Paul L. Caron

Sunday, August 29, 2021

NY Times: A More Secular America Is A Problem For Both Republicans And Democrats

New York Times op-ed:  A More Secular America Is Not Just a Problem for Republicans, by Ryan Burge (Baptist Pastor; Author, The Nones: Where They Came From, Who They Are, and Where They Are Going (2021); and Assistant Professor of Political Science at Eastern Illinois University):

The Nones 2Since 1988, the General Social Survey has been asking Americans of different ages what they believe about God. For decades, the answer did not change much. Around 70 percent of members of the Silent Generation said that they “know God really exists” and “have no doubts about it.” That same sentiment was shared by about 63 percent of baby boomers and Generation Xers.

But in 2018, millennials expressed a lot less certainty. Only 44 percent had no doubts about the existence of God. Even more doubtful were members of Generation Z — just one-third claimed certain belief in God.

Today, scholars are finding that by almost any metric they use to measure religiosity, younger generations are much more secular than their parents or grandparents. In responses to survey questions, over 40 percent of the youngest Americans claim no religious affiliation, and just a quarter say they attend religious services weekly or more.

Americans have not come to terms with how this cultural shift will affect so many facets of society — and that’s no more apparent than when it comes to the future of the Republican and Democratic Parties.

Religious voters, especially white evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics, are part of the bedrock of the modern Republican Party. ... But it appears very much that there is something of an expiration date on this wave of religious conservatives. The share of Americans who identify as white Christians has rapidly declined over the past several decades. There’s ample evidence to believe that less than half of Americans today are in this key constituency for Republicans. The decline has come about as a result of a combination of demographic changes: America has become more multiracial, and larger shares of Americans are jettisoning Christianity and either aligning with other religions or are leaving religion behind entirely and joining the ranks of the religious Nones.

Republican Party leaders are faced with a seemingly impossible task: Continue to feed red meat to their Christian base while also finding ways to reach out to young people who are increasingly irreligious and racially diverse. Sure, there is anecdotal evidence that some members of the New Atheist movement have begun to embrace conservative positions on issues of race. But there’s little reason to believe that secular voters are going to become a core part of the Republican electorate any time soon.

The Democratic Party and the coalition that elected Joe Biden in 2020 face challenges of their own. The Democratic coalition increasingly relies on a hodgepodge of groups, religious and nonreligious, that are often at odds with one another on key social and cultural issues. ...

Democrats have to find ways to pull off a very tricky balance on policy priorities between the concerns of the politically liberal Nones and the more traditional social positions espoused by groups like Black and mainline Protestants. ...

Both parties will need to evolve to meet this challenge, but neither Republicans nor Democrats have an easy path.

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