Losing my religion
November 14, 2019 5:31 AM   Subscribe

In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace. An October 2019 report by the Pew Research Center identifies rapid declines in Christian identification among American adults, down 12 percentage points overall to 65% over the past 10 years and replaced mainly by growth in "nothing in particular". The decline is particularly sharp among American Millennials, of whom only half (49%) now identify as Christian. [via The Wild Hunt]

Total Non-Christian religious affiliations rose from 5% to 7% of U.S. adults between 2009 and 2019, currently comprising Jewish (2%), Muslim (1%), Buddhist (1%), Hindu (1%), and "Other (non-Christian)" (3%).
posted by heatherlogan (166 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
 
Lovely.
posted by thedaniel at 5:41 AM on November 14, 2019 [35 favorites]


It's been interesting seeing people like Jordan Peterson scratching the old religious itch while making people feel like theyre all logic and reason. Would it be fair to say it's evolved rather than disappeared?
posted by Chaffinch at 5:52 AM on November 14, 2019 [20 favorites]


I think the me of 10 years ago would have probably welcomed this as a good thing, as in giving people less reason to be assholes to each other. The me of today is more cynical and thinks people will just invent other reasons to be assholes to each other.
posted by peacheater at 5:57 AM on November 14, 2019 [63 favorites]


My in-laws attend one of many failing churches in northern New England. There's no longer a religious education program and scarcely anyone under 60 attending.

The really sad thing is that these churches provide a valuable moment of community and non-transactional communication and they aren't being replaced by anything. My father in law isn't really religious but where is he going to go to talk to the people he grew up with?

I attend a Unitarian church which at this point is basically a somewhat strangely organized community center. Even there the kids who have been coming with their parents since they were in Kindergarten often don't seem to attend for much of a reason beyond familial obligation.

I don't know about the split but I sometimes worry that it's mainly liberal Christianity that's fading. Mefites can be extremely dismissive of religion but the void it leaves behind will be filled with something, and it's unlikely to be rationally enlightened space communism or what have you.
posted by selfnoise at 6:02 AM on November 14, 2019 [137 favorites]


In the sixeventies, they had (variously problematic appropriations of) Eastern religion and new-age mysticism competing with traditional Christianity for the then-young boomers' mindshare. Christianity responded by appropriating aspects of the hippie counterculture: there was an arm's-length countercultural Christian movement known as the “Jesus Freaks”, which was gradually brought more obviously under the control of the established hierarchies, ultimately ending up with the obviously fake rebellion of Christian rock and the cool-youth-pastor jokes in the Hard Times.

This time, the new Jesus Freaks may well be a lot uglier than the ones of the 60s: pick-up-artist courses based around “Biblical marriage”, perhaps, or evangelists modelling themselves on PewDiePie or Milo Yiannopoulos or whatever.
posted by acb at 6:02 AM on November 14, 2019 [3 favorites]


What's really interesting is that the change is hugely generational, and it's to some extent regional: it's more pronounced in the Northeast than elsewhere. But otherwise, it cuts across demographic factors: it's true among white, black, and Latino people (although interestingly, it looks like some of the black and Latino respondents are leaving Christianity and ending up somewhere other than unaffiliated, and I'd be curious to know where that was); it's true among men and women; it's only slightly more pronounced among college graduates than among people who don't have a college degree. It's more pronounced among Protestants than Catholics, but it affects both.

This has been a shitty couple of years for Jews in the US but a banner couple of years for the Jewish left, and I would be really curious to see how that affected Millennial Jewish identification. My sense is that a lot of young Jews are feeling like they can now find a place for themselves in the Jewish community, but I don't know if it's enough to make a difference in statistics.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:05 AM on November 14, 2019 [13 favorites]


It strikes me that one of the reasons why people aren't attending church may be that they're either working (because they have to) or they're just too damn tired (after working their asses off).

In the sixeventies, they had (variously problematic appropriations of) Eastern religion and new-age mysticism competing with traditional Christianity for the then-young boomers' mindshare. Christianity responded by appropriating aspects of the hippie counterculture: there was an arm's-length countercultural Christian movement known as the “Jesus Freaks”, which was gradually brought more obviously under the control of the established hierarchies, ultimately ending up with the obviously fake rebellion of Christian rock and the cool-youth-pastor jokes in the Hard Times.

I also remember a lot of incorporation of Folk Art in churches - Gods' Eyes and lots of things made of felt.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:06 AM on November 14, 2019 [16 favorites]


I've always thought that there is a huge vacuum left by the church's declining popularity. The church operated as public square and connected neighbors and now there is....nothing in particular to replace it.

Say what you want about Christianity but at least its an ethos warm basement to meet and eat cookies and drink coffee in.
posted by ian1977 at 6:10 AM on November 14, 2019 [40 favorites]


It strikes me that one of the reasons why people aren't attending church may be that they're either working (because they have to) or they're just too damn tired (after working their asses off).
Right, and the Silent and older Boomer folks might go to church because church can be an important social center for retired people. Similarly, younger X-ers might be involved in church because people tend to be more involved in religion after they have kids. But at this point, most parents of young kids are Millennials, and they don't seem to be following the usual pattern. Actually, I'd be kind of interested to see whether the stats were different for younger people with kids than without them.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:12 AM on November 14, 2019 [6 favorites]


I wonder how much of this is people who previously never bothered going to church or really caring about religion at all feeling more comfortable about just admitting they really aren't Christian? I've known a lot of people who were basically just agnostic but called themselves Christian because that was just what was expected.
posted by charred husk at 6:13 AM on November 14, 2019 [65 favorites]


they're either working...or...tired

I don't think the historical comps show this as a likely factor.

In terms of values, I think it will be interesting to see if there does emerge some kind of extrinsic front runner besides a corporate surveillance state.

Intrinsically people will dress up their rationalizations in lots of colors, but it's clear that there's a group advantage to people feeling like they should behave. We're kind of running out of traditional reasons to do so.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 6:13 AM on November 14, 2019 [8 favorites]


Possibly, charred husk. It would be interesting to see if there were changes in observed church attendance, rather than just reported church attendance.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:14 AM on November 14, 2019 [2 favorites]


It strikes me that one of the reasons why people aren't attending church may be that they're either working (because they have to) or they're just too damn tired (after working their asses off).

One of the reasons why a lot of younger to middle aged people who actually go to my church don't get involved in the organization and volunteering is that it's all at 10am on a Tuesday.
posted by selfnoise at 6:14 AM on November 14, 2019 [21 favorites]


I wonder how much of this is blowback from the decades of politicization of Evangelical Christianity and its association with regressive ("socially conservative") causes? A lot of people have probably rejected the entire, uh, brand, because of this.
posted by thelonius at 6:16 AM on November 14, 2019 [97 favorites]


I believe a lot of this is due to the Falwells et al. with their "Who Would Jesus Hate?" brand of Christianity.

I was a born-again Christian in my teens, and after getting over believing in Hal Lindsey's screeds of the world will end in the 1980s (spoiler alert: it didn't), I tried to argue to my fellow believers against him, saying that he would drive more people away from Jesus than toward Jesus. I lost my argument, short term fear is good for short term recruitment. Nevertheless, I think that I was right in the long run. While you can select and distill people who will shut their minds, you will lose most.

I think this phenomenon extends to conservatism in general. Fox News sets up a bar like "The War on Christmas" as a means of selecting people: You Have To Be This Dumb To Go On This Ride. You lose a lot of people, but the ones you hold on to, you can feed them anything.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:27 AM on November 14, 2019 [106 favorites]


MetaFilter: basically a somewhat strangely organized community center.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:31 AM on November 14, 2019 [88 favorites]


Jesus and milk / sitting in a tree
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:38 AM on November 14, 2019 [1 favorite]


My father once said, about my most pagan friend, "As far as I'm concerned, she's a good Christian girl." I think for some people "Christian" just meant "good person", but that association has faded away with so many revelations of abuse and bigotry.

I may not be normal, but for me it was realizing that the central claims of Christianity probably aren't true. "And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain..."
posted by clawsoon at 6:39 AM on November 14, 2019 [15 favorites]


Hal Lindsey's screeds of the world will end in the 1980s

I don't know who this is but I read it as "Hal Linden" and was really surprised that Barney Miller was promoting the end of the world.
posted by dlugoczaj at 6:41 AM on November 14, 2019 [35 favorites]


I wonder how much of this is blowback from the decades of politicization of Evangelical Christianity and its association with regressive ("socially conservative") causes? A lot of people have probably rejected the entire, uh, brand, because of this

That’s actually what I believe is driving this more than anything, in particular the last 20 or so years. The evangelicals were not only very loud about politics during the Bush administration but they were also being catered to as well. Policies and platforms that were proclaimed as godly, and yet completely against the interests and beliefs of the younger generations (war war war, tax cuts, “religious freedom” to discriminate, anti-gay policies, anti-immigrant screeds, etc.) don’t bring Millenials to church. Or even a lot of gen X’ers. It became a version of the “final, most essential command,” to ignore the evidence of your eyes and ears. I see a lot of church parking lots on Sunday that are half full or less, ones that used to be full. Doubling down on right wing politics in the name of god will keep pushing them away.
posted by azpenguin at 6:44 AM on November 14, 2019 [22 favorites]


I think an argument can be made that the world ended when Abe Vigoda died (the beginning of 2016).
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:45 AM on November 14, 2019 [14 favorites]


I think an argument can be made that the world ended when Abe Vigoda died (the beginning of 2016).

And what was his Barney Miller character's name? Fish.
posted by Strange Interlude at 6:52 AM on November 14, 2019 [23 favorites]


I know the Episcopal Church publishes membership and attendance numbers broken down by region and attendance is definitely falling off a cliff.

This is a very pro-LGBT organization, and generally politically progressive in other ways. I just don’t think the “churches got too right wing” story can explain it. Especially since the drop off is actually strongest in the most progressive set of churches (mainline Protestant).
posted by vogon_poet at 6:53 AM on November 14, 2019 [36 favorites]


Would it be fair to say it's evolved rather than disappeared?

Yes, especially as it morphs into a political version of itself that preaches consolidation at rallies. It may actually be getting worse, if the point was always to keep folks emotionally in a state of guilt in order to control them with their own self-righteousness on cue.
posted by Brian B. at 7:00 AM on November 14, 2019


I think the rise of the Nones is primarily driven by religion losing its power of social coercion. In previous generations some percentage of people genuinely believed, and some percentage just went along and said the right things because the framework of the society they lived in imposed serious consequences for nonconformity.

As those consequences are eroded by secularism and tolerance, the size of those percentages is becoming more clear. Hardly anyone is being "converted" to atheism as such - the Nones never really had affirmative beliefs to begin with, and now they have the opportunity to not express their non beliefs.
posted by allegedly at 7:02 AM on November 14, 2019 [33 favorites]


Actually, I'd be kind of interested to see whether the stats were different for younger people with kids than without them.

This would be a big factor, I think. Until Mrs. Blank and I had kids, we had pretty much left organized religion. We were raised Catholic but were repulsed by the pedophilia and misogyny and greed and everything else. And then the twins arrived and we got drawn into the traditional baptism thing and for family reasons went back to the Catholic church... and then all that stuff was in our face again and we walked.

Until it was time for pre-school. We looked at a bunch and the best one by far was run by the major local Presbyterian church. Mrs. B was gung-ho; I was cautious. But we looked into it, and saw that churches don't have to be awful. Ordains female pastors? Check. Celebrates gay marriages? Check. Actively supports underprivileged people, like migrant workers and the homeless? Check.

So we enrolled the kiddos, and eventually we got dragged into attending Sunday services. We met good people who were kind to us and each other. A band director who gave the kids tambourines to play along in the contemporary service. We've been going for almost 10 years now, and now my kids play in the band and volunteer at the homeless shelter and the center that supports migrant workers. It's been a good experience.

Here's the flip side, of sorts. I was talking the other day with a professor of German about the fall of the Berlin Wall. She noted that the Protestant church in East Germany was one of the few safe spaces where people gathered and discussed and planned opposition to the regime, and when one church took its "peaceful prayer" meetings public, it spread across the country.

This is an amazingly liberal college, btw, and she said her students were actually *surprised* to learn that churches could be -- emphasize, "could be," not "always are" --as she out it, "gathering places for resistance." To them, churches were just oppressors of human rights -- on preview, now, exactly the churches that azpenguin is talking about above.

So right there, I think, there's clearly a age-group or life experience disconnect. I realize YMMV but that's my experience here in a deeply purple stretch of Florida.
posted by martin q blank at 7:03 AM on November 14, 2019 [75 favorites]


I know the Episcopal Church publishes membership and attendance numbers broken down by region and attendance is definitely falling off a cliff.

This is a very pro-LGBT organization, and generally politically progressive in other ways. I just don’t think the “churches got too right wing” story can explain it. Especially since the drop off is actually strongest in the most progressive set of churches (mainline Protestant).


Yeah I'm a transgender anarchocommunist Episcopalian and I feel very comfortable in our church (it's very diverse, our priest is a lesbian and many of the parishioners are LGB as well, although I THINK I'm the only trans person) .

I think, though I could be wrong, that part of the drop off in the most progressive set of churches is schisms; conservative churches split off (some become Catholic) and, on top of losing people, the Episcopal church is hemorrhaging money fighting lawsuits to keep their property when whole congregations leave.
posted by an octopus IRL at 7:04 AM on November 14, 2019 [11 favorites]


It's a shame that so much of Christianity hitched it's proverbial wagon to being absolutely shitty to people. It really put a stink on the entire brand and I think that humans benefit from a lot of the cultural cohesion that religion "could" provide.
posted by Shutter at 7:04 AM on November 14, 2019 [12 favorites]


One of the things I found interesting while reading a summary of the National Congregational Study is the fact that Churches are generally getting smaller except for megachurches. They continue to grow.
posted by lester at 7:06 AM on November 14, 2019 [3 favorites]


I think for Christianity a lot of this has to do with the fact that increasing numbers of Americans just can't believe in a supernatural being that exists on a separate plane from which it observes all existence and decides whether to interfere or intercede in our lives. Most -- but not all -- Christian denominations have been slow to adapt to this change, to such an extent that many of them are effectively stuck in the 18th century at best. It's not a coincidence, in my mind, that certain strains of Christianity are thriving in areas of the world where education levels are low and people are still willing to believe that little devils are running around making bad things happen.

In my opinion, all the Christian denominations are going to be in big trouble if they don't get hip to John Shelby Spong's "Twelve Points for Reform", and soon. I'm a Mason and a member of a Lodge in NYC that is extremely diverse in religious observances/traditions and spiritual beliefs, and it's clear to me that plenty of people still want to connect to godhead or the "divine other," however they might conceive them, but the models embodied in the traditional systems aren't serving their needs.
posted by slkinsey at 7:08 AM on November 14, 2019 [11 favorites]


Praise the lord.
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:09 AM on November 14, 2019


The mainline churches have been struggling for a couple of decades now. But now the Catholics are decreasing, understandably so, and the evangelical churches are starting to go downhill. It’s harder to track some of the evangelical churches as a whole, since so many of them are nondenominational, and “forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.” We can kind of track the Baptists and some of the more organized ones.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 7:09 AM on November 14, 2019 [7 favorites]


I think the idea of going to a place to do things with other people is in general decline, isn’t it? Particularly places that are explicitly social.
posted by argybarg at 7:09 AM on November 14, 2019 [13 favorites]


One of the reasons why a lot of younger to middle aged people who actually go to my church don't get involved in the organization and volunteering is that it's all at 10am on a Tuesday.

Ah, retiree hours! Any organization that has meeting times like this makes it very clear to me that anyone who isn't retired (or SAHM'ing, I guess) isn't wanted in this group. Makes me want to laugh when the embroidery guild some of my (in their 60's) friends are in complain that they want younger/new blood...but they really mean, women in their 50's so not me either!
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:09 AM on November 14, 2019 [16 favorites]


To my mind, there is zero doubt that it is because of the internet (really, the www). Prior to 1994, any doubter would find themselves pretty much alone, wondering what the hell was wrong with them for doubting. They could go to the library and find a paltry few books about atheism, but they'd probably have a hard time finding any other atheists.

After 1994, it started to become the case that anyone, including children, could hop onto Yahoo (and after 1998, google) and instantly and anonymously discover that they were not remotely alone nor crazy, and that there were plenty of other people who didn't believe, and that the arguments against various religions were quite robust and that they the arguments for faith and religion were laughably bad. There was a big discussion board, IIDB (internet infidels discussion board -- which ceased to exist in 2009, but now there's r/atheism and probably a bunch of others.

But none of these arguments are remotely new. Prior to Darwin's theory of evolution, the complexity of life was a pretty tough obstacle to atheism, but Hume managed and after Darwin, Robert Ingersoll famously toured the country lecturing about atheism in the 1800s.


So, for a couple hundred years, the arguments for atheism and against religion haven't really changed much, but it's only in the last 20 years or so that we start seeing atheism begin to gain significant ground among the population. What's different?

The world wide web exploded into existence and changed how people figure things out.

There was also a spate of popular atheist books and articles starting around 2004 with Sam Harris's The End of Faith, Dawkin's The God Delusion, Hitchens' God Is Not Great, and an article in Wired magazine that coined the term New Atheism, but to me it seems that the internet made and revealed this small market that was absolutely starving for such books, and without the internet, this market likely would not have been any different than it had been in prior decades.
posted by smcameron at 7:10 AM on November 14, 2019 [16 favorites]


In my circles, it's a lot of cases of "I cannot support an organization that would [X]." And there are a variety of values for X.
posted by wellred at 7:11 AM on November 14, 2019 [19 favorites]


I don’t think most people who don’t go are capital-A Atheists. I think they just...don’t go. It’s the easiest thing in the world to just not go. And since all religions are weird except for your own, if you’re not used to it or didn’t grow up going, or even if you did grow up going to a different one, it’s really uncomfortable and awkward to start.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 7:13 AM on November 14, 2019 [13 favorites]


Marked increase in meh.
posted by srboisvert at 7:13 AM on November 14, 2019 [13 favorites]


I also remember a lot of incorporation of Folk Art in churches

I attended a banjo Mass in a Catholic church in the early 1980s. There were three banjos, to be clear. All these years later I still go to church, but my faith was shaken that day.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:15 AM on November 14, 2019 [34 favorites]


And my introduction to the Catholic Church was via "guitar mass" (in the church basement, natch) in the early 1970s. Holy cow what a culture shock when we went upstairs for a holy day service... I think they were still going for full-metal Latin when everyone else had started switching to English.
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:23 AM on November 14, 2019 [5 favorites]


To my mind, there is zero doubt that it is because of the internet (really, the www). Prior to 1994, any doubter would find themselves pretty much alone, wondering what the hell was wrong with them for doubting. They could go to the library and find a paltry few books about atheism, but they'd probably have a hard time finding any other atheists.

I think it's also that the Internet gave Millennials a place other than church to connect with other kids. If you grow up in a small town or ex-urb in a lot of the US, the church was the only social outlet. The internet changed that.
posted by octothorpe at 7:24 AM on November 14, 2019 [14 favorites]


My in-laws just moved to a new town where they basically don't know anyone. They joined a church and they've been members for only about two months. My mother-in-law got sick and had to spend some time at the hospital. Within a day, both the minister and his wife came to visit and also dropped off a walker and wheelchair for her recovery at home. Church is a lot more than Sunday services.
posted by gwint at 7:26 AM on November 14, 2019 [37 favorites]


The problem with the "New Atheism" was that it was a deliberate movement that intentionally and not replicated the least desirable issues with the religions it sought to displace:
- charismatic, mostly male leaders
- doctrinaire
- evangelical

But what seems to be driving the larger rejection of religion and the churches is a deep and abiding "meh".
posted by wotsac at 7:26 AM on November 14, 2019 [20 favorites]


I am in a rural part of Western Canada and there are several churches in a town of 3,000 (county of ~10,000). Easily a dozen churches. Membership is declining in all of them, but I'd say one church--the Reform congregation--is quite active. It's one of the churches I would not personally attend, it formed over a schism in the United Church re: the ordination of gay ministers back in the early 90s. So now the United Church of Canada has moved on from that and more recently some of the controversy surrounds so-called 'atheist' ministers, Gretta Vosper comes to mind.

I admire the UC's approach to 'affirming ministries' where congregations are required to discuss *why* they are a welcoming space for all people instead of assuming each member shares this welcoming ethos. It takes work and requires discussion, it's literally a program that a congregation follows together.

I suppose I am Gen-X and not many of us attend church, and I know I do for a variety of reasons: I feel needed there, it's not unlike joining a service group and once your contribution becomes a part of what makes things work you feel compelled to continue with that. Services take place in one of the community's historic buildings so I can enjoy that space once per week, there's a meditative quality. I don't 'like' every member of the congregation but I appreciate them all and I think we are all committed in our own way.

If this was just about a decline in church-going I kind of get why: the church has either failed a lot of us over time, or outright perpetuated injustice and served empire. But we are seeing this in volunteerism and all kinds of other community actions and I agree with others' observations: what will fill this void? I feel a bit like we are all becoming isolated and subsumed by something, which is ironic given this was precisely how religion has acted upon populations for centuries.
posted by elkevelvet at 7:27 AM on November 14, 2019 [10 favorites]


It would be interesting to see the cross-tab of people who left the church vs. people who have gone elsewhere else to scratch the same itch. People are social beings who want to believe in SOMETHING; are there a lot more Wiccans than there were twenty years ago? Are people replacing church with an unreasonably strong belief in DoTerra? Are the MAGA-hats actually WORSHIPPING their golden idol? I don't think the tendency toward spirituality has suddenly dried up and blown away; I just want to know where it's gone instead.
posted by Mayor West at 7:28 AM on November 14, 2019 [6 favorites]


Captain Cassidy talks about this a lot at Roll to Disbelieve (it's her main topic). In addition to people being turned off by politicization (especially around LGBT issues), and loss of Christians' ability to coerce church attendance through social pressures, she points out that evangelical leadership has been very, very bad at addressing the loss of membership.

The progression has been something like,

• we're not actually losing that many people and anyway the liberal mainline denominations are losing more so we're fine
• okay, well, we might be losing some people but they were never really Christians anyway, we're better off to be rid of them
• sure, a lot of younger people are leaving the church but they'll come back once they have kids of their own
• oh, looks like they're not coming back; this means we need to really double down on all the stuff we were doing already, and just do it even harder

Also the evangelical denominations have had their own sex scandals lately (especially the Southern Baptist Convention), which have gotten a lot more attention because of the various Catholic scandals, and #MeToo and so forth. The evangelicals' problem is that they can't sweep everything under the rug like they once would have, but also they can't actually make anyone accountable because it would cut into the power the (male) leaders have. So they've been reduced to telling everybody to . . . double down on all the stuff they were doing already, and do it even harder. Which doesn't work for any members who would like something to be done to fix the problem, so they become disillusioned and leave, accelerating the decline.
posted by Spathe Cadet at 7:28 AM on November 14, 2019 [12 favorites]


In my mainstream Episcopal church, we've lost some members but only because the rector was an asshole. But, one of the few things he was good at was schmoozing the rich folks, so our finances are ok for the moment. It's when all the rich boomers die off that we're going to have trouble.

I attended a banjo Mass in a Catholic church in the early 1980s.

And my introduction to the Catholic Church was via "guitar mass" (in the church basement, natch) in the early 1970


I was talking to a teen at the church last year, and he said that folk masses were "LAME," and associated them with the old folks. We should do things properly, with hymns, he said. Hooray! YAY HYMNS! Hymns forever. One of my earliest memories at church was discovering that I could follow along the words in the book and sing at the same time. I love hymns. I will have 20 hymns at my funeral. More hymns, always.
posted by Melismata at 7:30 AM on November 14, 2019 [18 favorites]


I belong to an inclusive, affirming church where a *lot* of the other members were raised in oppressive fire-and-brimstone faith communities--ranging from garden-variety shitty misogyny and homophobia from the pulpit, to outright evangelical right-wing death cults. Many are millennials like me. They all have stories about friends who left the church and never came back; a handful, like my friends, sought out more loving and inclusive communities that embodied a different vision of the kingdom of God. To hear my friends talk about it, those who left and never looked back far outnumber those who sought out churches where they felt welcome. (Despite the sharp dropoff, those who stayed in the fire-and-brimstone churches outnumber both, handily.)
posted by sugar and confetti at 7:32 AM on November 14, 2019 [9 favorites]


When I was a teen who didn't want to attend Mass, my dad merely observed that when I needed it, religion would be there for me. I think he meant as a comforter and as a source of support and solace. When I got older and was raising a family far away, I valued the community that existed around our parish: our pastor was warm and gave good advice. We did good work in the town.

Now I have teen-age kids. One values the church as an avenue to service work and a way of thinking about love for others. Another enjoys having a place where there are adults who teach lessons about welcoming young people. I still appreciate the beauty of the music and the messages of loving strangers just like one's own family.

One kid just sits there and seethes -- but he doesn't engage with anything. Surprise! Like life, you get out of it what you put into it.

The new pastor is more of a smells-and-bells guy: he wants more altar servers (five at a time? really?), requires more classroom hours for CCD, and is stern, and...the emphasis on the best elements of my faith is seeping out and being replaced with only the forms. It's discouraging to see the hierarchy doubling down like this, and it will only serve to drive out young people even faster.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:37 AM on November 14, 2019 [9 favorites]


It's been interesting to slowly dip my toes into the Leftist Secular Jewish organization here. I've attended their high holidays twice, become a member, and now I'm taking Yiddish classes. It certainly scratches an itch, but I'm also still not totally sure it's what I need. There's a lot of baggage for me, personally, in being identified as A Member Of A Group and all the things that go along with it, but the leftist secular Jews seem to be at least a little more reflexive about the baggage of groups?

My grandma is basically the driving force keeping her declining Methodist church going. She's been going to meetings and pushing them to be more progressive and volunteering for different things they do, but she's also getting tired and I don't know who will keep things going when Grandma decides she's done.
posted by ChuraChura at 7:38 AM on November 14, 2019 [9 favorites]


I'm a millennial who grew up going to (a low key evangelical, non denominational) church every Sunday but I don't really identify as a Christian, particularly, or have strong feelings about the concept of 'God.'

I would love to have a community like the one I grew up in, and I'm not totally opposed to finding it in a church. But I'm not really overtly religious enough to feel comfortable in a mainline church like the one I grew up in, even a more progressive denomination like Presbyterian or Church of the Brethren.

I've tried out a few UU and Quaker congregations, and while they're more of a fit for me in terms of the actual meeting, the folks there are all at least 20-30 years older than me. The churches around me that tend to attract younger or more intergenerational congregations are either more mainstream denominations or urban church planting places that pop up designed to appeal to young people. That particular brand of church actually seems to do a great job of community building for younger people based on a few people I know who are involved with them-- but as far as I can tell they're also super conservative once you scratch that veneer of hip youngness.
posted by geegollygosh at 7:40 AM on November 14, 2019 [4 favorites]


(My firmly generation X parents grew up orthodox Jewish and reluctantly Methodist and defaulted to "a little of everything but not particularly emphatically" when I was a kid and are now both actively hostile to organized religion, so I always get a little embarrassed when I tell them "I'm off to Rosh Hashanah" or "I'm off to the Intergenerational Shabbes service," like I'm letting them down by wanting to feel sincere about something religious)
posted by ChuraChura at 7:42 AM on November 14, 2019 [10 favorites]


(Just want to say this is a terrific thread full of insights from diverse perspectives, I'm seeing things in new ways, and this is why Metafilter is awesome. Now back to losing our religion.)
posted by martin q blank at 7:47 AM on November 14, 2019 [16 favorites]


This is a very pro-LGBT organization, and generally politically progressive in other ways. I just don’t think the “churches got too right wing” story can explain it.

Except that when churches says they aren’t shitty, people who have experienced shitty churches just don’t believe them.

ALL churches say they aren’t shitty. They all say everyone is welcome, that they’re about love and all that. They just don’t mean it. And once you’ve experienced that a few times, well, there’s a pretty high bar to clear to get over that earned skepticism.

And then, well, it turns out the problem is deeper than that. The religion itself is deeply patriarchal and shitty. Like the actual books, the actual traditions: not great. This is obviously not limited to Christianity, or even the other Abrahamic faiths. There’s a Buddhist sangha I keep meaning to attend, but I kind of can’t get over how shitty everyone is to women. I mean, there are current limitations on how women can be ordained. That’s a current fight. And the lineage thing is creepy and so obviously exclusionary that I have a really difficult time understanding how anyone is really ok with it.

I just don’t trust them. I desperately want that kind of community, but I can’t find one that I can reasonably expect to treat me like a person, and I don’t have the spoons to invest in a community where I make myself vulnerable to more of that same flavor of dehumanizing bullshit.

There’s your explanation.
posted by schadenfrau at 7:54 AM on November 14, 2019 [77 favorites]


This is absolutely the result of many things, but I think one of the big ones might be a generational impact that I have noticed in my own churches, churches missing out in our radical reorganization of female labor over the last two generations. All churches, especially the more patriarchial ones, generally run almost exclusively on volunteer or underpaid female labor. Whether the positions they fill are formal or informal, the biggest difference between struggling and thriving churches is very often the energy and organization of the group of women who do all the real emotional and logistical work of maintaining community.

As women have entered the workplace, this kind of labor in service of community has gone from being a second shift to being a third shift without men stepping up. I still remember looking back at the archived programs of the church I grew up in from the 60s, 30s, and 1880s, and being astonished at the level of activity it had for a community its size. It had been really punching above my 21st-century expectations of its weight by a factor of three or four, and I can't think of anything to explain the difference aside from how different the magic of Chrone Island was. Maybe one of the major factors closing churches is that, as women have had less relative space for performing community labor, men have remained unchanged?

However, the church has never been entitled to this labor, and certainly not with how invisible and unacknowledged it generally is. Perhaps our current predicament is little more than the wages of the sin of misogyny?
posted by Blasdelb at 7:58 AM on November 14, 2019 [119 favorites]


Say what you want about Christianity but at least its an ethos warm basement to meet and eat cookies and drink coffee in.

Well, it was a nice multi-building complex and amphitheater and the cookies and coffees were being sold for profit inside the church... but yeah, technically it brought you into proximity with other people. Honestly I mostly feel like the church I grew up with, evangelical megachurch Calvary Chapel of Albuquerque, was really too big for any meaningful sense of community, even participating in smaller group things other than the main service. A lot of it may be the disgusting spirit of evangelical churches but I never once felt like I was missing anything once I stopped going and stopped falling for the lies taught there.
posted by GoblinHoney at 7:58 AM on November 14, 2019 [2 favorites]


Perhaps our current predicament is little more than the wages of the sin of misogyny?

Yeah, what Blasdelb said.
posted by schadenfrau at 7:59 AM on November 14, 2019 [6 favorites]


I lost religion at a pretty young age. I was baptized at, IIRC, 9 years old. My maternal grandfather was a minister (Church of the Nazarene), and my parents sent me to church at the First Baptist. (Yes, "sent," they did not attend with me.)

At 14 (mid-80s) I was at a Methodist service with my friend. His mother insisted if I stayed over Saturday night, I had to attend church on Sunday morning. The preacher started into a sermon about seeing a TV show where two men kissed, and I assumed this was going to turn into a sermon about brotherly love and all that. Spoiler alert: It was not.

From a pretty young age I had (thanks to Soap) internalized the idea that gay people were, well, people. And I was immediately disgusted by the preacher spewing hate against gay people in the name of God.

That wasn't the end, I wrestled with it for a while. But it made me start thinking about all the flaws in the scriptures and the way that religion was presented. I couldn't reconcile a loving God with a hostile existence and arbitrary rules about living one's life at the risk of eternal punishment. Surely, a loving God - one worth worshiping - would not punish people for who they love, or invent sin in the first place.

There's a lot more, but it was that single incident that broke all the religious conditioning I'd experienced up to that point.
posted by jzb at 8:00 AM on November 14, 2019 [16 favorites]


My best friend grew up Catholic and her mom was always a pillar of the church who volunteered for things and ran things and coordinated logistics and knew everyone in the diocese so on and so forth, and then as the depths of sexual abuse and depravity became clear (in our very local area) she started to feel more and more uncomfortable and that, combined with discourse around emotional labor and #MeToo and stuff made her realize that she'd never be an equal and never be recognized for her knowledge and her labor of all sorts and she'd forever be at the beck and call of young priests of uncertain ethical standing who just saw her as a disposable volunteer. So she quit.
posted by ChuraChura at 8:02 AM on November 14, 2019 [43 favorites]


i would love to have a community that accepted me, and did volunteer work, and baked casseroles for sick members, and all that. but i emphatically do not want it to be god-based because i don't believe in god. i don't want any prayers or hymns or lectures from a pulpit. i want to hang out with people with similar values doing things we enjoy and helping other people and also animals. there unfortunately is not a community like that, and i don't think i'm the only one that wants it.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 8:03 AM on November 14, 2019 [32 favorites]


It's tempting to believe this is due to an overreach of conservative-political Evangelical Christianity, but the fact that I want to believe makes me pretty cautious of that explanation.

I live near several big Evangelical megachurches and their parking lots are regularly filled to capacity, with cops directing traffic as services let out (I really hope they are paying for those police services...) every weekend. And the number of pro-life license plates and shitty bumper stickers doesn't seem to have declined significantly; if anything I think the nutbars have really come out in the last few years.

As others have suggested, it may very well be that this is due to declines in the liberal Christian churches, particularly in the Northeast, that weren't especially known for having shitty politics. And what we end up with, as they fade, is the Christian "brand" becoming more fully captured by the socially-conservative Taliban-with-crucifixes, principally in the South and Midwest, while the Northeast loses a piece of its social fabric. And our society crawls that much further towards complete non-overlapping-worlds polarization.

I don't know, maybe I'm just not feeling optimistic today. I'd like very much to be wrong, but I don't see much reason how that explanation doesn't fit the evidence pretty closely.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:07 AM on November 14, 2019 [16 favorites]


I was raised without religion around a bunch of born-again Christians. News stories like these are SO WEIRD to me.

(Note: I'm pretty sure my hometown is still very Christian. As far as I know, lights on the mega-churches are still on. But, through no special desire of my own, atheism became small part of my identity. The idea that that is...increasingly irrelevant is very strange.)
posted by grandiloquiet at 8:07 AM on November 14, 2019 [1 favorite]


....churches missing out in our radical reorganization of female labor over the last two generations.

There was an NPR story this morning about a temple in India (called the Sabarimala temple) being hauled into court over a prohibition of women from its confines. (Previous coverage from January 2019 here.)

America always talked about the separation of church and state but let Christianity help men run things, and I am quite interested to see what happens when civil society refuses to be fenced off from enforcing equality.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:09 AM on November 14, 2019 [2 favorites]


My father died this year, a horrible death from cancer in his brain, and he was mourned by hundreds of neighbors, and distant family, and former co-workers and friends from all walks of life. He volunteered everywhere. A typical day in his retirement had him cleaning trash from around our neighborhood's construction sites in the morning, then trimming the hedges at the elementary school in the afternoon, and a lot of people knew him and appreciated him and came long distances to remember him with us.

But in the hospital, as well as when he had a brush with death in the past, the people sitting by his hospital bed have been either close family or friends from churches.

I've been agnostic for a long time, and religiously inactive, except for a few temple visits with in-laws and a few months taking my dad to his church after he became too unwell to drive himself but before he became too unwell to attend. I've never had any love for the fire-and-brimstone churches, and I still love but can no longer muster up enough respect for the-page-may-say-fire-and-brimstone-but-heres-how-we-rationalize-it-away churches.

But if anybody knows of an equally effective way to take perfect strangers and turn them into close family, I'd love to hear it. I don't understand why secular organizations don't seem to be nearly as effective, and I presume nobody else really does either or someone would have fixed it by now...
posted by roystgnr at 8:10 AM on November 14, 2019 [16 favorites]


I do think that simultaneously their treatment of women is a large problem and women compose the backbone and bulk of these shrinking congregations. My father left a church over a refusal to accept women in leadership positions. They essentially tell a bunch of single women that their place is within a Christian family while profoundly failing to provide a social environment that fosters building these families, bog them down with not only the sex rules but the idea that their lives as they exist (celibate ladies in waiting trapped in the worldly realm of the working world) are second rate, heavily rely on them as a source for funding and labor while barring them from leadership and silencing them on matters of abuses by leadership, financial and physical. It’s going to look like a bum deal to a lot of people. When they find families somewhere else they might not bother to bring them back.
posted by Selena777 at 8:17 AM on November 14, 2019 [34 favorites]


It would be interesting to see the cross-tab of people who left the church vs. people who have gone elsewhere else to scratch the same itch.

I left the Anglican Church in high school. I never really believed, I suppose, and just went along because it was a family thing. I did sunday school, went to church events, etc. Eventually, however, my lack of faith and issues with the inconsistencies and hypocrisy in the texts and dogma was joined by an increasingly uncomfortable realization that, by stating I was Christian even though I didn't really believe, I was giving power to a group that used that facade of a cultural majority to abuse numerous minority groups.

It wasn't easy leaving - my parents and I had some very heated discussions about my decision. Fortunately, I had an adult sibling who had come to similar conclusions and had gone through the ordeal with our parents a few years earlier and thus softened our mum and dad's response to my declaration of atheism.

As far as community and support, there are times (quite often, tbh) when I truly wish I had faith in a greater power. It must be nice to feel that there's an all-powerful entity looking out for you, even if one has to lampshade the fact that good people have horrid things happen to them all the time despite the omnipotent and omniscient supervision. It also sucks that atheists are often viewed with suspicion and even downright hostility.

Thankfully, the growth in available and easily used communication systems has reduced the difficulty in finding other, less problematic communities to participate in while our changing societal norms have lessened the willingness of the religious to blatantly scorn those willing to point out the issues within religion. Thus I don't suffer from anywhere near the same degree of alienation/abuse that a declared atheist born in a different time, culture or society with a different level of access to technology and more vehement views towards non-believers may experience.

It's nice to see the status quo being upended in this case.
posted by dazed_one at 8:23 AM on November 14, 2019 [3 favorites]


I think american women's reduced acceptance of the roles traditionally allocated to them by the church has to created a significant erosion of how effective churches can maintain communities that are attractive places for established and new members.

I remember a conversation I once had with a young evangelical guy about how church seemed to be practically a meat-market for people in their 20's to meet and get married. We talked about the fact that women seemed to seriously outnumber the men in the church, and since there is such an emphasis on not being "unequally yoked" (which means, not getting involved with people who don't share your religious views) there was going to inevitably going to be a lot of women who weren't going to be able to find a partner unless they left the church, and how did he feel about that? He just seemed to think that was one of the unfortunate tests that God gives us in life. I didn't press him on whether he felt that he directly benefited from belonging to a dating pool in which he would afford to be much more selective than could his potential mates, but it's hard to imagine that is not immediately obvious to any men involved in those communities.
posted by skewed at 8:29 AM on November 14, 2019 [11 favorites]


I'm pretty sure I'm here on Metafilter because I don't know how to have fun other than going to Bible Study, and I don't go to Bible Study anymore.
posted by clawsoon at 8:34 AM on November 14, 2019 [17 favorites]


I visited Salt Lake City recently and spent some time walking around Temple Square and talking to people--it was amazing how well kept the grounds are (I could see groups of youths planting annuals on one side of the square) and how opulent the buildings are, and just how super duper friendly everyone was. I saw a few couples taking wedding photos in front of the temple; I saw several large families that were smiling and seeming to be having a nice time. There is so much about the Church of Latter-Day Saints that is appealing, and I would really love to be connected to a supportive community like that.

But at the cost of (and this could be applied to many Christian & Christian-adjacent faiths in the US):
- my autonomy as a woman
- equal rights and respect for non-cishet folks
- all the racism
- endemic corruption
- money questions (where does it come from, where is it spent, and why don't they have to pay taxes??)
- problematic leadership
- being compelled to ignore my own sense of reality in order to believe some pretty wild supernatural stuff
- not being allowed to drink coffee or wine
- restrictions on what kind of clothing I can wear
?

It's just a lot to ask!! It's not a great deal! I look forward to the day that secular community organizations can fill these gaps a little better (or maybe I just need to go back to the UU congregation).
posted by witchen at 8:41 AM on November 14, 2019 [17 favorites]


I don't understand why secular organizations don't seem to be nearly as effective, and I presume nobody else really does either or someone would have fixed it by now...

Many of the comments in the thread expressing some degree of appreciation for churches match something of the takes I hear from the somewhat religious in personal life as well, where there is an incoherency around Christianity in terms of what any precise meaning of the religious aspect may mean to those who are part of the faith, other than a generalized agreement on the concept of belief, acceptance of God as representing that idea/faith and some sense of Christ's importance in the conception in differing ways of literal and metaphorical interpretation. What is most liked about the church is the social aspect, the connection to a community of generally like-minded folks, where there is at least some shared sense of agreement over norms and, importantly, obligations.

Churches compel a sense of obligation to the community in ways secular organizations can't easily match when it comes to being both exclusive in a shared set of expectations and inclusive in terms of all within the accepted faith set are allowed to take some role or part of that community, by which I mean singles are welcome, but entire families are catered to unlike most secular organizations or groups in which membership is based on narrower sets of interests or qualifications.

The mix of light obligation that mass provides and the open to all aspects help maintain a constant flow of activity even for those who might only occasionally attend, which most secular groups would have a hard time matching. The faith and community aspect feed each other in that sense, where the shared sense of community strengthens the basic notion of faith, even if not the details of it, and that sense of shared belief strengthens the community aspect. Secular organizations don't have opportunity for the same root in "faith" and are more subject to disagreement or just change in interests and the like, making communities more likely to fracture or just be seen as temporary in ways churches usually aren't.
posted by gusottertrout at 8:42 AM on November 14, 2019 [13 favorites]


I'm one of the last Gen-Xers married to one of the first Millennials. We both went to church while living at home, and stopped pretty much immediately after moving out for work and college.

When I was pregnant with Baby Objects, I often wondered if parenthood would be the thing that would push us back into going to church, but 18 months in and neither of us have even felt any sort of desire to do so. Just thinking about attempting to find a church that ticks all my "must haves" of inclusion and diversity, and then dragging the family out of PJs on a Sunday morning makes me cry inside.

I'm not atheist, but I think agnostic is a pretty good descriptor. I've had relatives express concerns about raising Baby Objects with "Good Christian Values", but I figure I'm going to be indoctrinating her into almost everything else (my language, education, social class, etc) that the least I can do in this sphere is make sure to answer her questions truthfully, give her all the (age-appropriate) facts I can, and eventually let her make her own choices.

That's a level of agency I would have deeply valued as a young adult. Any anyways, it seems the past decade or so have shown pretty conclusively that "Good Christian Values" are just about anything but.

(edit: Missed a word)
posted by sharp pointy objects at 8:43 AM on November 14, 2019 [7 favorites]


> It's tempting to believe this is due to an overreach of conservative-political Evangelical Christianity, but the fact that I want to believe makes me pretty cautious of that explanation.

Granted, this is from 2012, but:
When asked by The Barna Group what words or phrases best describe Christianity, the top response among Americans ages 16-29 was “antihomosexual.” For a staggering 91 percent of non-Christians, this was the first word that came to their mind when asked about the Christian faith. The same was true for 80 percent of young churchgoers. (The next most common negative images? : “judgmental,” “hypocritical,” and “too involved in politics.”) [emphasis mine. -SC]
It's not necessarily that political overreach is causing people to leave the church so much as that political overreach is a factor leading younger people, specifically, to look elsewhere. This might not be the most important reason for people to leave the church -- as this thread has shown, there are a lot of different things going on -- but it's definitely in the mix.

The 2018-19 Pew report has only 49% of Millennials (born 1981-96) identifying as Christian, compared to 67% of GenX (1965-80) and 76% of Boomers (1946-64).
posted by Spathe Cadet at 8:47 AM on November 14, 2019 [9 favorites]


I've left the Catholic Church because of the child abuse, lack of substantive leadership roles for women, and lack of LGBTQ acceptance. I can't in good conscience be a part of an organization that systemically undermines, neglects, or abuses children, women, or LGBTQ individuals, and shows no willingness to change their ways.

I was brought up Catholic, had 16 years of Catholic education, and my parents are devout Catholics. Heck, my brother is in the seminary. But I have had enough.

I don't miss going to church. It was never much of a community in my old parish; I went out of a sense of obligation more than anything. I'd rather spend Sunday mornings at home, having breakfast with my wife and daughter, and listening to music together. That family time does more for me than Mass ever did.

Having a daughter, by the way, really reinforced this for me. I can name five priests that I've known personally that turned out to be abusers. Five.

I'm not looking forward to having the conversation with my parents about my daughter not making her sacraments, but no way am I bringing my child anywhere near that.

I've thought about the Episcopal Church, and probably will try going at some point when my spiritual life needs some renewal. I just am not quite there yet.
posted by vitout at 8:56 AM on November 14, 2019 [16 favorites]


Amen, literally, gusottertrout. I've often thought that people who go to church just like having a weekly routine to focus on, and that (some) people who are Orthodox Jewish, like my flaky friend, have OCD issues, or perhaps anxiety, and being forced to stop what their doing three times a day to focus is very soothing and centering to them. :) <3

I don't particularly believe in Jesus as a divine guy, but I go to church because I love hymns (see above) and the music; in fact, on any given Sunday if I don't need to go for any other reason, I'll skip church if the hymns aren't good.

And I also go because as stated above, it's a goddamn healthy support system. I'm a single 50-year-old woman, and my immediate remaining family demands support from me, instead of offering it. Every Sunday, someone I've known for many years gives me a hug and says "How are you?". When my father died, they were there. When I had a car accident last week (I'm fine, car declared totalled though it wasn't too bad), they were there. My friend's house had a fire, and they were there. They were there.
posted by Melismata at 8:57 AM on November 14, 2019 [18 favorites]


I've always wondered if the decline in religiosity involves the exposure to more ideas than the previous generations- growing up religious for me involved being completely consumed by the idea of God, a lens that could seemingly explain anything and everything.

Someone dropped this in conversation like 10 years ago and its stuck for me since- our parents only lived in socioeconomic structures of 70 million, max, and we're approaching one super structure of 7 billion people connected... (Something about how complexity is squared) We'll be living in a world 1000 times more complex than our parents. The narratives we have right now will struggle to make sense in the future.

(I feel like I've been repeating it wrong to myself, but the idea is there. If someone could explain the complexity part it would make me really happy)
posted by weewooweewoo at 9:00 AM on November 14, 2019 [6 favorites]


The decline is particularly sharp among American Millennials, of whom only half (49%) now identify as Christian.

"Have you heard the good news?"
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:10 AM on November 14, 2019 [3 favorites]


As someone who was abused in the evangelical church and raised in an evangelical family where religion was yielded as a reason for all sorts of horror: wonderful. Fuck Christianity. It destroys lives. I have nothing but contempt for it.
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:11 AM on November 14, 2019 [10 favorites]


I think it's a shame that most discussion of religion in public life seems to be evangelicals bringing up the punitive aspects of the Old Testament, which completely misses the point of Christianity in my view. There are lots of good things about love and acceptance in the New Testament if you focus on Jesus and his teachings, but the most publicly vocal Christians use religion to punish and harm other people.

Take the occasional arguments about putting the Ten Commandments in courtrooms. I've always opposed this on the grounds of separation of church and state. Also, since there are multiple versions of the Ten Commandments, including a Muslim one, choosing a particular version would be an even more egregious example of official establishment.

It struck me recently that Christians probably shouldn't be talking about putting up the Ten Commandments at all.
One of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:13 AM on November 14, 2019 [10 favorites]


The narratives we have right now will struggle to make sense in the future.

My take on it sorta seems to fit with part of yours, in that religion is an intensely interpretative method of attempting to understand the world and one's place within it; our purpose, so to speak, so that allows people to look to some shared root conceptions of values and ideology and spin them to fit their own needs, whether by taking the church leaders as absolute authorities on a subject or finding a more individual approach focusing on whatever specific pieces of the puzzle make sense to them.

The world is not only more complex, but, as others have said, more "known" through things like the internet, which exposes our interpretations of the world to increased alternatives and options. That puts shared faith harder to maintain as the challenges are more visible, but also allows for some to find even greater comfort by digging in more furiously to their faith communities as a way to deny that complexity in favor of "likeness". That can obviously be a problem as can be seen in the influence of some fundamentalist or conservative faith groups. It might be said that religion, at its best promotes a sense of universal connection, but at its worst can actively promote hatred because if one takes the belief set of many of the major religions entirely seriously, all others who deny that faith can be seen as threats to one's immortal soul.
posted by gusottertrout at 9:14 AM on November 14, 2019 [2 favorites]


I've always wondered if the decline in religiosity involves the exposure to more ideas than the previous generations

This is an intriguing idea. One of the factors that helped me realise I was an atheist was spending my youth moving from country to country. Visiting and living in places like India, Malaysia and Vietnam posed an interesting quandary to young me - I was ostensibly an Anglican at the time and here I was seeing all these different beliefs and concepts of the divine. My religion was the result of my parents, whose was the result of their parents and so on down the tree. But for an accident of birth, I could have been raised Muslim or Buddhist; according to the Bible and through no choice of my own I had ended up in the "right" religion, while the people around me in these countries I was living in had ended up heathens and believed I was the heathen. The reality did not suit the story presented in the texts - god was not universal and I could not and did not want to perform the required cognitive gymnastics to accept the lie that it was.
posted by dazed_one at 9:17 AM on November 14, 2019 [15 favorites]


When I was just a pupper, the Bread primogenitor bled to death. I was distraught, and new to town. All the local churches that found out (I was in a smaller community), saw it as an opportunity to recruit another follower. They emphasized that since they were the gatekeepers to the spiritual realm, it was only through them that I could honour the ol' Bread.

An uncle took me to a blood donor clinic. Guess what did more good? Guess what felt better?

Now some other little puppers out there will get to grow up with a friend or family member because of the dozens of donations I've made since that day. There's lots of ways to create community and contribute to the people around you. This news doesn't make me sad.
posted by LegallyBread at 9:20 AM on November 14, 2019 [17 favorites]


Well if the idea is to become as the Great Old Ones; free and wild and beyond good and evil, with laws and morals thrown aside and all men shouting and killing and revelling in joy, well you just aren't going to get that in your typical liberal suburban Presbyterian church.
posted by happyroach at 9:23 AM on November 14, 2019 [11 favorites]


Pretty cool to see the US finally following Korea's lead. Onward to civilization!
posted by Not A Thing at 9:25 AM on November 14, 2019 [1 favorite]


A few thoughts:

Is the US decline mirroring or trailing the European decline (Grauniad, 2018)

Are more Americans not going to church, but watching religious TV? (didn't find a good source here in a very cursory search; but have a hunch or confirmation bias that that proportion has gone up, and swings conservative)

Though the proportion of Protestants/Americans has decreased, Evangelicals/Protestants has held steady; I guess I would have expected an increase similar to Evangelicals/GOP

Libraries are incorporating some of the community outreach and service roles (example: "Steps to reading" to provide free books and shoes to school children) but other services seem difficult to replace (ceremonies, counseling, and just being part of a large group that meets weekly for a common purpose)
posted by kurumi at 9:28 AM on November 14, 2019


I know so many people - including me - who were deeply psychologically harmed by churches in our youth. Not only do we not go, we don’t really socialize with people who do. Abusive and oppressive social structures gave cover and support to our abusers. They totally tainted the name/concept of Christianity. When I was in my late teens/early 20s, I was driven out of the church for coming forward. I lost my entire community. Is it any surprise that I wouldn’t trust a church to provide community again? People above talking about how the church people are the ones who showed up - why would I possibly trust my emotional and physical wellbeing to a structure that has shown it will throw me and people like me away?

So all that energy past generations were putting in to propping up churches, my generation is putting in to building communities that won’t turn on us, won’t abuse us, won’t use us up.

When you break free from the shame and guilt that was used to control you, it is often replaced with a revulsion for religion that instilled them.
posted by stoneweaver at 9:36 AM on November 14, 2019 [19 favorites]


Here in the Deep South, it seems like most of my Gen-X coworkers still attend church with their families, and many of their kids go to religious schools (though that probably has more to do with the schools being private than religious). I know some of my Millennial coworkers attend church as well, particularly those with familial roots here.

On the other hand, most of my Millennial college friends, who are not from the Deep South, are either disaffected/agnostic or some flavor of other (Jewish, Quaker, Unitarian, etc). Almost none of them are strongly religious.

I do think Millennials by and large crave meaning and a sense of community, which traditionally was a role filled by the church. But most of us are tired, busy, and have a deep distrust of traditional institutions and power structures. We’re also far less rooted in place than prior generations. We move for school or jobs or to escape, and live much of our lives delocalized on the internet, so fewer of us end up defaulting to the communities we grew up in.
posted by dephlogisticated at 9:40 AM on November 14, 2019 [3 favorites]


roystgnr : if anybody knows of an equally effective way to take perfect strangers and turn them into close family, I'd love to hear it.

I think these organizations and communities exist, although it may not be easy to find the one that's the right fit for you. As I mentioned upthread, I am a Mason. I also happen to be going through very tough times right now, causing me to have some intense feelings of despair, loneliness and sadness. I told a few members of my Lodge I was in distress and asked for their help, and the outpouring of presence and kindness as word has percolated through the community has been incredible. I've received countless invitations, some of them to things that were organized just to take care of me, and one friend even came over to my apartment and slept on the couch one evening so I wouldn't be alone. Some have called me almost every day, a few from hundreds of miles away, to comfort me, compassionate my miseries and offer wise counsel. Now, this is not an organization that's for everyone by any stretch of the imagination, and it's an understatement to say that not all communities of Masons are like mine. But these people and their families are my close family.
posted by slkinsey at 9:49 AM on November 14, 2019 [13 favorites]


...being completely consumed by the idea of God, a lens that could seemingly explain anything and everything.

It occurred to me lately that for the people of the Middle Ages their entire life was oriented on the Catholic church, even though they never tasted the host or understood a word of the Latin Mass. They married and worked and tithed and built cathedrals and were oppressed by bishops and kings -- and while the church warped the world around it, it was never actually open to most people.

(I have been listening to the audiobook of Hilary Mantel's novel Wolf Hall, and remembering the stonemason of the book Pillars of the Earth.)
posted by wenestvedt at 9:54 AM on November 14, 2019 [3 favorites]


I'm not atheist, but I think agnostic is a pretty good descriptor.

And then there's simply not caring about "god" at all. I just describe myself as not religious. It's not something that interests me or provides meaningful answers for me. Religion isn't relevant to my life, a feeling reinforced by seeing all the regressive social outcomes it is the cause of. There's no hole in my life to be filled by belief. Even being against the idea of god, seems to me a weird waste of energy. Why rebel against something that doesn't matter? Makes no sense to me.

I'm firmly convinced that if people were raised without being told about religion, without making it part of their lives before the age of 12, most would not miss it at all. All of the social, educational and moral benefits can be met, met easily, by other human institutions. Even the need for spirituality, art and purpose does not need to touch on the religious at all.
posted by bonehead at 9:57 AM on November 14, 2019 [13 favorites]


Organizations in decline tend to become more radical to attract new people and/or retain and deepen the radicalization of existing members which is why I’m not surprised to see “alt-right” types increasingly attaching Christian nationalism rhetoric along side white nationalism rhetoric, they’ve already adopted the “demographic Suicide” language and mainstreaming Quiverfull ideaology - Fuentes has been a rising star with this and they’re expressly attacking figures they think aren’t “really right wing” like Spencer, Shapiro, even Don Jr. It’s part of the larger rift growing in the American right over the money wing of the party and the social conservative/evangelical wing they grafted on in the 70s. They money wing kept promising the religion wing if they just kept faithfully voting they’d totally outlaw abortion forever and lock up the gays ...and while they’ve been successful on a few fronts (abortion being de facto if not de jure banned in some states) the conservatives lost control of the culture lever of power and the religious wing has been doubling down on extremism as their numbers drop and starting to wonder why should they keep supporting money wing republicans if they can’t execute unwed mothers in Wal-Mart parking lots?

(Side not the GOP either fumbled the ball or underestimated their base’ racism after 08, the actual party plan was to expand numbers by appealing to Latinos, which did not pan out.)

I dunno guys, the big boogie man of the late 90s and early 00s was these right wing Christian groups with guns and they haven’t gone away as much as they’ve gone underground and they haven’t calmed down, if anything they’re at a more fevered pitch ever since a black moderate they insist is a Muslim Communist won the presidency and they have to see gay people on TV now. A group that thrives on a persecution complex who thinks thieir very existence is threatened by mild reform losing numbers and getting into more violent language that the existing Government approves of and condones both implicitly and expressly is not ...giving me ...hope.
posted by The Whelk at 9:58 AM on November 14, 2019 [17 favorites]


I do think Millennials by and large crave meaning and a sense of community, which traditionally was a role filled by the church. But most of us are tired, busy, and have a deep distrust of traditional institutions and power structures.

“I’m not surprised we’re all commies, but I am surprised we’re all witches.”
posted by The Whelk at 9:59 AM on November 14, 2019 [25 favorites]


There is also, I suspect, a pretty big urban/suburban/rural divide here.

I live in the middle of Houston. I don't really know more than a few folks who actually attend church. I know some latinx Catholics, obviously, and I can think of one family I know who are active in the super-liberal-and-inclusive Covenant Baptist congregation, and they seem happy about it, but like many folks on this thread I quit going to church when I went to college, and never felt the need to return.

(As I've gotten older, it's become even LESS likely because of my growing frustration with the outsized influence conservative evangelicals have on public life in the US. I'm not ready to say all faith is poison, but holy cow is THAT brand toxic.)

If I look on Facebook, though, at the people I knew growing up in the 70s and 80s in Mississippi who never left, they pretty much ALL seem to be active members of traditional congregations. Most of the people my brother knows in Jackson, MS, attend church, including him (St Andrews Episcopal, where he's on the vestry). Lots of them are attending the same church their moms and dads did, in the same towns, and sitting in the same pews.

In a word, yikes. But I guess it works for them.

Another driver is the community that the church traditionally represented. For my parents (b. 1940), the church was the main social group. For GenX folks like me (b. 1970), as adults in urban places we've found LOTS of outlets for community that weren't faith-based, and so didn't feel the need to repeat the patterns of our parents. In the small southern city of my youth, though, it may be harder to avoid that repetition.

(I say "avoid;" my sense is that most of these folks never had any intention of doing anything else. My cohort was overwhelmingly upper-middle-class white kids; the ones who wanted to leave had the resources to do so. The ones (again, of my immediate cohort) still there have made a choice to stay.)
posted by uberchet at 10:00 AM on November 14, 2019 [5 favorites]


Another driver is the community that the church traditionally represented. For my parents (b. 1940), the church was the main social group.

And that community was multi-faceted!

My sons are in Scout troop that's chartered by the local United Methodist Church (even though we're Catholics from a nearby parish). Many of the kids are transplants, but a number of the adult leaders grew up in the area. The Scoutmaster's dad was Scoutmaster before him; one of my fellow Committee members is like the fourth or fifth generation in the area, and his forebears were members of the troop and the church, and farmed the land around.

They are tied to that church a number of different ways, and simply won't leave -- but as they age and their kids move away, the congregation is shrinking precipitously. They've picked up a few lapsed Catholics, who are mad at the church they left and find a warm welcome at AMUMC....but it's hardly enough to make up the losses.

And a lot of us only have social ties to a few things these days: family, say, and maybe one of work or friends or Masons or fellow hockey parents or something. When one of those ties is severed, you can drop a whole tranche of relationships at one go.

Which sucks. In short, "There's only one rule that I know of, babies-'God damn it, you've got to be kind.'"
posted by wenestvedt at 10:10 AM on November 14, 2019 [3 favorites]


Religion and atheism makes Mefi light up like a Christmas tree. It's tradition!

wotsac you're perfectly right about the New Atheism, which has become a horror of neo-fascist assholes pontificating about uppity underlings not knowing their place. Deeply frustrating, because I had hopes for that movement.

And Blasdelb is right too: churches have always been places run on the unpaid and invisible labour of women, and that's a source of water that is drying up. Ironically, fundegelical evangelical churches have also been places where women could gain some power and agency without stepping out of their 'traditional' role, ie, Phyllis Schlafly. Not too much, of course, because you always have to be metaphorically or literally three feet behind the men, with your head covered and your eyes on the ground. But you could write books and give talks and make a living. Those limits are only enforced on members of that community, which is why those churches are the only ones that are still growing -- but I think it will probably fail too, since there's just too much freedom available on the other side of a low fence.

The megachurches work like Starbucks vz the neighborhood coffee shop -- they consolidate all the 'business' in a given area, but when they collapse they won't leave much of a footprint, because they don't constitute a community.
posted by jrochest at 10:13 AM on November 14, 2019 [9 favorites]


witchen: and just how super duper friendly everyone was. ... But at the cost of (and this could be applied to many Christian & Christian-adjacent faiths in the US):

Yep, the cost is real. I was reading some things my mother wrote after my older brother died, and one of the things she talked about was the expectation to be "happy in the Lord!" just a couple of months after her child died:
We had barely arrived at my husband's family reunion when the relative from Texas or somewhere came bearing down on me with my sister-in-law in tow to tell me that since her brother had died two years ago both his wife and she herself were finding God to be sufficient and were rejoicing in Him even though it was hard. I looked at her dumb as any animal, who was this trampler? The two of them rolled their eyes at each other in a what-more-can-we-do gesture and walked away.
The influencer post about the "happy" Mormon wife does a good job of bringing out how much pain has to be shoved into the very back of the closet to create that super duper friendly, super duper happy Christian veneer.
posted by clawsoon at 10:16 AM on November 14, 2019 [11 favorites]


I'm firmly convinced that if people were raised without being told about religion, without making it part of their lives before the age of 12, most would not miss it at all. All of the social, educational and moral benefits can be met, met easily, by other human institutions. Even the need for spirituality, art and purpose does not need to touch on the religious at all.

This is how my son is growing up. My wife and I both grew up with moderately religious, but not evangelical, parents who went to protestant churches. My wife's parents were not devout, and really were only "C & E" attendees. My parents went to church while my stepdad was a working physician in a smaller city, but since his retirement, I don't think they ever attend church anymore. My dad, on the other hand, wasn't really a church-goer until his retirement, and now I think in his old age he's trying to get right with God and Fox News. (ugh)

We never went to any church in our entire adult lives, and my son hasn't been to church ever, nor do we really talk about God or religion at all. Any existential questions he has, we simply discuss in broader, non-religious ways. I can see the value in the community church provides, but the superstition and whatnot, and getting up and getting dressed on Sunday morning... nah.
posted by Fleebnork at 10:32 AM on November 14, 2019 [4 favorites]


Ironically, fundegelical evangelical churches have also been places where women could gain some power and agency without stepping out of their 'traditional' role
I think I've written about this on MeFi before, but one of the most interesting and, to outsiders surprising aspects of the large, mainline Southern Baptist church I grew up in (First Baptist, Hattiesburg, in the 70s and 80s) was the committee structure. (The other is that the only discussion of abortion I ever heard there was staunchly and pragmatically pro-choice, which wasn't super surprising for the era.)

Baptist churches are kingdoms unto themselves. There is no Vatican or whatever that imposes any choices or control from outside the congregation. Some of them are small, and are effectively run by the pastor a a couple lieutenants, but FBC was set up to be run VERY transparently -- everyone in the congregation could review the budget down to salary information and how much they spent on office supplies, and it was a big enough congregation that the budget wasn't trivial. (By the time I left home in '88, salaries & labor overhead must've been $250K+, for example.)

Anyway, the first committee was the Deacons. These were ALWAYS AND ONLY men. But the Deacons' Committee didn't govern; they were just one of many. There were many others -- committees for Finance, Personnel, Missions, Education, etc. -- that did important work, and women served on all of them.

And even more interestingly, ALL committees (deacons, too) were term-limited -- you could only serve 2 or 3 years before rotating off, which was set up for two main reasons: First, people get more out of organizations they put into, and second, because it prevented the evolution of a static power structure.

So yeah, the deacons had to be men, but the church was smart enough to realize they were too big to let the deacons run everything, and that they had too many talented and professional women (professors, accountants, attorneys) in the congregation to limit the committees in that way.

My mother served on a number of committees (including Finance and Personnel) in the years she attended that church (40, to be clear) -- but was never a deacon, because deacons were all men.

Then, after a hard turn to the right not resisted by enough of the congregation, FBC shifted to be what's now called a "staff-led" church. Committees lost all their power, which was absorbed by the pastor who wanted to create a megachurch (he's mostly failed). Many folks left; my mother and stepfather -- together representing 100+ years of membership -- went to the (much smaller) local cooperative Baptist church, historically favored by college professors & etc.

There, they were happy to ordain women as deacons; mother was asked to be a deacon almost immediately. She was surprised ("but I've been divorced!"), but absolutely nobody else was.
posted by uberchet at 10:32 AM on November 14, 2019 [14 favorites]


Why rebel against something that doesn't matter? Makes no sense to me.

I object to most organized religion precisely because it does matter. I don't want to presume too much, but you sound fortunate enough to not be on the receiving end of any of the many and varied problematic prejudices organized religion is riddled with. I'm lucky too - I'm male, I'm hetero, I'm half Chinese but look white to most people - but I 'rebel' (not the word I would choose) because not everyone is as lucky as me.
posted by dazed_one at 10:33 AM on November 14, 2019 [7 favorites]


To avoid any confusion; I use the word "lucky" with great weariness and wariness. I don't think I am actually better than anyone but the society I live in certainly seems to think I am.
posted by dazed_one at 10:38 AM on November 14, 2019 [4 favorites]


I'm firmly convinced that if people were raised without being told about religion, without making it part of their lives before the age of 12, most would not miss it at all. All of the social, educational and moral benefits can be met, met easily, by other human institutions. Even the need for spirituality, art and purpose does not need to touch on the religious at all.

As a counterpoint, I was raised without religion by scientists who thought it was stupid and then sought it out later after I realized I enjoyed exploring it and liked the Unitarians and Buddhists I'd met.

I love my Mom, but I grew up in the south and she is still the most close-minded person I've ever met.
posted by selfnoise at 10:39 AM on November 14, 2019 [6 favorites]


I mean, promise rings, purity balls, Left Behind, these all used to be huge cultural movements - I was surprised how many people I knew who had grown up with a deep and sincere belief in the Rapture right around the corner.

It seems like the people into that stuff are now socializing on Facebook and cross mutating their estcatology with various right wing movements.
posted by The Whelk at 10:50 AM on November 14, 2019 [5 favorites]


I just don’t trust them. I desperately want that kind of community, but I can’t find one that I can reasonably expect to treat me like a person, and I don’t have the spoons to invest in a community where I make myself vulnerable to more of that same flavor of dehumanizing bullshit.

This. This this this. I just moved across the country and could definitely benefit from finding an organization here that would allow me to feel like I'm part of my new community, but... long story short, I was asked to leave a private Nazarene church-run school after first grade and my little family was asked to leave the congregation entirely, because of me. Because I asked too many questions in school about, like, other religions and their holidays, or where the dinosaurs were in the Bible, or what kind of fossils might have been in the Garden of Eden. They just flat-out kicked us out of their lives, after telling my grandmother what a terrible child I was for having such thoughts and asking such things. And every experience I've had with organized Christian religion since then has been uncomfortable at best, ugly and self-worth destroying at worst.

I'm half tempted to look up the nearest local Satanist org, just to see what kind of vibe they've got.
posted by palomar at 11:01 AM on November 14, 2019 [22 favorites]


dazed_one: ...fortunate enough to not be on the receiving end of any of the many and varied problematic prejudices organized religion is riddled with.

This understanding is the only thing that can make a connection between the good people on the inside of the church, and those who have been pushed out by being hurt.

My comments above should make it plain that I am also one of the lucky, and get to enjoy all the benefits of membership without having suffered for it. It genuinely pains me that criminal creeps (all men) have abused their positions to harm so many people: their victims, who most need the support of their community, are turned out at their lowest point. That's why it's a double betrayal.

The same thing happened in Boy Scouts when the national program doubled their annual fee last month -- expressly because liability insurance had gone up so much -- and a lot of leaders are sad that there are kids who will drop out because they can't afford the extra cost. It's an "echo" of the original harms caused in the past, and on a whole new group.

It really sucks that guys who can't keep it in their pants can cause so much harm over so much time. I can't unring the bell, and I don't blame anyone who walks away from either organization in anger. But I can try to use the remaining structure to do good in the world, and to keep it all from happening again. It's the only expiation there is, I guess.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:28 AM on November 14, 2019 [5 favorites]


I object to most organized religion precisely because it does matter.

So do I, but I don't think over-reacting to full out Richard Dawkins Atheism is a good idea either. Belief or non-belief equally doesn't entitle anyone to be a shitbird.

There are really great human beings who are religious. I disagree with them about that, but I can respect and admire them for the good they do in the world. I think we owe everyone our best, not our worst. I'd rather built up than tear down everything that offends me.
posted by bonehead at 11:32 AM on November 14, 2019 [6 favorites]


...what kind of fossils might have been in the Garden of Eden.

High five, that's awesome. The guy running my childhood CCD program ran off with a 14-year old, we heard at the time, so....*shrug* Probably you're better off.

In Catholic school I learned so much about other religions, and the philosophical foundations of my faith, that this context helped me understand more of the world and not less.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:33 AM on November 14, 2019 [3 favorites]


From 0-7, no religion, because I was living with emotionally disturbed people, and they were a hermetically sealed environment. From 7-16, I was in the black Pentecostal church, because my aunt's mental illnesses were getting to be too much for her to bear and she thought a fundamentalist religion would help her get a hold of herself (Reader: It most certainly did not.) She'd been raised Baptist, as had my birth mother, but didn't practice. I wish it had been seen as OK for people in our poor black community to go to therapy—or to not believe in Jesus. This is something a lot of black people in the US still have to struggle with. After 16, I just stopped going. I took every Sunday shift McDonald's gave me until I left for uni.

I did get some good things out of that little storefront black church: an appreciation of gospel music, how to sing without reading music, the feeling for good Elizabethan/Jamesian English writing, and how to clap in interesting time signatures. This church, like other Pentecostal black churches, was very right-wing in their belief system and would have aligned very well with some of these evangelical churches today, were it not for that pesky "white supremacy" stuff. And now, as I recall, they never did any real community service. Everything was church-oriented, and geared towards getting new members.

My aunt got on my case often because she could tell I was going through the motions and didn't believe (I never did speak in tongues or dance around the church like everyone else did. In my teenage smugness, I thought they looked silly). She thought her god was judging her and faulting her because I didn't believe. Even until the last few times we spoke when I was in my early 30s, she would "chastise" me for not believing or going to church. I asked her once why would she want to believe in and worship the god of the people who enslaved us, and wow, was that the wrong thing to say. I had to hang up on her because the rage was palpable through the phone line.

As for community, I work on a lot of New York Cares projects. It's how I serve, and I've met some very nice people from it. The Masons thing hadn't occurred to me. I thought that was old-timey stuff like one sees on The Flintstones and their Order of Water Buffaloes. It's good that such organizations still exist. My spirituality, such as it is, is simply awe that I'm a bit of the universe that's conscious of itself for a short time. I don't feel like I have to fall to my knees and go into subservient throes about it to anyone.
posted by droplet at 11:35 AM on November 14, 2019 [22 favorites]


So do I, but I don't think over-reacting to full out Richard Dawkins Atheism is a good idea either. Belief or non-belief equally doesn't entitle anyone to be a shitbird.

Absolutely 100% agree, which is why I wouldn't have used the word 'rebel'. It comes across as rather militant or aggressive. On the flip-side, however, I'm not going to go the full other end of the scale and keep quiet when the subject comes up.
posted by dazed_one at 11:37 AM on November 14, 2019 [1 favorite]


i don't want this to feel, idk, specifically confrontational to anyone here. i'm glad people have had positive experiences with religion. i'm glad they have found some kind of community in their individual churches or places of worship. but for me personally, overlooking the immense societal harm christianity has done to the world in the name of civilization, in the name of their god, overlooking the oppression and violence done to extremely vulnerable people, overlooking the specific horrors done to individuals that i love very much, is turning my back on humanity and it's not gonna happen. in the US the most mainstream and popular form of christianity is a cudgel of hate and oppression towards women and minorities and i cannot do anything other than celebrate its demise.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:52 AM on November 14, 2019 [29 favorites]


So do I, but I don't think over-reacting to full out Richard Dawkins Atheism is a good idea either. Belief or non-belief equally doesn't entitle anyone to be a shitbird.

You know Richard Dawkins et al are actually helpful to people right? That for some people who struggle with leaving Christianity (and Islam), or people from an oppressive religious environment seeing someone say straight out, "Yeah religion is bunch nonsense. Fuck that." is something that they need to hear.
posted by brandnewday989 at 12:14 PM on November 14, 2019 [1 favorite]


Richard Dawkins is a sexist and racist asshole and is high on the list of my childhood heroes who I’m extremely disappointed by. Yes, his writing have helped many people, just like the works of so many other people who have revealed themselves to be utter assholes, and in that he is much like many prominent people of faith. Probably don’t need to reopen the ‘death of the artist’ debate in this thread though.
posted by bq at 12:46 PM on November 14, 2019 [15 favorites]


By the way, I was raised entirely without religion (I remember thinking people only went to church in books and movies) and I converted to a faith as an adult. Not one that requires a belief in an anthropological Divinity though.
posted by bq at 12:47 PM on November 14, 2019


The Southern Baptists are generally horrible in every way. But they do one thing right. They are incredibly transparent regarding their numbers. They publish their baptisms, membership, number of churches, and financials in a detailed document every year as part of the Southern Baptist Convention. If you want to monitor how evangelicals are doing, Southern Baptists are a great place to start.

They are solidly in decline. Baptisms and membership are down year after year. The only number that goes up is the number of new church starts. Despite a dwindling audience, they keep introducing new franchises which cannibalize members from each other. They're a strange parody of late capitalism in that respect.

And even before the Trump era, they were losing around 60% of their born-n-bred young people. The stated reasons were largely related to the denomination's right wing politics & hate. Homophobia and lack of leadership roles for women were at the top.

There's considerable denial within the church as to why this is happening. But there are brief moments of self-awareness. Like the last second rebellion in the 2018 Convention to stop Pence from speaking. The rebellion wasn't exactly full of nevertrumpers or liberals, but it did have people who thought public embracing of the Administration was not a good look. The rebellion failed, but I'm surprised it happened at all. Could be an omen for the denomination's future: not exactly an abandonment of right wing politics, but being less public about it. More removed from worldly affairs in a vain attempt to staunch the bleeding.

As a former Southern Baptist who left the church at 20 and never went back, it's been enjoyable sitting on the sidelines and rooting for injuries.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 12:52 PM on November 14, 2019 [13 favorites]


I don't understand why secular organizations don't seem to be nearly as effective

My friend, are you familiar with the community and creative support that can be found through participation in the Organization for Transformative Works?

...There are secular orgs that provide kinship, emotional support, and a sense of purpose. They are, however, more individualized - my husband's RC model airplane club is not going to work for me.

Religion is a special case - for one thing, it has literally centuries of inertia, including long stretches when it was actually illegal not to participate, and was the central social hub. For another, we use the term "religion" to mean a whole bunch of spiritual, philosophical, and social belief clusters, and "church" to mean any building or organization connected to any of those, as if they were an aggregate. We also tend to not use the terms "religion" and "church" for organizations that greatly differ in practical form from the traditional ones, regardless of how similar the results are. (The main thing that keeps scifi fandom from being a religion is that people don't usually call it a religion.)

I tend to credit the decline of Christianity in the US to a few things:
1) Women no longer having dozens of available hours in a week to donate, as they are now often expected to have paying jobs;
2) A growing disconnect between awareness of scientific facts and churches' insistence on a literal interpretation of biblical events;
3) Lack of progressivism - whether that's women leaders, LGBTQ+ acceptance, support for non-married lifestyles (including sex outside of marriage, asexuality, polyamory, etc.);
4) Standing in solidarity with bigots, rapists, and corporate thieves, instead of supporting the needs and interests of their members;
5) Doubling down on hate and intolerance when questioned.

Each of these loses a few members, loses some connection to their changing communities. And they're doing nothing to draw those people back, instead, adopting a "good riddance!" approach, so the remaining members feel smugly superior in their near-empty buildings. Churches that realize they're floundering, tend to focus on, "how can we convince young people that the bible is literal truth and they should despise homosexuality" rather than "how can we maintain the essentials of our spirituality and adapt our practices to draw in more people."
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 1:23 PM on November 14, 2019 [16 favorites]


I'm just glad that the social climate is reaching the point where It's literally been years since I've had to endure someone trying to convince me that 'atheism is just another religion.'

In fact, I really like the 'nothing in particular' label, since it also avoids the equally tedious discussion about the distinction between atheist and agnostic.
posted by 256 at 1:29 PM on November 14, 2019 [9 favorites]


Despite a dwindling audience, they keep introducing new franchises which cannibalize members from each other. They're a strange parody of late capitalism in that respect.

Following the prosperity gospel to its logical conclusion, why have anyone in your upline other than the Good Lord?
posted by snuffleupagus at 1:33 PM on November 14, 2019 [4 favorites]


These stories are so varied and real, thank you to everyone for sharing, whether church has been a space of community-making or organized hatred.

My parents are part of a church, became an elder and a deacon even, but only one is properly Christian. The other is committed to the church because of social/familial reasons.

I've been agnostic ever since I read the Old Testament in 9th grade. As a teenage girl on the cusp of embracing feminism, I could not square my childhood faith (I made up a bed for Jesus in case he wanted to have a sleepover one night) with the way women were portrayed in the Bible. I also was thoroughly horrified by the structural sexism of the Korean American church I attended; the burden put on women to do all the labor, cook all the food, clean all the things, while the smarmy pastor looked smug. I think the breaking point in terms of my willingness to endure church was when some teenage boys joked about how I should be in the kitchen with the other females.

At the same time, I look at my parents, one of whom is going to the same church that my grandparents attended, and wish that I too had a regular weekly ritual, with music, and food, and the willingness to be in community with people who might be quite different from in age or experience. I've been lucky in the communities I have found and made (Asian American artists in the SF Bay Area holler). And my constant orbiting of academic institutions means that I have a lot of instant social circles. But I do wonder what it would be like to enter into a group that had the social rhythms of a church, with its recognition and accommodation of different stages of life, but you know, without the church. I want to be in a community that has free (volunteer) child care, that recognizes that language needs may be different (sometimes I went to the Korean-language service as a kid and boy was I bored), that honors elders and has seasonal celebrations.
posted by spamandkimchi at 1:44 PM on November 14, 2019 [13 favorites]


The angry 15 year old who left the Southern Baptist church because of the hypocrisy, oppression, and abuse that was inherent in the faith in me says, "Good riddance. Don't let the door hit you on the ass."

The lonely 20 year old who sought a different comfort in paganism, only to discover that Christians don't have a monopoly on abusive hypocrites says, "Well, what did you expect?"

The tired 30 year old who decided that the only faith worth a shit is the faith you have in yourself, says "I get it."

At 45, I've spent more time in my life without faith than I ever did with it. I've been told for decades that I won't have close adult relationships without church. That a community is near impossible to build without a common god. That the system of Christianity may be corrupt and empty, but the community of faith is still a good place to be. I've watched good people tear themselves apart trying to cling to that promise of community despite all evidence to the contrary. I've seen people put themselves into the poor house to tithe, who work themselves to the bone because the "church needs them." Even when I believed in the word of God, I had a hard time believing in the community of faith. Church was where people judged you for not dressing right, or bringing the right casserole, or having the best voice. Sure, they'd show up in your time of need, but it was mainly so they could be seen helping and get the best gossip. Jesus may have loved us despite our sins, but the congregation would see you hang before they'd forgive.

I've found my comfort and companionship in bars, bookstores, classrooms, and the internet. The people who come to me when I'm in need don't do so because God told them to, they do it because I matter to them. For all I care, churches can die right the fuck out because they do far, far more harm than they help. Community can be found elsewhere without the racist oppressive dogma that tells you to kneel to be loved.
posted by teleri025 at 1:48 PM on November 14, 2019 [21 favorites]


Do we have receipts on the continued increase in attendance at mega churches? Because I've heard it so often - and certainly I've seen the likes of Hillsong pop up like mushrooms in London- but I'm beginning to wonder how much of that is true growth and how much is MLM/WeWork/choose your secular scam equivalent-style growth.
posted by Gin and Broadband at 2:05 PM on November 14, 2019 [6 favorites]


I don't understand why secular organizations don't seem to be nearly as effective

There *is* a kind of secular organization that can match and even do better than most churches in forming an inclusive community of mutual assistance: the labor union.

Nothing has made me feel a greater sense of belonging, satisfaction, community, and love (agape! agape!) than the experience of organizing and winning a union for myself and my fellow workers. And I didn't have to believe in anything except the dignity of my peers. I did not anticipate how hard it would be to leave that job and the community it created behind.

The strikewave is building. Let's make solidarity the new church.
posted by dis_integration at 2:43 PM on November 14, 2019 [20 favorites]


2017 article on number of megachurches: a bit over 1600 in the US, with almost a third in California, Texas, and Florida.

Note that attendance numbers may now include online churches.

2019: 60% of Protestant churches have declining attendance, however, "most churches with 250 or more in attendance (59 percent) are growing." 39% of churches report growing 6% or more over the last three years.

So: 60% of large churches report increased attendance. That definitely doesn't mean the number of people attending in general is going up - if a small church shuts down, and 15 of its 50 members start going to a megachurch, that's not an overall increase.

I have a suspicion that the "megachurches are growing!" rhetoric is working hard to avoid looking at the actual numbers of how many people are attending any church at all.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 3:10 PM on November 14, 2019 [8 favorites]


I have always had difficulty with believing religion and god stuff. I mean, always, from the time I remember starting to think about things. It just seemed unworkable to me. Why would an all powerful god that created the universe, give a shit about one small being on a small backwater planet? If they had our life planned, then why did I think this way, and How could I change it? To my mind, I couldn't. Plus, the old bearded white man nonsense. Come on. And all of the rules, don't eat fish on Fridays, you can't be gay, etc. And how did some of the rules become more important than others? Don't kill, but war is ok? God is on our side? If we're all gods children, how can he pick a side? Sorry, I just never got it. I looked into non christian religions, and they seemed slightly better, but they seemed to have different but similar rules bullshit. The Hari Krishnas seem like nice people but they believe in a traditional one man one woman marriage, and when the pro creation part is done, off you go to neutral corners, marriage absolved. I liked how pretty some of the churches and temples were, but I couldn't get past the rules and god n shit.

Then I got sober. I thought maybe this would make me change. I'd have to start believing in god, right? It's right there in the 12 steps. I'll tell you, I had a few tough moments there. I was afraid they were gonna kick me out. I still couldn't get past the hokum of religion. Then I realized, that maybe I didn't have to, maybe this once I could rules lawyer my way into making this work. So, Came to believe that a power greater than myself, could restore us to sanity.
Well that was dead easy. Here I am going to these meetings, and I'm not drinking or doing drugs. I don't know what this power is, and I hesitate to call it god, but something's fucking working. And people in meetings will tell you not to worry, you don't have to believe, in AA meetings some people will tell you the cop that used to bust there head was there higher power, or other things like that.
I didn't think there was any way around it though when I got to the third step, I mean, it's pretty straight out there:
Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we
understood Him.

No way around that. Or is there? It took me long hard thought and plenty of meditation on it but I finally decided that it was OK, that my understanding was that I didn't. Understand that is. I was pretty willing to turn my will and my life over, as long as I didn't have to just believe, it was Jesus, or Yahway, or the flying Spaghetti Monster, or whatevs. The big surprise for me was that as far as most people were concerned, that was OK.
So that's where I stand today, with religion, and god, and the 12 steps. I'm OK with you believing in whatever works for you. I'm OK with you thinking I'm a giant flaming asshole (you wouldn't be the first, and you're probably right) I'm OK with you thinking I'm working my program all wrong. However, I'll make you a deal, you live, and believe your way, I'll do mine. Good luck, and be safe out there.
posted by evilDoug at 4:55 PM on November 14, 2019 [11 favorites]


There *is* a kind of secular organization that can match and even do better than most churches in forming an inclusive community of mutual assistance: the labor union.

well, i'm glad you don't belong to MY union - your faith would be sorely tested
posted by pyramid termite at 5:08 PM on November 14, 2019 [10 favorites]


dis_integration: do better than most churches in forming an inclusive community of mutual assistance: the labor union.

pyramid termite: well, i'm glad you don't belong to MY union - your faith would be sorely tested

this is a low bar, even in the most progressive churches

But seriously, I've spent way too much time and energy on church (choirmember, usher, acolyte, vestry, run newcomers' stuff, etc.) in some pretty progressive contexts, and the determinative fact is that church people are people.

Sometimes they're wonderful and generous and kind beyond belief, and sometimes they're grouchy and prone to factionalism and backbiting and nastiness, and sometimes they display real evil. (I'm fortunate not to have run into that last in church, but boy have we all seen it's out there.)
posted by golwengaud at 5:28 PM on November 14, 2019 [6 favorites]


I'm OK with you thinking I'm a giant flaming asshole (you wouldn't be the first, and you're probably right) I'm OK with you thinking I'm working my program all wrong.

I don't think this is the kind of religiosity that tends to draw approbation in these parts.

I'm sure I've said this before on mefi, but to me one of the most problematic and revealing verses in the Bible is Genesis 1:26 — that humans are created "in God's image," the same thinking that we lampoon by shorthand with the imaginary friend in the sky jokes. Maintaing that idea labors to extend the thinking of very early societies cosmogonies in which there was no other frame of reference.

And sure, there's lots of philosophical theology that inserts layers of abstraction, but a lot of ugliness and violence comes from the persistent inclination of a lot of adherents to take thinking like that pretty literally, to the point that they can apply it to justify all kinds of bad acts against humans who they regard as further from that Godly image.

And moreover, to me it seems undeniable that the only kind of God worth believing in today, with what we know about the universe, would be a God specifically NOT understandable as a superpowered version of a human, but rather a force that would exist on a level of reality that would make it challenging to even call a God a "being" or even a consciousness that could "want" any one human to do anything in particular.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:32 PM on November 14, 2019 [7 favorites]


As a counterpoint, I was raised without religion by scientists who thought it was stupid and then sought it out later after I realized I enjoyed exploring it

This.

For me, religion was a temptation from an early age. It looked so loving compared to the treatment I got from certain adults around me, so many of whom were blindly worshiping their own self-assessed “reason.”

Their identity as “smart people” required my full participation, and my failure to reflect this brilliance back to them was the ultimate sin. Punishment for this sin required dogmatic shaming, but their self-perceived immunity to “irrational” thought was their excuse. Abuse was only doled out by irrational stupid people, after all. Public humiliation and ridicule were the only fair punishments for doing something irrational or stupid. A lack of organized religion made it all, somehow, righteous.

Show me a gifted school run by ex-religious Boomers and I’ll show you a cult from Hell. I have tremendous empathy for nones who were made to feel this kind of worthlessness in the name of religion. I implore them not to drink the same potion out of a differently-labeled bottle.
posted by armeowda at 6:11 PM on November 14, 2019 [10 favorites]


dis_integration: "I did not anticipate how hard it would be to leave that job and the community it created behind."

I think this is the problem with making labor unions the new church. So much of our lives are already entwined in work and the relationships we forge at work. One appeal of church is a place to form 'community' (ugh that word) in a place completely disconnected from the workplace.
posted by crazy with stars at 6:27 PM on November 14, 2019 [3 favorites]


I live in the middle of Houston. I don't really know more than a few folks who actually attend church. I know some latinx Catholics, obviously,

Uberchet, my partner's brother and sister live in Houston and are faithful churchgoers. They were once Catholic, but attend an Anglican church because, well, I suspect because they don't want to go to church with latinx people. I viewed that church with suspicion because of that, but when the hurricane hit, my siblings-in-laws' house was destroyed, and one of their church-friends took them in for six months. I think what I see in religion these days is this kind of in-group charity: kindness to people who believe the same thing, and unkindness to outsiders.
posted by acrasis at 6:30 PM on November 14, 2019 [3 favorites]


i would love to have a community that accepted me, and did volunteer work, and baked casseroles for sick members, and all that. but i emphatically do not want it to be god-based because i don't believe in god. i don't want any prayers or hymns or lectures from a pulpit. i want to hang out with people with similar values doing things we enjoy and helping other people and also animals.

This is the Girl Scout troop I run. (We all sort of mumble through the "to serve God" part of the promise.) I tell all prospective families that our troop culture focuses on three things: Service toward community, engagement in the outdoors, and experiences that expand our world. We've got meal trains, etc. for families when they need it. We're a community. The number of atheist parents who have pulled me aside and said, "We've been looking for a way to do more in the community and we didn't know how to start. Thank you for this!" is higher than zero.

I did grow up in a religious household -- my childhood parish was full-on Post Vatican II and I was ruined for all subsequent churches by that amazing, Marty Haugen-singing, felt folk-art banner-hanging, social justice-oriented parish -- but have never really believed. (My favorite apostle was Thomas because he doubted.) I liked church for the community aspect and the opportunity to be of service, and I think that any organization that can tap into that framework of local connections and meeting spaces and opportunities to make the world better in some small way has a huge potential constituency.
posted by sobell at 6:59 PM on November 14, 2019 [10 favorites]


more recently some of the controversy surrounds so-called 'atheist' ministers, Gretta Vosper comes to mind.

Holy crap, she sounds awesome. If there was more space for christian nontheism and atheism, I might be still attending services. I kept going as long as I was at home because I valued the community and the cultural aspects. But I never felt much push to find myself a new one once I left home for college, for all the reasons people talk about plus being an atheist. I miss the hymns.

But there's not a lot of space out there for religious but not spiritual, to flip a phrase around. Some traditions other than christianity seem to have more space for that, but that's not of much relevance to me.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 7:18 PM on November 14, 2019 [3 favorites]


Mefites can be extremely dismissive of religion but the void it leaves behind will be filled with something, and it's unlikely to be rationally enlightened space communism or what have you.

I dunno. Europe doesn't seem to be going up in flames. Most of Europe is less than 50% religious and Nordic countries are less than 20%. They have less poverty and better social welfare so there seems to be an inverse correlation with religiosity.

This correlation doesn't prove that religion causes a worse society, but it certainly suggests that religion is entirely unnecessary for a good one.
posted by JackFlash at 7:45 PM on November 14, 2019 [20 favorites]


would love to have a community that accepted me, and did volunteer work, and baked casseroles for sick members, and all that. but i emphatically do not want it to be god-based because i don't believe in god.

Yeah, when I see people mourning the loss of the community associated with a church, I always think to myself, well, that community was never open to me. I couldn't make myself believe in God if I wanted to. I've tried, but I just don't have the brain for it. You might as well tell me to be heterosexual.

An exclusive community isn't necessarily a problem if people have other options but that hasn't historically been the case.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 9:00 PM on November 14, 2019 [13 favorites]


I was talking to a friend that used to go to our church before the new pastor showed up and threw a blanket over the whole notion of Vatican 2. Our place has gotten very conservative, even for Catholics, and attendance has plunged. Bob described his choice thusly: "I'm not here for the rules, I'm here for the community, so when that went away I had to go." I totally get it. Most of our friends have jumped to other parishes or just stay home, and it's not the community it was even five years ago. I suppose I'll hang on because I always stay too long (jobs, relationships, whatever) but it's a sad thing to see evaporate.
posted by Cris E at 11:07 PM on November 14, 2019 [2 favorites]


Australia, as usual, is skating to where America was a few decades ago. From a freeways-and-dormitory-suburbs form of urbanism to trickle-down Reaganomics to the rise of evangelical/pentecostal megachurches in the suburbs. The conservative government has fuelled this fire, in the hope that it'll lead to a US-style religious segment of society who can be counted on to get out the vote in future generations; for about a decade, schools have had religious chaplains to counsel to students but have been forbidden to employ psychologists or secular counsellors. Now the current Prime Minister, a Hillsong adherent, is pushing for “religious freedom” laws essentially sanctioning all sorts of antisocial behaviours as long as they're motivated by religious faith.
posted by acb at 1:21 AM on November 15, 2019 [4 favorites]


Someone way upthread mentioned how difficult it is to replicate the strangers-into-family effect of church. I wanted to note that there are in fact, lots of ways to do this. You just have to get a bunch of strangers in a shared space at least once a week to talk to one another. Gaming groups, dog parks, bar regulars, hiking enthusiasts, LARPing, they all have this effect. Our bar collected donations and is having a second line (kind of a parade) for one of our regulars who passed away recently. We throw birthday parties and watch football games together. In short:

Metafilter: an equally effective way to take perfect strangers and turn them into close family
posted by domo at 6:15 AM on November 15, 2019 [7 favorites]


It never resonated for ME that way, but it's super clear that the JoCoCruise community is scratching that itch for many of its longtime attendees. This is enabled by social media in no small portion, obviously -- the cruise is 1 week a year -- but it's still real.
posted by uberchet at 6:17 AM on November 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


METAFILTER CRUISE
posted by sugar and confetti at 7:02 AM on November 15, 2019 [6 favorites]


One of the catalysts for churches turning strangers into family more effectively may be that, according to psychological studies, in the social faculty of the human mind, the idea of God fills a niche in the social graph, thus placing all co-religionists (if not all of humanity) at at most two degrees of separation.
posted by acb at 7:21 AM on November 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


Missed the real headline. Atheists have more than doubled ...

to an new total of 4%. Oh.
posted by JackFlash at 8:03 AM on November 15, 2019 [5 favorites]


I wasn't raised in a church, but I'm a reader, and I read some of the Bible. My argument is not with the clear contradictions in the text, it's the utter lack of observation of, or rejection of, Jesus' teachings by his followers. (Also, it's a PhD in misogyny.)

David's a Baptist and is 100% certain he's right and his faith is better than anyone else's, and also can't be bothered to go to church. No wonder they're declining.

I'm an AA member, and we're in churches all the time. You can really tell who is preaching meanness and who is trying to follow the titular leader.
posted by corvikate at 8:05 AM on November 15, 2019 [4 favorites]


It looked so loving compared to the treatment I got from certain adults around me, so many of whom were blindly worshiping their own self-assessed “reason.”

Is there a support group for survivors of militant atheism?

In my own case, I came to a reconciliation of atheism and Christian spirituality by means of some great Jewish thinkers: Constantin Brunner, Harry Waton, Ernst Bloch. Militant atheism is the crucible out of which a purified (ie. Jewish) Christian spirituality emerges.
posted by No Robots at 8:10 AM on November 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


It's impressive how carefully the text mentions every generational slice in their graphics - except X:

Furthermore, the data shows a wide gap between older Americans (Baby Boomers and members of the Silent Generation) and Millennials in their levels of religious affiliation and attendance. More than eight-in-ten members of the Silent Generation (those born between 1928 and 1945) describe themselves as Christians (84%), as do three-quarters of Baby Boomers (76%). In stark contrast, only half of Millennials (49%) describe themselves as Christians; four-in-ten are religious “nones,” and one-in-ten Millennials identify with non-Christian faiths.

Only about one-in-three Millennials say they attend religious services at least once or twice a month. Roughly two-thirds of Millennials (64%) attend worship services a few times a year or less often, including about four-in-ten who say they seldom or never go. Indeed, there are as many Millennials who say they “never” attend religious services (22%) as there are who say they go at least once a week (22%).

posted by doctornemo at 9:22 AM on November 15, 2019 [4 favorites]


I'm enjoying the range of experiences and reflections in this thread.

Two thoughts:
1) I think the continuous Catholic sex abuse scandals are doing much to depress membership and activity in that faith. (Anecdotally, some of the Catholic universities I've worked with recently tell me they downplay "the C-word" and instead emphasize social justice)
2) The "nones" could be fertile ground for new religious movements. Remember that many are attuned to the supernatural and numinous, just without institutional housing. At some point they could join a new or reformed organization.
(I'm especially looking for a NRM to appear around climate change)
posted by doctornemo at 9:42 AM on November 15, 2019 [4 favorites]


I think the continuous Catholic sex abuse scandals are doing much to depress membership and activity in that faith.


I wonder if this effect is lessening. I mean, we had that horrible, horrible news out of Pennsylvania last year, yet all the Catholics my age did the performative hand-wringing on Facebook and then went back to posting pictures of their small children in their first communion finery or Catholic school uniforms. If you've withstood a decade of revelation after revelation about how your church systemically moved predators around rather than hold anyone accountable for abuse, how your church harmed women and murdered children, and you're still at that church, then child abuse is clearly not a dealbreaker for you.

Perhaps there are raised-Catholic people like me who already had one or both feet out the door, and this news bolstered a conviction not to ever return. But a majority people who are in the pews are probably not going to go now. They're dedicated to changing the church from within, or they've decided that the abuse is a relic of another time, or they're like, "I'm not letting a few bad apples ruin my relationship with God."
posted by sobell at 10:28 AM on November 15, 2019 [7 favorites]


This news report does not surprise me. As a millennial kid, church always seemed like the highest order of bullshit. In order to keep the peace in an extremely Catholic rural farm family, when my mom (Catholic) and dad (Lutheran) got married they promised my grandpa that they would raise the kids Catholic. This meant that I had to go to church with my mom every week, while my dad stayed home with my wild youngest brother, who was deemed too disruptive. This was clearly bullshit. We alternated between a suburban, liberal Catholic mega church and the rural, ultra-conservative Catholic churches where my mom’s family lived. The dichotomy between these churches further illustrated the bullshit. I had to get confirmed to appease my grandfather, and the confirmation process at the time in my liberal Catholic church involved a single afternoon of motivational lectures by some visiting nuns. My cousins had to go to years of Wednesday-night church classes. Again, total bullshit. When my brother grew up and my dad occasionally came with us to church, he constantly admonished me to sing the songs, but he just mouthed along. Total bullshit. There was no attempt at community-building by my parents - we were always out the door immediately afterward (and had strategically-picked pews based on speed out the door) to avoid the parking lot traffic jams.

Obviously I stopped going to church as soon as possible. My mom even stopped going after the pedophile priest scandals hit the news. I can count on one hand the number of my ~30 cousins who, raised Catholic, still go to church of any kind. It seems like a pretty universal experience in my neck of the woods. Years ago, I had a boss who told me that she and her husband decided that the worst thing their kids could do was to grow up and become right-wing conservative Christians. “So we decided to raise the kids Catholic, and that took care of that,” she laughed.

My 6-year-old has only gone to church for a couple funerals (in the same week, even), and his immediate learning was that church sucks because it is boring and you have to be quiet. Can’t argue with that, though I wonder if he will ever miss that bit of acquired cultural knowledge/experience that I reluctantly have. I mean, once we were driving down the highway and he spotted a church steeple with a cross above the sound wall, and he asked, “What store is that?” Am I failing or succeeding as a parent by sparing him from bullshit?
posted by Maarika at 10:30 AM on November 15, 2019 [7 favorites]


My 6-year-old has only gone to church for a couple funerals (in the same week, even), and his immediate learning was that church sucks because it is boring and you have to be quiet. Can’t argue with that,

I still feel like that. Though I was cheered by a lady telling me that her church encourages knitting during services, so there's that.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:42 AM on November 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


"Perhaps there are raised-Catholic people like me who already had one or both feet out the door, and this news bolstered a conviction not to ever return."
That's my thought, sobell .
posted by doctornemo at 11:44 AM on November 15, 2019


One kid just sits there and seethes -- but he doesn't engage with anything. Surprise! Like life, you get out of it what you put into it.

I'm assuming from the context that you require them to go, either directly or through disapproval. A teenager is plenty old enough to decide that they don't want to engage with an organization like the Catholic Church, for any number of highly valid reasons. It can be wonderful for you and the other kids and the absolute wrong thing for them.
posted by Candleman at 1:37 PM on November 15, 2019 [16 favorites]


I dunno. Europe doesn't seem to be going up in flames. Most of Europe is less than 50% religious and Nordic countries are less than 20%. They have less poverty and better social welfare so there seems to be an inverse correlation with religiosity.

This correlation doesn't prove that religion causes a worse society, but it certainly suggests that religion is entirely unnecessary for a good one.


I think it's the other way round: when you don't have a universal welfare system, religion steps in with the functions of proper welfare, which includes community. (For quite a bit of the way, this is also how Hezbollah, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood etc. works, if you want to get rid of them, provide universal welfare in those countries). When the Social Democrats and the Unions in Scandinavia created our societies from the late 1920's onward, they were very aware of "the church ladies", and of the need to remove them and their influence from the whole welfare system. Sweden doesn't even allow private schools AFAIK.
On the other hand, we all had state religion (Sweden stopped just a few years ago, Denmark and Norway still have Protestant state churches), and membership levels are high. It's true that many atheists including myself are members of the church, because it's practical when someone is born or dies, and to pay for the preservation of the medieval churches. Before WW2, many atheist Jews including my mother's family were baptized in the hope of escaping antisemitism. Didn't work, that.
There are some unexpected advantages to having a state church, the biggest of them being that the church has to be a big tent, tolerant of differences, and that the church has to acknowledge science. But every time I attend a service, I get angry at the nationalist smugness and think I should opt out. Religion is the devil's work.
posted by mumimor at 2:15 AM on November 16, 2019 [11 favorites]


In which case America should have experienced a religious boom since 1980s, given various cuts and limitations to social services.
posted by doctornemo at 10:44 AM on November 16, 2019


Yeah, we did, see the previous comment about the huge huge huge evangelical culture boom and organizations like The Family extending their power into all aspects of american politics.

Religious addiction treatment is a HUGE pipeline for converts because in a lot of places there just isn’t a public, funded secular alternative.
posted by The Whelk at 11:04 AM on November 16, 2019 [12 favorites]


Yet that boom was short lived, as the 21st century has seen Christian affiliation steady drop.
Meanwhile we haven't experienced a significant growth in social services.
posted by doctornemo at 5:04 PM on November 16, 2019


That’s cause in that short boom which lasted about 30 years many Christian religious extremists entered government and installed Calvinist ideology to end or weaken welfare and social services that were not provided by a church. Remember “faith based initiatives “?
posted by The Whelk at 5:38 PM on November 16, 2019 [4 favorites]


I do.

So was the post-1980 Christian boom contingent on other factors? I'm still trying to make sense of how belief has dropped since the 2000s, while precarity has increased.
posted by doctornemo at 6:16 PM on November 17, 2019 [2 favorites]


Inertia and neoliberalism, the modern conservative movement is a merger of the all austerity all privatization money wing of the party and the religious, socially conservative moral majority wing. They had a huge success with this and put (and continue to put) their people into power at all levels of Goverment and move the Overton window so far that we forget a plank of the National Democratic Party platform in the 70s was universal employment.

While they were in power they stripped the social welfare state and transferred all of its power to profit making religious groups, it’s stayed that way cause there’s no actual opposition to this politics, at least not until recently - and there’s only been a noticeable rift between the money and religion wings if the conservative recently cause the religious wing isn’t getting what they want.

But going back, after 1984, the Democrats became little sibling Republicans, much like labour under Blair, they didn’t need to have the same religious reasons for stripping out public services as the GOP did, but they enacted the same policies anyway. But the initial reason given, way back during the Reagan admin through W Bush, was that religion was better than Government because it was private and that changed the whole tenor of goverment And opinion.

The last generation to grow up with this as a popular national movement are all in their 30s now and politically socialist curious.
posted by The Whelk at 8:10 PM on November 17, 2019 [4 favorites]


In which case America should have experienced a religious boom since 1980s, given various cuts and limitations to social services.

There's been a rise in cults based not in traditional religion, but self-help. Multi-level marketing schemes that drop any pretense of being a religion, but result in the abuses that religious cults engage in. See NXIVM, or Jared Leto's Echelon network, or even R. Kelly's alleged sex cult. Or much larger, think of the QAnon movement. These are political religions. Astrology is also on the rise, even if young people are more likely to find it more fun to think about, than to take seriously.

The decline of traditional religion in America does not necessarily equate to the rise in reason or rationality.
posted by Apocryphon at 11:15 PM on November 17, 2019 [10 favorites]


Seconding the recommendation upthread for Roll to Disbelieve.
posted by Rykey at 11:59 PM on November 17, 2019


Maybe people are just tired? I'm reminded of a conversation I had with my mom earlier today in which she mentioned how her parents would frequently have friends over on weeknights after work, but she and my stepdad or my partner and I don't seem to socialize as much, and she thinks it's because of the amount of work we take home to do at night and on the weekends. With our free hours so few and precious, it's hard to get excited about adding in another regular commitment like church.
posted by naoko at 12:49 PM on November 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


Apocryphon, that's what I was looking for: emerging NRMs.
I can definitely see MLMs in that need, as a kind of prosperity gospel echo.
posted by doctornemo at 1:19 PM on November 18, 2019


Agreed on all points, Whelk.
When I hear younger people talking about being the CEO of themselves, I hear an echo of American religion.
posted by doctornemo at 1:21 PM on November 18, 2019


Blasdelb: All churches, especially the more patriarchial ones, generally run almost exclusively on volunteer or underpaid female labor. Whether the positions they fill are formal or informal, the biggest difference between struggling and thriving churches is very often the energy and organization of the group of women who do all the real emotional and logistical work of maintaining community.

Exactly right. My father was an Anglican minister, and I grew up being a pretty happy altar boy just because I loved the ceremony and the increasingly rural churches he was relegated to for speaking his mind. I kept going to church even after I stopped believing in God, because the family aspect was important, too. But that became more and more difficult. The last straw was listening to one of my dad's friends, an older British pastor & longtime family friend, scold us for even suggesting that women could have a role in the church other than as cooks, cleaners and the people who spent their entire Saturday getting things ready for the big Easter service or whatever it was, at which point the minister accepts all that attention as his natural due. [eyeroll] After watching my mom and her sisters slave away in the Ladies' Auxiliary for their entire adult lives - Christ, what an asshole.

Anyhow, years later I'm pretty happy as a Zen practitioner. Mostly because a) we don't talk about God, b) we do talk about how we can make our congregation (sangha) a better place for women and others who might not be comfortable in more conventional religious circles, and c) lots of ceremonies! Basically we try to talk about the things that actually make us more aware, more compassionate people, and help others where we can. Shunryu Suzuki, the founder of San Fransisco Zen Center, talked about "shining one corner of the world", which seems to capture the scale of effort required.

I doubt the problem has been solved, but I think the SFZC & other US Zen lineages have made a concerted effort to find and include women ancestors in our traditions and liturgy, which is a very good thing.

I'm still wary about how much of my relationship with Buddhism is a reaction to my own anti-Christian/anti-church streak. And now Alberta, my home province, is run by a bunch of the most regressive Christians we could possibly find...
posted by sneebler at 3:54 PM on November 20, 2019 [9 favorites]


doctornemo: So was the post-1980 Christian boom contingent on other factors? I'm still trying to make sense of how belief has dropped since the 2000s, while precarity has increased.

I know that my mother joined the church and got Evangelical not long after she, as a single mother, was forced to give up her first child for adoption. Maybe the amounts of different kinds of precarity have shifted? Maybe it's more possible to be a single mother now than it was in the 1970s and 1980s? Maybe it's easier to not be a single mother if you don't want to because of increased abortion acceptability and access? I'm not sure if either of these ideas have anything to do with it, just throwing them out there.

The 1980s Christian boom also seems in part like a reaction to the increased sexual freedom of the 1960s and 1970s, which makes me think that it might well make another comeback. There did seem to be a back-and-forth through the 20th century: People who like freedom felt trapped by traditional marriages, and in the 1920s, 1960s, and 2000s they rebelled against the constrictions they grew up with; people who like security were bewildered by the atmosphere of sexual freedom they grew up with and rebelled in the 1940s, 1980s, and... I guess we'll see how the 2020s go?
posted by clawsoon at 4:54 PM on November 20, 2019 [1 favorite]


Sorry, just came back to this.

A huge factor in why/how/what the last religious boom became and why it has not resulted in any improvements in services is that after Roe v Wade the religious position was reduced to the simple and absolute question of abortion. It allowed the Republicans to co-opt a huge percentage of religious voters by smacking them with the Baby Killer stick when any other issue was raised. So where in the past there was a huge variety of roles for serving the poor, clothing the naked, feeding the children, providing mental health services, adoption, housing and whatnot, none of that mattered if you were voting pro-abortion. Democratic religious folks were forced to choose between voting their abortion position or voting their social justice position. Churches doing a lot of service lost focus and began spending a great deal of energy in front of clinics and fund-raising. And over time, as the population has aged and fewer folks are participating in organized religion there are fewer hands to do both service for the poor and fighting abortion.
posted by Cris E at 11:04 AM on December 10, 2019 [1 favorite]


Hi from a church where we support abortion rights and social justice. I know we're declining, but the mainline churches still exist and still think abortion is none of the church's business.
posted by hydropsyche at 11:23 AM on December 10, 2019 [2 favorites]


While they were in power they stripped the social welfare state and transferred all of its power to profit making religious groups, it’s stayed that way cause there’s no actual opposition to this politics, at least not until recently - and there’s only been a noticeable rift between the money and religion wings if the conservative recently cause the religious wing isn’t getting what they want.

Also, the US movement to privatize and end the social welfare state was in conjunction with winning the cold war by Reagan suddenly escalating an arms race on borrowed money (a new strategy after losing Vietnam). Communism was already weakened by unpopularity and stagnant economies, and these either collapsed or privatized worldwide. The industrial concern for labor revolting was totally removed as a direct result of communist governments failing, and everything else is mostly what happened to the institutions that organized politically around defense spending on borrowed money. The US national insecurity obsession over communism overlapped in real time with a new insecurity over oil, which led to the sudden rise of a US Christian militancy centered on defending the oil supply and Israel policies which threatened it. This coincided with the rise of the finance industry whose credo is libertarian and anti-government, which is a shared goal with militant Christians.
posted by Brian B. at 12:36 PM on December 10, 2019


Brain B.: Communism was already weakened by unpopularity and stagnant economies

Something I learned recently was that the Soviet Union had basically zero budget deficits right up until 1985 or so. That lecturer argues later in the video that the cause of the suddenly-ballooning deficits was Gorbachev's massive subsidies for older industries in exchange for their support of Deng-style reforms, rather than the American arms race or the quagmire in Afghanistan.
posted by clawsoon at 2:51 AM on December 11, 2019 [1 favorite]


That lecturer argues later in the video that the cause of the suddenly-ballooning deficits was Gorbachev's massive subsidies for older industries in exchange for their support of Deng-style reforms, rather than the American arms race or the quagmire in Afghanistan.

Good video, and although it does not mention an arms race where I watched it, it implies a massive one with his graph evidence, showing how Gorbachev printed tons of money suddenly to spend on the military and heavy industry (around 42-44 minutes), causing inflation and collapse. His thesis is that Gorbachev was trying to reform, which is true, but their military was obviously in charge during an arms race. His other commentary on the Soviet system itself is not to be missed, illustrated in one example by having far too many tractors compared to elsewhere, and generally high input costs but low agricultural output and low quality consumer goods, because they were politically and economically unresponsive to change and serviced only entrenched power (explained at 16 min.).
posted by Brian B. at 8:49 AM on December 11, 2019


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