While more Americans than ever have no religious affiliation, even the ones who do are relying less on their religious leaders for advice. In fact 75% of Americans rarely or never consult a clergy member for advice. That’s one of the key takeaways from a new poll conducted by the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
It’s not surprising that clergy members are no longer the go-to people for big moments in your life considering how damn near every time they’re in the news, it’s for something awful of their own creation. Some are sexual predators, but even many who aren’t are still anti-LGBTQ, anti-women, anti-science, anti-sex, anti-basic-human-decency. Why would you want them giving you life advice when religion is frequently the cause of problems rather than the solution to them?
In fact, just look at the topics that people would prefer to handle without clergy input. When it comes to sex, 82% wouldn’t consult a religious leader. Ditto with money (81%), politics (81%), and birth control (81%). Only 50% of people said they might get a clergy member’s advice about volunteering.
The whole professional is becoming toxic. Only 55% of Americans said religious leaders have a positive impact on society, a number that puts them just above lawyers (42%). Hardly a cause for celebration.
When it comes to how much influence you want religious leaders to have in your life, the younger you are, the less you want their involvement.
The survey adds that parents who aren’t religious definitely don’t want religious influence in their kids’ lives — only 9% do. Not surprising. If you escaped from religion, why put your kids through it?
Religious leaders are scrambling to make sense of the information:
Tim O’Malley, a theology professor at Notre Dame University, said he suspects that technological self-service is among the factors contributing to infrequent contact with clergy.
“In American life, there has ultimately been a broad rejection of ‘experts’ apart from the person searching for the answer on his or her own,” O’Malley said in an email. “Think about the use of Google. You can literally Google anything. Should I have children? What career should I have? When should I make a will? How do I deal with a difficult child?
That’s not a broad rejection of experts. That’s a wider net for experts — and pastors just don’t make the cut. If you know how to use Google properly, you’ll find fact-based answers from people who know what they’re talking about. Why would I go to a pastor for child-rearing advice when parenting experts are a few clicks away? Also, as I’ve said before, when you can fact-check your pastor on your phone while sitting in the pews, it’s a lot easier to realize when they’re just plain lying to you.
O’Malley, who also serves as director of education for Notre Dame’s McGrath Institute for Church Life, sees “a lack of trust in all sorts of institutions,” including houses of worship.
“Surely the church — the Catholic church in particular — has lost some moral authority in the last 25 years in the United States,” he said. “But it is joined by schools, newspapers, the media in general, etc.”
He’s right about that, but it’s not like we’re going to newspapers or television for guidance and wisdom. The clergy had a monopoly on morality and they’ve thrown it away through their own actions. Technology has just made it easier to find trusted alternatives.
(Featured image via Shutterstock)