This past week, a Gallup poll found that only 47% of Americans now say they belong to a house of worship, marking the first time ever that the number has dipped below 50%. It’s a watershed moment for American religiosity.
I wrote about a number of possible explanations for this decline, and I think it’s important to recognize the drop in churchgoing does not mean there’s been a corresponding rise in atheists. A lot of these people may be leaving organized religion while still clinging to a belief in God (or some nebulous Higher Power).
Now, Phil Zuckerman, an associate dean of Pitzer College and author of Society Without God, writes in the LA Times about how this is all good news for the country. In essence, he says societies that are less religious fare better in so many meaningful ways:
Secularity is highly correlated with a host of moral orientations that will markedly improve our nation. For instance, secular people — when compared to their religious peers — are far more likely to understand and respect the scientific method, which results in their increased willingness to get vaccinated, for instance, and adhere to empirically grounded health recommendations, a rational orientation that saves lives. Secular people are also more supportive of sex education, which reduces unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.
Research shows that secular people are more likely to support women’s reproductive rights, universal healthcare, gay rights, environmental protections, death with dignity, gun safety legislation and treating drug abuse as a medical rather than criminal problem — all of which will serve to increase dignity, liberty and well-being in America.
The weird thing is that while the churchgoing numbers are dropping nationally, we still live in a country that’s very much controlled by the Religious Right — if not in the White House and Congress (for the time being), then certainly in a number of states.
But Republicans are imitating their Christian colleagues by pushing away so many people who might otherwise be supportive with their extremist, racist policies. We can only hope that they learn absolutely nothing from the conservative Christians who bear so much of the responsibility for the declining churchgoing numbers.