This story caught my eye in the New York Times and I can’t get it out of my mind. The title says it all — Number of Protestant Americans Is in Steep Decline, Study Finds. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life did the research and discovered that white Protestants from liberal Episcopalians to right leaning “born agains” were leaving their faiths and replacing them with…nothing. Young people are not engaging in religion as they once did.
This loss is measurable and steep. Over the last five years the percentage of Americans expressing no religious preference rose from fifteen percent to nearly twenty, according to the piece, a gain of five percentage points on the overall demographic. While you can point to forty years ago and see seven percent of American adults expressing no preference for religion, the drop over the last five years appears especially precipitous.
The report speculates that the reason both Protestants and Catholics became disenchanted with organized religion came when those religions took a right turn and became more active in conservative causes like opposition to homosexuality, gay marriage and abortion.
To back up this contention, the article quotes Phil Zuckerman, a professor of sociology and secular studies at Pitzer College in Southern California. “The significant majority of the religiously unaffiliated tend to be left-leaning, tend to support the Democratic Party, support gay marriage and environmental causes,” he said.
Ok, I don’t want to get into politics and I dislike talking about religion much more than this so here’s my point. Five years ago (2007) social media was embryonic. LinkedIn launched in May of 2003, Facebook in February 2004 and Twitter in March 2006. So, does the evolution of social media have anything to do with the decline in religiosity? Consider that the biggest group of non-believers is “younger millennials,” people between 18 and 22 — the same people who led the social medial wave. Fully one-third of this group checks off the “none of the above” box when it comes to religion.
So, did right leaning religion leave an opening in the hearts and minds of young people? Did disaffected young people gravitate to social media to access the feeling of community once the exclusive province of religion? I am not asking this to hurt anyone’s feelings. Maybe I am making too much of this but that’s how my curious mind works.