Saturday, April 18, 2009

Increased Religious Polarization in America

Michael Gerson has another great op-ed responding to the Newsweek article on the emergence of a post-Christian America. While Gerson believes there was wisdom in the article, though the true picture of the American religious landscape is incomplete. Gerson interviews John Green, of the Pew Forum of Religion and Public Life, who offers five qualifications of the Newsweek article:
  1. [T]he rise of the religiously nonaffiliated is a trend -- but a very gradual one.
  2. [Green] notes that the unaffiliated are not identical to the nonreligious.
  3. Green observes that this group [the unaffiliated] is "bigger, but not static."
  4. Green argues, "the growth in the unaffiliated has not come at the expense of evangelicals, who continue to grow. It has come at the expense of mainline Protestants and white Catholics."
  5. Green warns that the polling could reflect not changing numbers of the unaffiliated but changing pressures in society.
To which Green concludes:
... Newsweek has "told half of the story." "There are certain people moving to the left on cultural grounds. . . . But we can't ignore the other side, the growth of more conservative believers -- evangelicals and conservative Catholics. . . . We may not be seeing the decline of Christian America, but polarization on religious grounds."

This polarization is reason to mourn. But Green warns that we should be careful in allocating blame. "One reason could be the growth of a secular reaction against the Christian right. But it could be the other way around -- the reaction of the Christian right against the growth of secularism. Or they could feed off each other."

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