A Pew Research Center study shows that since the 1990s, many Americans have left Christianity to join the growing ranks of adults who describe their religious identity as atheist, agnostic, or “nothing in particular.” Pew predicts that if current trends of religious disaffiliation continue, Christians will make up less than half of the U.S. population by 2070, a stark drop compared to 64% in 2020.
These trends do not bode well for America and are leading to the rise of a “dictatorship of relativism,” a term used by Pope Benedict XVI to describe the state of humanity resulting from a decline in adherence to both faith and reason as avenues to truth. The dictatorship of relativism emerges as people begin basing their worldview on their own subjectivist prescriptions rather than adhering to the notion that there is truth that is knowable that we cannot create but must adhere to.
“Christianity played a critical role in the origins of most American colonies, the founding itself, and American culture and history in general,” Jay Richards, director of The Heritage Foundation’s Richard and Helen Devos Center for Life, Religion, and Family, told The Daily Signal. “The percentage of Christians in the U.S. population has been declining for decades.”
“However, if trends continue, the percentage of Christian Americans will drop below the percentage of people with no religious affiliation at all. This is not good news,” Richards continued. “We know that religious belief in general is good for human flourishing. Secularism, in contrast, is not. These trends also bode ill for religious liberty. Our constitutional guarantee of religious liberty emerged from a specific Christian theological context and is not likely to flourish with the loss of that context in the culture.”
Pew predicted numerous scenarios, but in all scenarios, Christians shrank as a percentage of the American population. In the most likely scenario, more young people leave Christianity with ever-increasing momentum, creating a spiraling social contagion effect.
The results of this survey also mirror growing sentiments in Europe. Western European countries, the original heart of Christendom, have lost their Christian identity. For example, research data shows that in Great Britain, the number of those with no religious affiliation “surpassed Christians to become the largest group in 2009.” It also shows that only 47% of adults in the Netherlands say they are Christian.
These growing trends of disaffiliation will have negative consequences for America. Christianity has been the animating spirit of the United States and played a role in shaping our most fundamental beliefs. The founding documents have a theological framework that allows them to only work in the context of a Divine Creator.
President George Washington stated in his Farewell Address:
Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.
According to Pew, the unaffiliateds are not completely areligious since many are “not uniformly nonbelieving or non-practicing.” They still “partake in traditional religious practices despite their lack of religious identity, including a solid majority who believe in some kind of higher power or spiritual force,” according to the study.
Religious discontent is evident in American culture as the country continues to move toward embracing subjectivism and atheism. Instead of using religion to direct one’s life, it seems individuals would rather use religion without it being overbearing and without having to follow its core tenets.
Benedict XVI warned of the dangers of a dictatorship of relativism in his 2005 homily to the College of Cardinals, stating, “We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.”
Young people are finding themselves depressed and anxious about the world, which is causing increases in suicide rates and mental health issues. The more Americans abandon their religiosity—something that provides hope, guidance, and comfort—the more likely they will face issues of despair and confusion.
The growing trends of religious disaffiliation paint a bleak picture of America’s future. A return to Christian values and breaking away from the destructiveness of relativism can help America regain its lost path.
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