Humanosity says…In the 19th Century philosophers like Nietzsche and Freud predicted that increasing wealth in societies would spell the death of religion and the 20th Century seemed to prove them right with one exception, the US. This article from The Atlantic explores whether the US is finally catching up with that atheist revolution…..
When it comes to religion Americans really are exceptional. Amongst the wealthy nations no-one prays as much as the US and no country that prays as much is that rich.
In the late 19th century, an array of celebrity philosophers—the likes of Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud—proclaimed the death of god, and predicted that atheism would follow scientific discovery and modernity in the west, sure as smoke follows fire.
America the Outlier
However, continued American piety has thrown a wrecking ball through the theory. Despite the social transformations of the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s over 90% of US citizens believed in god and were members of an organised religion.
The 90s seemed to have been the high water mark of piety. Since then the number of atheists, agnostics and spiritual experimenters has increased steadily. By 2010 their numbers had tripled.
Losing Their Religion
It seems that this decline in faith can be traced back to 3 particular events. First, the 70s saw Christians become more politically active. The Supreme Court’s Roe v Wade decision, the liberalisation of divorce laws and the start of the LGBT movement alarmed many Christians and they fled into the welcoming arms of the GOP. As the GOP began to deliver their Christian agenda so many with a weak association with religion began to drift away.
Secondly the end of the Cold War. The USSR was always labelled as the US’s goldless nemesis and this made atheism unpatriotic. The fall of the Soviet Union ended the association of atheism with the enemy.
Thirdly 9/11 saw incredibly god-fearing religious extremists become the new enemy. Although it’s not quite as simple as these god-fearing jihadis and the terrible crimes they were prepared to commit in the name of religion, provided a very powerful counterpoint to religion.
All public institutions have seen trust in them decline. Banks, political institutions, the police all have seen levels of trust fall. For the church, the key was the child abuse scandal which drove many away from religion and has done such damage to the institution it’s hard to see how it may recover.
If you add the breakdown of the family as an institution then the forces pushing people away from religion become clearer. This is reflected in stats that look at religious affiliation by age.
So the US is finally showing signs of conforming to the secularisation theory. The rise of the non-religious shows few signs of slowing down. The society was built on the idea that you got married, went to church, had kids and then sent then to Sunday school. This no longer fits many people’s lives and the full impacts on the relationship between individuals and society are yet to be determined.