U.S. election completely wrong. In polls we trust.  God?  Who's God?  How does God poll, that's the question.

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