Christians Claim the COVID Crisis Will Make Converts and that Atheism Will Slide April 7, 2020

Christians Claim the COVID Crisis Will Make Converts and that Atheism Will Slide

On Saturday, the blog Examining Atheism roused itself from a two-month slumber to claim in a nose-thumbing headline that

Churches see growth during economic downturns and times of crises. Atheism declines.

The post was brought on by the pandemic and the likelihood that we’re heading for a deep depression. The unidentified author, who we’ll call EAW — Examining Atheism writer — gets almost giddy while citing a 12-year-old study called “Praying for Recession: The Business Cycle and Protestant Religiosity in the United States,” by David Beckworth, who at the time was an assistant professor of economics at Texas State University.

According to a Commonweal summary of Beckworth’s findings,

During each recession cycle between 1968 and 2004, the rate of growth in evangelical churches jumped by 50 percent. By comparison, mainline Protestant churches continued their decline during recessions, though a bit more slowly. The little-noticed study began receiving attention from some preachers in September [2008], when the stock market began its free fall. With the swelling attendance they were seeing, and a sense that worldwide calamities come along only once in an evangelist’s lifetime, the study has encouraged some to think big.

You and I mournfully see a pandemic that has already taken more than 12,000 lives in the U.S. alone. All manner of evangelicals see something else besides: an opportunity to grow their tribe. The very title “Praying For Recession” is, I surmise, Beckworth’s wry little jab at the churches who cheer — no, welcome — misery because it’s good for their business.

As for EAW, it’s a little odd that anyone would paint these pastors’ salivating optimism as a good thing.

Much the same is true for the next source EAW cites, a paper I couldn’t find online that’s called “The Changing Face of Global Christianity,” by Todd Johnson and Sandra S. Kim. I’m quoting a central passage from it via EAW’s post:

Much of the global South deals with serious issues of poverty and a lack of access to proper health care. Countries that have been hardest hit by AIDS, such as Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Swaziland, are also countries where Christianity is flourishing. Without access to the necessary medical care, accounts of healing and exorcism found in the Bible are taken more seriously.

Hallelujah! Opportunity knocks again!

But seriously: It takes a morally stunted person to not see this vulturous awfulness as an indictment of the evangelical faith, rather than a feature.

To his or her credit, EAW has at least produced sources to buttress the claim that Christianity stands to gain should the economy spiral into depression. But what about the assertion that atheism will decline? EAW writes this in support, and nothing else:

The atheist/agnostic website RationalWiki has seen a slide in its global market share and web traffic amidst the coronavirus crises [sic] as can be seen by this graph: RationalWiki — Alexa ranking.

It’s astonishingly unmethodical to pick just one site. I just looked at the Alexa numbers for some other atheist hangouts. Most are actually up from three weeks ago: joemygod.com, freethoughtblogs.com, atheistrepublic.com, and logicallyfallacious.com, for instance. I also noticed that over the same period, christianitytoday.com has been on a slide, as have focusonthefamily.com, christianbook.com, and christianpost.com.

But so what? RationalWiki isn’t a yardstick of how many atheists there are — just as Christianity Today‘s lower ranking doesn’t show whether the number of Christians is declining. As Hemant noted when we discussed this,

It’s just absurd to point to the supposed popularity of a random website as an indication of whether religion is more or less popular. That’s what surveys are for, and we don’t have that data yet.

It is assured that the coronavirus calamity will inflict much, much more misery, including deeper financial pain for millions. Is it possible that this will drive more people to try religion? Of course. As EAW notes with hand-rubbing glee, it wouldn’t be the first time.

But what about all the selfish, even murderous behavior we’ve seen from a variety of Christians in recent weeks? Doesn’t the Bible say that ye shall know them by their fruits (and, we’re finding, maybe even more so by their fruitcakes)? It’s entirely plausible that scores of disgusted, fed-up people will turn their backs on organized faith. We’ll see.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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