Secularization of America Accelerates
Should America become like Europe? Or should Europe reverse course and return to its Reformation roots?
The secularization of America continues at a rapid pace. Last month, PhysOrg reported on a new survey that shows fewer Americans go to church or believe in God. The trend is striking when considered over 35 years.
A research team that included Ryne Sherman from Florida Atlantic University and Julie J. Exline and Joshua B. Grubbs from Case Western Reserve University analyzed data from 58,893 respondents to the General Social Survey, a nationally representative survey of U.S. adults administered between 1972 and 2014. Five times as many Americans in 2014 reported that they never prayed as did Americans in the early 1980s, and nearly twice as many said they did not believe in God.
Americans in recent years were less likely to engage in a wide variety of religious practices, including attending religious services, describing oneself as a religious person, and believing that the Bible is divinely inspired, with the biggest declines seen among 18- to 29-year-old respondents. The results were published today in the journal Sage Open.
Millennials are not just preferring to worship God in their own way outside of church. They are not seeking other kinds of spirituality; they are actually becoming more secular. Here’s what one of the researchers says about “Generation Me”: “The large declines in religious practice among young adults are also further evidence that Millennials are the least religious generation in memory, and possibly in American history.”
At least the choir members might be getting some health benefits in church. Medical Xpress reports that a cancer research center found that “Singing in a choir for just one hour boosts levels of immune proteins in people affected by cancer, reduces stress and improves mood, which in turn could have a positive impact on overall health.” Nothing is said about church choirs, however. There are secular choirs.
This is a warning to pastors, youth leaders and Christian workers. The trend toward secularization is accelerating. It may be due to multiple causes: the breakdown of the nuclear family, the advance of the entitlement mentality, and the proliferation of internet entertainment. One factor certainly looms large: the complete Darwinization of public education. If young people from Christian homes are indoctrinated from youth through college with absolutely no exposure to anything that isn’t 100% pure Darwinian secularism, what do you expect them to believe about reality? Science explains it all. Who needs church? Who needs God? A typical church service can’t compete with secular culture, awash with entertaining bright lights and flashy sounds, and the school textbooks that give the impression that humans have figured out everything without a religious crutch. Add to that the instant gratification of all earthly desires via the internet, and hordes of friends with their “likes” on social media; what millennial or member of Generation Me wants to be associated with something as uncool and superfluous as church?
Churches can’t compete with Vanity Fair, nor should they. Millennials are not going to be drawn back to church by better entertainment. It’s time to remove unnecessary traditions and focus on the core of God’s message. What young people need is truth, a worldview that provides certainty in a crazy world of polarized views, subjectivity, and easy lust. The truth needs to make sense, and fit the world as they experience it. Apologetics cannot be minimized. Some churches pretend as if positive messages focused solely on “how to be a nicer person” or “let’s all love one another” will stop the secular drift. Pastors need to answer basic questions: Is what you are preaching true? Why should I commit myself to what you are saying?
Young people are falling for the notion that secularism is religiously neutral. No worldview is neutral. Anything that offers an explanation for ultimate questions is as religious as a church, synagogue or mosque. It’s not a question of religion vs secularism, therefore, but which religion are they going to choose: the broad way that leads to destruction, or the narrow way that leads to life.
No church leader should consider their message complete unless it gives a young person courage to stand for the gospel no matter the cost. An immature confession of faith is not enough to overcome the din of the world’s confusing, dominant message of secular values. A young person needs knowledge and commitment to defend his or her worldview against all the pressure of friends, social media, video, music, crowd psychology and the presumptive authority of science.
Without a revival, the trend will most likely continue down the path that Europe followed. Already, it’s costing Christians to live out their faith. The time may soon come when churches need to prepare a generation not of “Me” but of martyrs.