Last month, Newsweek published a cover story titled “The End of Christianity in America.” In the article, Jon Meacham cites recent statistics that show a decline in the number of people who are self-professed Christians. It seems that in 1990, 86% of Americans identified themselves as Christian, whereas today only 76% do. The number of people who claim no religious affiliation also rose in the same time period from 8% to 15%.
So, where does that leave us? The Newsweek article seems to speculate that the trend will continue until the number of Christians left in the U.S. is a small minority rather than the overwhelming majority it has been (and still is at 76%).
Damon Linker has a different perspective that he writes about on the NPR.org website. Linker believes that, rather than the eventual demise of Christianity, what we are witnessing is a shift in the type of Christianity that is mainstream. He states in his article that there has been a battle between liberal streams of Christianity and more conservative forms. In the middle of the 20th century, the liberal forms seemed to be the more dominant. However, more recently the more conservative forms have been the more influential.
Since conservative Christianity is a Christianity that is much harder to swallow for a non-Christian or less fervent Christian, what we are seeing is a disassociation with conservative Christianity.
Where does that leave us as a nation? Where is our main religious system heading? Linker believes that we are heading toward what sociologist Christian Smith calls “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” Here are the main tenants of this system:
- A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
- God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
- The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
- God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when he is needed to resolve a problem.
- Good people go to heaven when they die.
How do you feel about this? Would you welcome this form of Christianity? Linker acknowledges that some will not be thrilled. He writes,
Theologically speaking, this watered-down, anemic, insipid form of Judeo- Christianity is pretty repulsive. But, politically speaking, it’s perfect: thoroughly anodyne, inoffensive, tolerant. And that makes it well-suited to serve as the civil religion of the highly differentiated 21st century United States.
So, is Linker correct in his assessment of the future of Christianity in the U.S.? If so, is he right that this is a welcome change?