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Americans edge away
May 28, 2002 8:54 AM   Subscribe

Americans edge away from organized religion two University of California, Berkeley, sociologists say.
posted by KevinSkomsvold (16 comments total)

 
Ha. Thanks for the impending hits. (And gripes.)
posted by pracowity at 9:12 AM on May 28, 2002


Yeah, unfortunately the article is not about a new trend in eschewing the term "organized religion."
posted by straight at 9:35 AM on May 28, 2002


I love how articles like this almost always seem to suggest that if not for one thing ("The alienation of moderates and liberals from conservative Christian political positions") then there would be more christians.

I guess it makes sense, because more often than not when choosing a religion people prefer to make the most popular choice as opposed to considering every religion and picking the best one.
posted by mcsweetie at 9:41 AM on May 28, 2002


more often than not when choosing a religion people prefer to make the most popular choice as opposed to considering every religion and picking the best one

er... so why didn't we converge to one religion or no religion a loooong time ago? isn't this article about people doing the very opposite of this?
posted by badstone at 9:50 AM on May 28, 2002


...93 percent of the people avoiding organized religion continue to pray on occasion, and one-fifth of those pray daily. Also, the percentage of people with no religious preference who agreed with the statement that "God is concerned about people" rose to 32 percent from 22 percent.

Looking for a better title? How about Disorganized Religion. Sorry about the second link, strait. I thought it was interesting in that it revealed how we view this term and some of the pitfalls involved.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 9:58 AM on May 28, 2002


'God is real. Heaven and hell are real. Me and my kids will go there when we're dead'

This sounds like something a defiant 6-year old would say.

As for religion, perhaps an increasing awareness of religious fundamentalism is making people think a little harder about affiliating themselves with any defined religious group.
posted by plaino at 10:03 AM on May 28, 2002


"'God is real. Heaven and hell are real. Me and my kids will go there when we're dead."

Interesting, because Christian teaching is that people don't go to heaven or hell until the end time, at which time everyone is judged. This idea that we immediately go to heaven when we die is pop Christianity, with no basis in actual Biblical teaching. But then we could also start discussing the theology of heaven and hell itself, concepts that arouse during the Middle Ages as a Church control mechanism. Oh well. What do I care, I'm an atheist.
posted by fleener at 10:13 AM on May 28, 2002


What I find interesting is that religions start as culturally and geographically specific constructs that are also rooted in the historical facts and traditions of a particular people, then they gradually spread until they are basically irrelevant. I mean irrelevant on a practical and logical level, not to suggest that major tenants of a religion become irrelevant. For instance, what relevance do 4000 year old dietary and hygiene codes have to contemporary American society? What do sexual restrictions rooted in ancient concepts of hereditary property rights and social order have to do with a modern society? I think this is where the frission arises between religion and everyday life- people who insist on the slavish adherence to a superfluous, outdated code of conduct, rather than deciding what the more universal constructs of the religion are, then separating them from the dated historical practices.

Another problem is the literalization of ancient myth. Fundamentalists of many persuasions relish the literal interpretation of the myth and fables and allegories of long-dead peoples, peoples who probably better understood what the difference between allegory and historical fact was.

If you take Christianity as an example, many of Jesus's parables have their root in the specific culture, economic and social class and time period He lived in. When I think of American children trying to understand not only the core meaning of the parables, but the specific details of them, it is not hard to understand why people are drifting away from religions, or hybridizing them into new ones. Think of what meaning lambs had to an ancient, agrarian society and what meaning they have to a kid in a Sunday school in Rockville, Maryland today. Or the concept of salting fields or of oil lamps. Religions end up being exercises in cultural history rather than spirituality. Not that this is always a hinderance, but it could help explain changing attitudes.
posted by evanizer at 10:58 AM on May 28, 2002


Religions end up being exercises in cultural history rather than spirituality.

I like this line because it implies (correct me if I'm wrong), that organized religion must find better ways to make itself more relevant to the times. Of course, being an atheist, I find its teachings somewhat stale and behind the times as well. On the other hand, trying to comtemporize (pardon my making up a word there) religion implies selling out or homogenizing it on some level. Just a thought for the fray.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 11:11 AM on May 28, 2002


It's even more than that, I think; even if you discount the rahter glaring problems with literal scriptural interpretations (which most religions seem to be backing away from) as society progresses - meaning, as we as a species become increasingly more knowledgable about the inner workings of ourselves, our systems and our universe, - the purview of God shrinks, as in, those things which God must necessarily be a part of become fewer and fewer. Combine that with the failings His chosen representatives show (think less child molestor, more Pope admitting that Galileo was correct five centuries late, although that child molestor shit isn't helping one bit), and you have a place where God's presence has become superfluous. As His influence on the majority wanes, His true believers become more and more marginalized and subsequently more and more (ahem) strident (ring any bells?).

As science and reason are shown to be effective tools for negotiating reality, their usage increases, while the less-effective tools for making sense of the universe fall into disrepute.
posted by UncleFes at 11:22 AM on May 28, 2002


I pray this is not true
posted by Postroad at 11:26 AM on May 28, 2002


I think tech-savvy frequent computer users are not likely to realize just how pervasive religion is in the U.S. You may think the entire world's turned onto atheism and reaching for those test tubes and physics books, but atheists are quite the minority.
posted by solistrato at 12:02 PM on May 28, 2002


Sorry about the second link, strait. I thought it was interesting in that it revealed how we view this term and some of the pitfalls involved.

Oh, no, Kev, I wasn't criticizing you for the second link, it was just kind of a joke lamenting that such a change isn't happening. I wasn't trying to call you on making the connection, but I can see now how my post reads that way. Sorry.
posted by straight at 12:47 PM on May 28, 2002


For example, 93 percent of the people avoiding organized religion continue to pray on occasion, and one-fifth of those pray daily

Faith in a higher power shows no noticeable sign of decline. The increase in people who are unaffiliated with a specific religion is about disaffectation with a specific set of tenets or beliefs or customs.

The response is, historically, not turning to reason or agnosticism. Disaffected believers, like the many that existed during the Lutheran reformation or during the huge upheavals in the early Roman empire, tend to create new religions or, more likely, adapting old religions, emphasizing the relevant, discarding the rest.

Noting sjc's comments, I am tempted to believe that the ratio of theists to non-theists, this huge imbalance, is not in for any sort of precipituous decline.
posted by vacapinta at 1:12 PM on May 28, 2002


sjc has a good point, but I would contend that the religion practiced by the vast majority of Americans is the kind that mandates Easter and Christmas Eve at church, a nodding acquaintance with the Lord's Prayer, and the occasional "oh God please get me out of this...", all the while checking the box on the census form that says "Christian" (or what have you). It just isn't the psycho-cultural solute it once was. I mean, think of how important religion was in America around 1700, and then consider now. Religion was then an integral part of one's way of negotiation the cognizant landscape; today, it's more affectation than anything. Many Americans say they are religious, but realistically, are many Americans using their religion as a basis for everyday activity, for figuring out how to live?
posted by UncleFes at 1:14 PM on May 28, 2002


"No religious preference" may mean "Other" to some people even if "other" is an option.

Or they might be Unitarians or what have you, and really don't have a preference, considering them all valid.

Personally, my religion is organized, but too small to appear as an option on surveys :)
posted by Foosnark at 8:02 AM on May 29, 2002


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