Voices from Russia

Friday, 11 May 2018

Is the Christian Right Driving Americans Away From Religion?

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Two societal shifts rocked religion in America in recent decades… the rise of Christian Evangelicals as a right-wing political force and the increasing number of people who decline to affiliate with any faith tradition. New research presents evidence that these trends, usually discussed separately, are in fact related. It reports the rate at which people disassociate themselves from religion is higher in states where the Christian Right exerts its political muscle. A research team led by Denison University political scientist Paul Djupe wrote:

Religious attachments fade in the face of visible Christian Right policy victories. There’s clear evidence that people… probably, those without strong relationships with houses of worship… use the Christian Right as a proxy for religion as a whole, and discontinue their religious identities as a result.

In the journal Political Research Quarterly, Djupe and his colleagues analysed the intersection of personal faith and religion-driven politics on a state-by-state basis. Using polling data aggregated by the Cooperative Congressional Election Study, they noted the percentage of people in a given state who identified as atheist, agnostic, or “nothing in particular” (known collectively as “nones”), and how it changed since 2006:

A preponderance of the states appear to have experienced some degree of growth in religious “nones” in recent years. This particular pattern holds whether the individual state in question is generally thought of as being a “red” or “blue” state.

However, the rate of growth varied considerably from state to state… and not in the way one might predict. They reported:

Rising “none” rates are more common in Republican states in this period.

To determine why, the researchers measured the political clout of the Christian Right in each state (utilising the expertise of journalists and scholars). They also noted when and where these groups sponsored high-profile initiatives… usually, ballot measures to prohibit gay marriage. The researchers found that, while such efforts were often successful, they created a backlash “that didn’t redound to the benefit of organised religion in general”. They estimated that in states where such campaigns… and their backers… were widely publicised and debated:

Religion lost somewhere between 2 and 8 percent of the population. By 2010, a ban (on gay marriage) was in place in 29 states. These states were more likely to be Evangelical and had smaller populations of “nones” in them in 2006. However, by 2010, that gap between the “nones” in marriage-ban states and those in states with no marriage ban had been cut in half.

This suggests that, in those traditionally religious states, the anti-gay-rights campaign soiled the name of religion for a significant number of residents, and they responded by stepping away from their former faith. Djupe and his colleagues concluded:

The decision to de-identify and disaffilate with religion aren’t solely individual psychological processes. Rather, reactions to specific policy skirmishes that gather public attention and shape decision-making can drive that deeply personal shift.

The results suggest Evangelicals would be wise to consider the consequences of their political advocacy. In a clear case of unintended consequences, it appears to drive people from the pews.

1 May 2018

Tom Jacobs

Pacific Standard

https://psmag.com/news/is-the-christian-right-driving-americans-away-from-religion?utm_source=Pew%20Research%20Center&utm_campaign=25f8d1d984-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_05_02&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_3e953b9b70-25f8d1d984-399905625

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