I recently read an article by NPR discussing the decline of Christianity in the U.S. My first thought was, “Christianity isn’t dying; it’s committing a slow, drawn-out suicide.” My second thought was, “Good riddance.”
“More and more people care about religious tolerance as fewer and fewer care about religion.”
— Alexander Chase, Perspectives (1966)
Growing up in a Christian household, I began to question things when, at the age of 11, my grandmother told me the world was going to end soon — Christ would return any minute now as Judgment Day approached. Such dramatic statements for an 11-year-old to unpack; Christ presented like some mercenary Santa Claus coming to slaughter all of the bad boys and girls.
Fall back four years to age 7 when I was made to sit down and watch “A Thief in the Night”, an evangelical thriller in which a woman wakes up to find her husband and millions of others taken by Jesus Christ. The main protagonist, Patty, not being a good enough Christian, remains to suffer the “tribulation,” a period of suffering for all sinners, you know, like homosexuals, college professors and people who have tattoos.
You can’t see my eyes rolling, but they are. But these are my adult eyes. As a child, I had nightmares for almost three years. Nightmares that Jesus would float down from a cloud sporting a bitter, angry face. He would take my family away, looking back at me on the ground with disdain as he spirited them away. I would cry. I would scream. I would eventually wake up in a puddle of my own piss.
“Almost every sect of Christianity is a perversion of its essence, to accommodate it to the prejudices of the world.”—William Hazlitt, “On the Causes of Methodism,” The Round Table (1817)
That’s child abuse. No matter how many times my religious zealot grandmother said I was going to heaven, I didn’t believe her — at least my subconscious mind didn’t. I didn’t believe her because she sinned all of the time. What the hell did she know about Heaven and Hell?
It was also part of the foundation for the modern evangelical movement’s own crypt.
Data from the Pew Research Center shows a drop in people who affiliate with organized religion and a rise in people who practice nothing. The latter group has acquired the name “nones,” a general term that encompassed agnostics, “spiritual but non-practicing” folks and atheists. Pew’s political research from 2009 to 2019 shows a 3% drop in Catholicism, an 8% percent drop in Protestantism, but 5% growth among nones.
This follows an observable trend for the last 50 years. In fact, Pew also reported a 26% drop in the number of people who identify as Christian. Back in the day, 90% of the population identified as Christian — now it’s only 64%.
“Atheism comes with stigma passed down from one Christian generation to another.”
While I see growth in the nones as a good thing, I worry over the implications that come along with it. Zealots turn crazy when their beliefs are questioned or threatened — whether or not the perceived threat merits any legitimacy. Zealots also tend to imagine the worst in others.
Atheism comes with a stigma passed down from one Christian generation to another. When Nietzsche declared God was dead, he was speaking of organized religion and the hold it exerted over society. He saw corruption and greed permeate religious institutions in Eastern Europe and could no longer view them as bastions of ethics. His declaration incensed religious followers, who believed God provided a basis for morality by instilling fear in them. The idea of an eternity of torture works well to keep people in line.
This technique isn’t unique to Christianity. Buddhism and Hinduism also promote the idea that bad habits and behaviors weigh one’s soul down. This forces us to be reincarnated again and again until we get it right, so to speak. Muslims also believe in Hell, mirroring many of the same beliefs as the Christians, such as the return of a God who will bring about a final Judgment Day.
“Christianity supplies a Hell for the people who disagree with you and a Heaven for your friends.”— from “The Note Book of Elbert Hubbard”
According to surveys taken by the University of Minnesota, almost a third of respondents felt that atheists clashed with their personal moral convictions. Additionally, 40% expressed distrust or disdain toward someone not practicing a religion.
I find this foreshadowing more social conflicts. The quickly multiplying nones and atheists will eventually clash with the 40% who believe they lack a moral compass.
I have no personal issue with someone practicing their spiritual beliefs in private. Keep it to yourself. But this kind of believer isn’t the issue. They aren’t the ones holding political sway over senators or representatives.They aren’t the ones preaching damnation and criminalization of non-binary individuals, of people of mixed race or ethnicity, of LGBTQ parents. These zealots weasle and pay their way to political posts. In a country with a, supposed, separation of church and state, many politicians proclaim their Christian heritage. They are the ones who helped Donald Trump in the 2016 election.
The decline in Christianity signals the maturation of the United States. As we begin to let go of religious ideology and embrace science, our social and political structure will follow suit. The path there, however, will undoubtedly be rife with strife.