Is American Christianity and evangelicalism in decline?

20 Nov

In my Religion and Politics class, we discuss the thesis that America is losing its religion, that it is rapidly secularizing, and that the number of true “nones” (those professing no religion) has increased substantially.  On a recent Up For Debate program, two respected scholars of American religion (Sociologist Bradley Wright and Political Scientist Clyde Wilcox) square off on this issue.  For what it is worth, my position has been closer to that of Dr. Wilcox (secularization of America and the loss of religious faith among American professing Christians is real and significant).  There is actually a lot of agreement expressed here, but essentially the differences come down to these points of contention:

  1. Agreement: The most significant change over time is that the number of “nones” has increased (from 5 to 18% or so today).  Disagreement: are these new nones similar to old weak non-practicing religious identifiers or are they a truly new group of folks totally free from religious sentiments or convictions?
  2. Agreement: Most of the decline in religion in America has come from a “hollowing out” (my term), where religious moderates are no longer bothering (mainline protestants are dropping out but religious conservatives are holding steady).  Disagreement: what about evangelical youth?  Are they experiencing a kind of modified secularization poised to leave the church or are they as committed as ever to Christianity with only a few differences than previous generations of evangelical youth?
  3. Agreement: American is still very Christian privately in practice and publicly in our institutions.  Disagreement: Will that continue or will the church essentially be relegated to an outside of culture institution sometime in the near future?

Here’s the program:

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