God only knows how it came to this. Just 78.4 percent of Americans currently profess affiliation with a Christian body. And a quarter of Americans ages 18-29 disclaim membership in any religion. Meanwhile, 12.1 percent of adults describe their religion as "nothing in particular." All this while Mormons and Muslims outbreed everyone else.
Or so the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life Reports this week, having extensively surveyed "the U.S. religion landscape."
We're in for some soul-searching, it's safe to predict, in confirmation perhaps of the uneasy feeling many have had for some decades as the secularists came to glare with sovereign contempt on public religious expression, and as bellicose atheist writers (e.g., Richard Dawkins and Christopher -- meaning "Christ-bearer" -- Hitchens) scaled the best-seller lists.
The Pew survey doesn't suggest that Christianity is going into eclipse but rather that particular ties among Christians, and particular ways of relating to the faith, are undergoing sharp change. As is everything else in our explosive environment, come to think of it. Some of us who have been around longer notice these things more intensively, but that's just an aside.
Among Pew's other findings (35,000 adults were surveyed):
-- The number of religiously unaffiliated Americans is twice that of Americans who came to adulthood without prior affiliation. That is, half grew up to shed such affiliations as they started with.
-- The United States "is on the verge of becoming a minority Protestant country."
-- The Catholics are bleeding members -- increasing overall in number only on account of immigration. More than 10 percent of Americans are former Catholics.
-- Atheists outnumber Episcopalians, while agnostics (the "show-mes" of religion) outnumber Episcopalians and Presbyterians together.
Pew finds -- this won't surprise you much in the iPod/Internet age -- "that constant movement characterizes the American religious marketplace, as every major religious group is simultaneously gaining and losing adherents." The word "marketplace" is worth dwelling on. A marketplace is where you buy commodities. Religion, to many moderns, is a commodity: a thing they shop for, like blue jeans, chardonnay, automobiles, dishwasher detergent, private schools, costume jewelry, mobile homes, DVD players and, for that matter, political candidates. When you find what you like, you buy it. If you decide it's still important to you.
The consumer model shapes everything else around us, Why not religion as well?