The blessed decline of white Christian America

March 17, 2015 Originally published on SFGate

How do you measure success? How do you know if a particularly imperious social experiment has resulted in a net positive change overall, if it succeeded in making society kinder, more hopeful, unified, compassionate, intelligent and inclusive?

Because here’s the thing: By just about any metric you can name – marriage stability, addiction rates, unwanted pregnancies, political scandals, gun deaths, sexual abuse, degradation of women, fear of Other, educational brainwashing, wars started in vain or vanity – the white Christian overclass in America has been a stunning, downright breathtaking failure.

A disaster. A wreck of epic proportions. Deny it at your peril.

Don’t you think? The “Christian values” ostensibly providing the nation’s moral framework since forever have, almost without exception, resulted only in some of the most savage chasms, the most cruel intolerances and abuses, the most repellent excuses for violence, the most ignorant denials of intellectualism, of science, of women, of sex, of love, of basic humanity.

Sad but true. Any true progress we have made – from suffrage to gay marriage, sexual liberation to scientific advancement and even movements toward inclusiveness and peace – has usually been in open defiance of the common Christian doctrine of fear, shame, sin, suspicion, our-god-can-beat-up-your-god insanity.

Fabulous news, then, that the white Christian experiment is almost over.

Have you heard? White Christians are just about done as the majority in America. Already in 19 states, they’ve dropped to minority status, as immigrants, mixed-ethnicities, the non-religious move into the mainstream, and the rains of hellfire begin.

Or, you know, maybe not.

Perhaps not the ideal guidebook for more open-hearted, tolerant, spiritually diverse modern times

Perhaps not the ideal guidebook for more open-hearted, tolerant, spiritually diverse modern times

Here’s the amazing thing: The demographics are changing extraordinarily quickly. While the majority of Americans still identify as Christian, their numbers are dropping fast, and those who remain are increasingly refusing to adhere the conservative Christian prohibitions of the GOP/Tea Party yore.

But it gets better. As Amanda Marcotte notes, citing data culled from the American Values Atlas; ”One in five Americans now identifies as religiously unaffiliated. In 13 states, the “nones” are the largest religious group. Non-religious people now equal Catholics in number, and their proportion is likely to grow dramatically, as young people are by far the most non-religious group in the country.”

How do you know it’s changing so quickly? Because the remaining white Christians in power are in a panic, clawing desperately at the bloody remnants of the issues with which they once forcibly divided the nation, trying to find purchase and regain some power.

Witness the recent, savage attacks on abortion rights across the land, or the bizarre move by many states to allow “religious” business owners to refuse service to gays because it violates their beliefs, or very dumb old men throwing snowballs in congress to disprove climate science, and saying humanity couldn’t possibly cause climate change – only God can do that.

They’re not going down without a fight – or rather, not so much a fight (they’ve already lost), more like a furious groan, lashing out anywhere they can, a dying animal determined to cause as much damage as possible before fading into complete irrelevance.

And that irrelevance can’t come fast enough. The generations coming just behind are, by and large, smarter, more tolerant, and far less religious overall than their predecessors. And they tend to vote Democratic.

Non-religious? It's catching on

Non-religious? It’s catching on

Does this mean America is turning into a band of godless thugs lacking a moral center? Hardly. If anything, we might soon enjoy an turnaround from the various narrow, anti-intellectual, even heartless ideas that are dragging us down so violently, from climate science to gender inequality, support for alternative energy to experimenting with new family structures.

But what, you might ask, are we becoming as a whole? In the absence of Christianity’s omnipresent cloud of narrow righteousness and exclusionary belief, what becomes of a more varied, self-defined, tolerant, non-religious people no longer awkwardly unified around a failed idea of God? What do we rally around? Our unifying theme? One thing’s for certain: We know what doesn’t work.

It’s tempting to expand out even further, to hopefully suggest that organized religion is failing overall. Alas, it’s not quite true. Islam remains relentless, Catholicism is still surging in developing countries where education has yet to overtake superstition. Fear still rules where power-hungry old men claim to know God better than anyone else.

But here in America, it seems we’re finally wrestling free of a toxic, severely limiting view that’s poisoned us, very slowly, for decades. We are not, in fact, some meek and flailing nation, seeking salvation from a ruthless (male) God but being told – wow, what a horrible teaching – we can never attain it. We are, with any luck and grace, becoming a true rainbow coalition, a messily divine mix, merely needing to realize just how shockingly blessed we already are. No Bible, dogma, or eternally disappointed deity required.

Read more here:: The blessed decline of white Christian America

Mark Morford

About Mark Morford