The following guest sermon was submitted by ULC minister Angela Winkler. All ULC Ministers are invited to contribute their own sermons for consideration/publication. To submit a sermon, please email it to email@example.com.
A Slow But Steady Death
Religion in America is dying. It’s about time. After being wielded as a weapon to enslave Africans, displace Native Americans, subjugate women, suppress LGBTQ communities and shelter abusers of women and children, we should welcome its decline with celebratory acclaim. The truth is that religion has been holding us back from experiencing a second Enlightenment as society.
Recent analysis by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) determined the number of “religiously unaffiliated” Americans has tripled between 1976 and 2016. Moreover, the “religiously unaffiliated” cohort had a mean age in 2016 that was seven years higher than that of the mean in 1976 – showing that not only are a greater share of Americans breaking away from major religious groups, but that young people aren’t nearly as susceptible to the trappings of religion as they once were.
Pushing People Away
In my opinion, the religious right has acted as a catalyst in triggering these trends amongst youth in the United States. According to new research in the American Journal of Political Science, as the religious right grew in political stature, many political liberals and moderates elected to stop identifying as Christians, rather than be associated with inflammatory folks like Jerry Falwell, James Dobson and Pat Robertson.
Furthermore, as American minds evolved on subject matters such as homosexuality, prayer in schools, women’s rights, premarital sex, and contraception, some tenets of morality in major religious groups became anathema to American cultural values of freedom, liberty, and justice for all – resulting in a slow exodus over time.
Millennials Hate Religion
Younger Americans, frequently referred to as “millennials,” are the least religious generation in U.S. history. Millennials serve as the bridge between an antiquated past dominated by religious frameworks of morality to a future that recognizes a secular moral relativism. As the millennial population cohort came of age they were witness to the Defense of Marriage Act, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, unchecked police brutality against people of color, and the growth of the Federal prisoner population by 790% since 1980. Perhaps millennials relate to Frederick Douglass’ lamentation that:
“Between the Christianity of this land and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference—so wide that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be the friend of the one is of necessity to be the enemy of the other. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ; I therefore hate the corrupt, slave-holding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed, I can see no reason but the most deceitful one for calling the religion of this land Christianity.”
Welcome to the New Age
As religion wanes from public preoccupation we will enter a second Enlightenment. Ideas must be framed within the context of reason and logic rather than from the arcane or theological. As scholars of the first Enlightenment period sought to curtail the excess powers of organized religion so too will it happen again. Already, so-called evangelical voters cling to adulterous and disgusting candidates for office. As long as “their guy” claims to love Jesus, they’re willing to overlook even the most terrible of flaws. These are piteous attempts by religious extremists to hold on to their last vestiges of power.
If power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, conceivably the fall from grace for America’s religious movements are an opportunity for reflection – on the ills committed against countrymen, and just maybe, a restorative way forward.