Young Americans abandoning religion.
For some time I have thought that religious fervor in the United States would decline. I believe the fundamentalists have become so extreme and intolerant that they are turning people away from religion and faith.
I tend to look at trends not current situations. Where are things going not where are they now is what is important to me. And I have watched the United States with interest because it is the last Western nation that has any significant amount of religion still hanging on.
I should also note that the extremism of fundamentalists alone is not responsible for the decline of religion in America. I think a great deal of blame belongs to George Bush. Bush has tied fundamentalism closely to his own political agenda. He has proven to be a grossly incompetent president who is trampling the Constitution and attacking the freedom of the American people. The net result is that he is not only discrediting his own political party but discrediting religion in the process. And for that every atheist should be grateful. George Bush has done more to discredit Christianity than all the atheists put together.
Now how as this trend shown up? First, there was a dramatic decline in the number of Americans who said they supported having government promote traditional values. Americans tended to think government ought to do this in rather large numbers. But a recent Gallup Poll showed that for the first time in the history of the poll this view lacked majority support. All the decline in support had come in the last two years.
Second, we have seen atheist books become best sellers in the United States. Not since Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason over two hundred years ago have atheist books attracted this much attention. Sam Harris’ The End of Faith and Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion have both sold extremely well.
Now if atheism is increasing where would it show up first? Most adults never change their fundamental beliefs about anything. Most form beliefs when they are teens, or in their early 20s, and never waver very far from those beliefs. They don’t usually think these things through rationally and consider all sides of the issues. They simply adopt beliefs through a process of cultural osmosis and then pretty much cling to them for the rest of their lives.
So if beliefs shift you would first see those beliefs changing among the young. And now we have a new Pew Poll showing a major shift in the religious beliefs of what they call Generation Next, those between 18 and 25 years of age. The poll finds that “20% of today’s 18-25 year-olds say they have no religious affiliation or are atheist or agnostic. Only 11% of those over age 25 fall into this category. The gap between young and old has increased substantially over time. In the late 1980s, 11% of your people were non-religious compared with 8% of those over age 25.”
The shift here is rather dramatic. The numbers of young people who are non-religious has doubled in a very short time. If we go back to the 1980s we find that only 8% of those over the age of 25 were non-religious. Now even that group has slightly increased to 11%. But those under 25 who are non-religious have jumped to 20%.
And only 32% of people this age attend church regularly while 16% say they never attend church. What is interesting here the number who never attend church is smaller than the number of non-believers. And it is unlikely that all of the 16% who never attend church are atheists. So this would indicate that a good number of young people sitting in the pews are closet atheists.
Generation Next is also the group most strongly to accept scientific explanations for the origins of human life and not Biblical mythology. Where only 42% of Americans over the age of 61 believe in evolution 63% of Nexters are Darwinists.
And on the moral issues they have also abandoned the religious Right. When asked if they support full marriage rights for gay couples 47% of Nexters say they do. (The civil unions options which has a stronger level of support was not asked.) And 58% of them say that homosexuality ought to be full accepted and 61% support the right of gays to adopt children.
On abortion their views are as evenly split as among the older population but they are far more supportive of allowing women to use the “morning after” pill.