The word is out. The "nones" are rising. At last count, close to one-quarter of the American population now declares itself unaffiliated with any particular religion. While most of these "nones" believe in a "higher power" or "ultimate cause"--or even in a traditional god--they are not interested in affiliating with a specific religion. They have abandoned denominational dogmatism. They are demographic "nones."
The late Jerry Falwell's conservative-fundamentalist Christian worldview is quickly losing ground in America. With few exceptions, it is not shared by the media, academia, entertainment, youth, or the Supreme Court. The masses largely ignore the paranoia of the Pat Robertsons of the land. Conservative American Christianity may be slowly killing itself--and taking God to the grave with it.
In writing a thesis for a degree in religion, I had the opportunity to engage via an extensive online survey with nearly 1,600 former conservative / evangelical / fundamentalist Christians who are now either agnostics or atheists. All of them were formerly true believers, as conservative and convinced of the veracity of their religion as Mike Huckabee is of his. But they are now among the deconverted--former believers who have rejected the Christianity they once eagerly embraced.
Why the change in thought? My research revealed five common themes ex-Christians reference in explaining what led to their deconversions.
- Conservative-fundamentalist Christians, they assert, have failed to absorb the great cultural, theological, and social shifts of the last century. Instead of listening to the voices of modernity, too many conservative Christians have isolated themselves, circled the wagons, and declared war on every idea that doesn't perfectly fit their theology.
- Instead of admitting that the Bible is not an infallible and inerrant guide that has all the answers to all the questions, they hold tightly to a fundamentalist perspective, defending a doctrine that cannot, and theologically need not, be sustained--and driving away those with minds more adaptable to the tension of uncertainty.
- Instead of embracing science's capacity to interpret reality and establish theories as to why and how and when, most conservative American Christians have walked away from the conversation, with ears closed and eyes shut. Doubts about evolution, climate science denial, and Kirk Cameron are demonstrative of the failure to cede obvious ground to science.
- Instead of steering clear of political alliances, as tax-exempt status should require, conservative Christianity has morphed into an arm of the Republican party, standing self-righteously against political beliefs that don't match their own, publishing allegedly non-partisan voter guides that inform their congregation whom to vote for, and demanding assent to a conservative political creed they cling to as tightly as they cling to the old rugged cross.
- Instead of softening their hearts and toning down anti-gay rhetoric, many conservative Christians have ratcheted up the vitriol. Instead of allowing the "weeds" (LGBT persons) to grow among the "wheat" (themselves--to continue the biblical parable), they have waged an unrelenting, angry and offensive campaign against civil rights advances and equality for LGBT Americans, and have for forty years--since Anita Bryant's Save Our Children campaign--sown seeds of animosity and distrust of the LGBT neighbors they are supposed to love as they love themselves.
These failures--heresies?--of American Republican Christianity, a denomination unto itself, are responsible for the diminished voice of Christianity in the marketplace of ideas--a circumstance misinterpreted as persecution against the righteous. Their stubbornness to adapt, or at least moderate--on culture, on scripture, on science, on politics, on gays--has driven away millions, especially young people who won't put up with slander against their LGBT friends or with pastors telling them it is a sin to live in the twenty-first century.
Time is running out on conservative Christianity in America. It must change. If its adherents don't "put their swords away," they will kill God in America. And this time there won't be a resurrection.
-Rodney Wilson holds master's degrees in history and religion and teaches both at a community college in Missouri. His book, Killing God: Christian Fundamentalism and the Rise of Atheism, is based on his graduate thesis and is available on Amazon.