Friday, September 25, 2009

The Loss of Religion?

I was driving today and caught a segment of Laura Ingram's show on the radio. Laura had some guest on who indicated that America will have 25% of its population be openly not religious. It is based on a trend line which currently has 22% of American young people who currently openly don't believe in religion, and argues that it will project to 25% of the total population in the future. The breakdown of today's current adult population was about 8% conservative, 16% liberal, and 22% independents who don't believe in a religion.

While Ingram argued about it meaning that America is becoming Godless, and others may argue that it means a disbelief in religion while having a belief in God, the study didn't seem to articulate the specific belief either way other than to say they didn't believe in religion.

Ingram insisted that it was because of secular liberals constantly telling people to not believe in God that caused it, that liberal values had permeated society to create this loss of values and God. Now, that seems to contradict the widely espoused conservative claim that America is a conservative nation with only the extreme left being leftist when the independents are the ones with most disbelief in religion according to the study. After all, if it was the fault of liberalism, one would think the highest disbelief would be the left, not the independents.

Ingram's argument seems to indicate that it is parents and secular liberalism's beliefs that are rubbing off on their children, and only good conservatives teaching their children can save God in American society. The fundamental flaw in Ingram's argument is that it assumes that children do exactly what their parents want, and carry the beliefs that their parents teach them without their own thoughts.

While it is true that parents do have a significant influence on their children, it is also clear that their influence isn't always what they intend or that it carries the same values they espouse. To an extent Ingram has a point, after all, alcoholics are more likely to have alcoholic children; violent parents are more likely to have violent children, and so on, though there is some question about the biological versus nurturing influences for those.

However, it is also clear that children often rebel from the values of their parents. It is why so many loved Elvis when their parents hated him. It is why so many were "hippies" with clean cut parents. It is why Dick Cheney's daughter didn't turn out to be a perfect little conservative with religious conservative values.

Often times, children seek to identify themselves separately from their parents. They want to be something more than the child of two parents but rather to become themselves, with their own identity, with their own beliefs, their own values, and so on. Often times, they will be grounded in experiences of their childhood. But those experiences can both ground their beliefs as following their parents, but they can just as easily be responses to their parents.

The other point Ingram fails to recognize is that the majority of those losing their belief in religion is the independents, which could indicate a lot of things. But one possibility is the preachiness of the religious right, insistent that others do as they say, but at the same time, getting caught in their own hypocrisy. Whether it is the preacher who is caught with the prostitute or having an affair; or the anti-gay Senator caught in the airport bathroom having gay sex; or the anti-gay representative caught with male pages; and so on.

No one likes to be told what to do in a strict moral sense by someone who doesn't live the life they are preaching that you must adhere to. It may very well be the very same issue that is moving people away from being religious. Children often respond to their parents instructions with comments like, "but you don't do that" and have made the phrase "do as I say, not as I do" popular, but it doesn't do much for making those values more persuasive.

There may yet be one more cause: The Baby Boomers have been so busy working instead of going to church, that their children have put money over spirituality. That might explain why so many are independents.

Either way, I have a hard time buying Ingram's argument. It makes little sense when you consider all of the other possibilities. Will it lead to the end of religion? I doubt it. Will it be part of a historical cycle away and back toward religion? Probably. Events of one kind or another lead people back and forth. People often react to situations or circumstances, rather than just parental influence. It certainly explains things better than Ingram's theory.

Maybe it is time for something deeper in thought than "it is all the fault of the secular liberals."

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