Monday, March 9, 2009

American Religious Groups on the Decline?

In USA Today, there is an interesting article on the findings of the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS). The article begins:
When it comes to religion, the USA is now land of the freelancers. The percentage. of people who call themselves in some way Christian has dropped more than 11% in a generation. The faithful have scattered out of their traditional bases: The Bible Belt is less Baptist. The Rust Belt is less Catholic. And everywhere, more people are exploring spiritual frontiers — or falling off the faith map completely.
It would seem that the disestablishment of American religion has reached an all-time high. It would seem that good old American individualism and trendy post-modern notions of relative truth claims have combined in a new spirituality of the self:
More than ever before, people are just making up their own stories of who they are. They say, 'I'm everything. I'm nothing. I believe in myself,' " says Barry Kosmin, survey co-author.
In addition to the main article, there is a link that takes you to an interactive chart that compares the answers from different faith traditions on questions concerning Hollywood, homosexuality, politics and prayer. One notable question that I will highlight here is "Do you believe there are clear and absolute standards for what is right and wrong?". Among Evangelicals, only 51% said that they completely agree that there are.

As I read the article and the chart, there were two major things that stood out to me. First, I am not represented in the article. In the different groups that are listed there was no group representing confessionally Reformed Protestants--there wasn't even a conservative Protestant group. Once again, it would appear that the only two options are Mainline Protestants and Evangelicals. But why don't you fit into the Evangelical group you may ask. Well that leads me to the second thing that stood out to me.

The article seems to make distinctions within the different Protestant groups according to a piety gap that defines the different sides of the culture wars, "Its about gay marriage and abortion and stem cells and the family." However, the article suggests that in the middle there is a softened version of Evangelicalism developing. But what is interesting to me is that in addition to the role of politics and ethics, the article identifies an "Evangelical" style of worship that marks Evangelicalism, which is really more a matter of aesthetics. It is not theology, practice and piety that defines Evangelicalism (according to the article) but politics, ethics and aesthetics.

The irony to me is that an article about religion is establishing religious identity based on anything but religious belief. Being a confessionally Reformed Presbyterian puts me outside their categories. My religious identity is based upon my theology, piety, and practice as summarized and outlined in the Westminster Standards. Neither Mainline Protestants or Evangelicals share those standards. There are more options than those provided in the article--so if you don't find yourself there, as I didn't, know that there are others like you.

1 comment:

  1. Your analysis is right on the mark.