January 17, 2011 by David Rosman
I have just finished writing a review for the new york journal of books for a new book on religion, “God’s Century; Resurgent religion and global politics.” (The review will appear in March on the NYJB site.)
This book is not a commentary about Christianity in America, though that subject makes its appearance, but how the marriage between religion and politics has been sustained and maintained over the centuries. Though it is a bit premature to claim the 21st century as God’s, the authors are speaking of a time between 1960 and 2010.
The problems with this book and the many others that claim a resurgence of religion, especially Christianity in the United States, are easily recognized. 1) They fail to look at the growth of atheists/agnostics communities as well as other non-Abrahamic religions such as Wicca, and 2) they do not taking into account the growing influence of media including the Internet.
My numbers are from the United States Censes Bureau’s 1990, 2001 and 2008 “Self-Described Religious Identification of Adult Population” surveys.
USCB’s Table 75 shows that of a total population of the United States of approximately 228 million people in 2008, just over 173 million Americans claim affiliation with one of the 40 major Christian sects or just over 75 percent of Americans. Christians as a whole have seen a 30 percent increase over 18 years and the assumption that as many as the 75 percent of American are affiliated to one of the many Christian faiths is true.
Non-Christian religions, including Jews, Muslims and Buddhists, as well as Native American and Wicca, represent another four percent of the population. Wiccan is, by far, the fastest growing of all the mystic religions at an eighteen-year growth rate of 430 percent.
Equally interesting is the growth of those who designated “No religion.” This group includes atheists, agnostics, Humanists and seculars. The 1990 Census Bureau combined agnostics and atheists, showing 1.2 million respondents. By 2008, this group represented 3.2 million respondents or more than a 200 percent growth.
Unfortunately, the Census Bureau also included those who did not declare a religious affiliation, raising the total to 34 million or 15 percent of the population. I can make no assumptions of the religiosity of this final sector.
There is an ongoing discussion as to whether agnostics should be combined with atheists for this type of survey. I will argue they should, for the survey also designates deist with “Other Religions,” giving agnostics the opportunity to choose between the dichotomies of deity or no deity. “I don’t know” is a legitimate response.
Why believe that there is an overwhelming growth in Christianity in the U.S.? A growth rate that the numbers do not support? It depends on how one interprets the data.
It also depends on how we are receiving our information. With the massive increase in news and opinion sources via the Internet and television, it is the “squeaky wheel” syndrome at its best. Even the intrepid TV Guide has taken up the issue in their January 10-16, 2011 issue, in a Special Report, “God on TV; Is prime time keeping the faith?” God is very much alive and well on the flat screen.
Christians’ use of television, from Saturday morning cartoons, to Sunday morning televangelists, the Christian cable channels and advertisements for religious paraphernalia, is powerful and near impossible to escape. The late anti-communist and anti-atheist the Bishop Fulton Sheen lives again, channeled by those who preach atheism as un-American, that the United States is a Christian nation and that the Christian God only blesses the United States on this blue speck in the universe. All done as a denouncement of almost two percent of Americans.
Those claiming Christian superiority are also the more prolific writers. Bookstore sections in religion, philosophy and current affairs are overwhelmed with titles that declare atheism, secular humanism, and agnosticism must be equated with evil, socialism and communism. In an attempting to find books concerning atheism, you will search through at least four sections of one national brick-and-mortar bookstore and only then, find a title by happenstance.
At the current rate of growth, it would take decades for atheism and agnosticism to pass the Christian sects in terms of population. Yet there can be an immediate turn of faith once the religious communities recognize that what is best for them is not necessarily best for everyone. That numbers do not lie. That books like God’s Country need to be taken for information they provide with skepticism and a critical eye.
David Rosman is an award winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in Communications, Ethics, Business and Politics. You can read more of David’s commentaries at ColumbiaMissourian.com and New York Journal of Books.com.
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