The Student News Site of Rock Bridge High School

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The Student News Site of Rock Bridge High School

Bearing News

The Student News Site of Rock Bridge High School

Bearing News

Is religion dying out?


Examining the growing rise of atheism among Americans
“If you don’t go to church, give me your car keys.”
Although senior Matt Orf hasn’t been to church for years, his parents recently decided to encourage his attendance. They wanted him to attend the weekly service as long as he lived in their house. However, Orf argued, forcing him to go to church would infringe on his religious preference—atheism.
“At first my mom’s initial reaction – she realized later that it was a completely irrational reaction—but she at first was like, ‘Give me your car keys,’” Orf said. “I told her that if she was actually going to punish me for having a different religious belief than her that was very irrational and very discriminatory.”
Orf, who hasn’t been openly atheistic to his parents until recently, felt that coming out as non-religious could create a dividing line between his parents and him. He said his parents were raised in Christian families and are Lutherans who “go to church every Sunday.”
“I didn’t admit [that I was an atheist] until this year because I felt like I didn’t really want that division between my parents and I,” Orf said. “I figured it would be better to appease them and say that I was a Christian and I was religious just so they wouldn’t be angry at me, but this year I was like, ‘I don’t go to church. I’m not religious. I don’t actually believe in any religion, so I should stand up for what I actually believe in, rather than posing as something that’s fake.’”
Orf is not alone. The number of Americans turning away from religion has increased, especially in recent years. The percentage of Americans who identified as non-religious remained relatively constant at one to two percent from 1948, when the poll was first taken, to 1967, according to the PEW forum on religions. Starting in 1968 the percentage of those without an organized religion has greatly increased. In 2014 that percentage hit a record high of 16 percent.
If the trend continues, the number of people without an organized religion would equal the number of people who are a member of one by the year 2127.
Though this is purely speculative,U.S. Government and AP European History teacher Matthew Webel believes the decline in religiosity will continue in America, but not necessarily in exactly the same fashion as it has across the Atlantic.
“There are distinctly American facets to religion that aren’t completely parallel to Europe. We didn’t have to suffer through the religious wars they had to suffer through in Europe; I think that caused a lot of disillusionment,” Webel said. “America has a sense of individuality that Europe never really had, so in that sense people can maintain their individual faith in ways that I don’t think in Europe [people] were always encouraged [to]. You didn’t have to buy into the state religion [in America] like in Europe, so I think there are definitely differences. ”
In fact, according to a poll by the think tank THEOS, the percentage of British people who identified as atheists or agnostics increased from 14 percent in 1963, to 42 percent in 2012, according to a Gallup poll. However Webel, who has a master’s degree in divinity, believes the exodus from organized religion will create more agnostics than atheists.
“I think America will tend to be more agnostic, which allows for people to each sort of maintain their own independent beliefs or their own independent personal stance on whatever,” Webel said. “I think that the religion is going to be—in some ways it’s just going to be tolerance; tolerance itself will become: as long as you’re tolerant of other people then you can believe what you want to believed … As long as religions don’t infringe upon the tolerance stance that most Americans hold dear I think you can survive as a religions person in that environment as long as you don’t try to convert or proselytize. People don’t care what you believe as long as you don’t tell them what they should believe or tell them that if they don’t believe what you believe.”
He projects that organized religions that are seen as inflexible and resist the tide of public opinion will decline more in popularity and membership. Polling data supports Webel’s theory as the percentage of Americans who feel dissatisfied with organized religion and want less of it rose from 12 percent in January 2001 to 22 percent in January 2015.
Father Richard Litzau, a Catholic priest at the St. Thomas More Newman Center at the University of Missouri, admits there has been some decline in the popularity of the Catholic Church in recent years.
“The human side of the Church sometimes is what’s in the paper rather than the spiritual side in terms of the things that we do and the service projects that we have and how we engage [in] preaching the Gospel,” Fr.Litzau said. “That kind of gets lost sometimes in the other stuff. I think that sometimes people kind of go, ‘Well, hmm. They’re just as confused or upset as we are, so what’s special about it?’”
Fr. Litzau said the leadership of the Catholic Church is revisiting its policies and rules. He thinks these efforts, led by the media-savvy Holy See, will help revitalize the Church.
“Pope Francis is really challenging the Church to sort of—not let go of things, but to broaden the conversation,” Fr. Litzau said. “The thing that it reminds me of is when President Obama began his campaign a long time ago, his first campaign. One of the things he said a lot was, ‘We have to sit down and talk about this stuff.’ We can’t solve problems if we don’t talk about it. In some ways, [Pope] Francis has echoed that. It’s stuff we have to talk about. It doesn’t mean it’s going to go away; it doesn’t mean we’re going to change our minds; it doesn’t mean we’re going to agree, but we need to at least talk about it.”
Webel said the main allure of organized religion lies in its power to unite people on the basis of a common belief. However, he said, places of worship that may not be providing people with an adequate sense of community should worry about their patrons turning away from their faith.
“People want to stand for something or believe in something bigger than themselves, and I think that that’s a fundamental aspect of humanity,” Webel said. “It’s just a matter of if organized religion isn’t meeting that need or as people are becoming disillusioned with it then they’ll turn to other things for that sense of identity.’
Orf believes more people will openly separate from organized religions as being non-religious becomes less stigmatized.
“One of the things people think [atheists] miss out on by not having a religion is a sense of morality or a sense of purpose, which is something that’s very attainable outside of religion,” Orf said. “The whole human secular movement … the purpose ends up becoming ‘How can I benefit the human race?’ or, ‘How can I benefit society?’ and that becomes your purpose in life rather than serving a god or something. Everything that you think you might miss out on by not having a religion, you can easily find something else in society to replace that.”
Additionally, Orf feels a greater purpose is not a uniquely religious notion because humans are naturally drawn to a wanting substance in their lives. He cited political organizations as one particular group people could become involved with.
Although Webel acknowledges people find communities in other ways, he wonders still if Americans’ secular identities are strong enough to survive in the long-term.
“I do think that we struggle to feel connected in a community in America,” Webel said. “Why are we so fascinated with sports, or with politics, or technology, or internet social media? I think all these are ways we’re trying to feel more connected. I feel like our individualistic tendencies end up isolating us so we become really avid fans of the Chiefs or the Democratic party or whatever and that becomes our family or our home. I wonder if those are going to be strong enough associations that we really build our identity around. What do I stand for? Who am I as a person?”
By Brett Stover
Infographic by Claire Simon

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    Lauren HofmannApr 19, 2015 at 5:43 pm

    This article is really interesting, it definitely seems like religion is something that unites a lot of people. I would like to know though if this decline in religion is only affecting the U.S. or if it is a worldwide thing.

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    Nikol SlatinskaApr 16, 2015 at 11:16 am

    I personally feel like social media has a big effect on teens and religion. For example, ever since I joined Tumblr, I’m constantly reading posts about the flaws and negative effects of religion, and even though I still consider myself religious I can see why more and more people disassociate themselves from religion.