What's indisputable--at least if you believe the Pew Research Center's Forum of Religion and Public Life--is that today more Americans than ever before claim no religion at all. More Americans these days are simply staying out of church doors more frequently, despite mega-churches, Christian broadcasting, and the rise of the Religious Right.
One in five Americans claim no religious identity, a new Pew Study says, and that number has realigned American religiosity so that today, for the first time, less than fifty percent of us are Protestant.
What's more, this new segment of the population Pew calls "the nones" lean quite heavily toward the liberal side, at least favoring abortion rights and same-sex marriage.
And, their numbers are growing. Fast. One fifth of the American people claim no religious identity, which is an increase of five percent in just the last five years. It's almost impossible not to call that change a trend, and a significant one.
What's it all mean? Aye, there's the rub. Welcome to the spin zone.
The town where we used to live has huge bright red "NO" lawn signs all over, urging voters to toss out another of those godless Iowa judges who ruled in favor of same-sex marriage. A grass-roots Iowa movement, spun by a Dutch Calvinist, has already impeached two of the judges and, in the process, brought the Hawkeye State back much closer to being truly Christian.
Thus saith the true believers.
On the other hand, if you're progressive/liberal/Democratic, Vander Plaats's Family Leader is a lynch mob of fire-breathing hate-mongers, barely disguised theocrats, religious bigots who would--Muslim-like--try to wrench law out of their literalist reading of the Bible.
Liberals read the rise of the nones like this: Christian conservatives, wielding political machetes, bloody life itself and turn people into "nones" by scaring the heck out of 'em. On the other hand, if you're a right-wing Christian conservative, the rise of the nones demonstrates even more clearly that the Lord has scratched us off of his list of most favored nations.
Woe and woe and woe.
Five percent more atheists in the last five years will have doomsday-ers looking at their watches and seeing once again, Camping-like, THE END TIMES. Liberals, on the other hand, blame the doomsday-ers for the searing fire and brimstone all over the landscape.
My crystal ball ain't coming up with anything pretty here. A culture full of more "nones" may well widen the dangerous chasm that already exists between right and left, threatening even more of us. Seriously.
Count me as one who says the real danger here is the fanatics on either side of the political spectrum and the all-out warfare they've created. That I see considerably more hate from the right likely marks me as liberal.
In America, nationhood is changing. The "nones" are simply another means of documenting the change. Is it doom or progress?
Talk amongst yourselves.
Which might not be, for once, a bad idea.
And it honestly might not be a bad idea to always remember that He doesn't stop working, even if/when churches do. . .or seem to.