Protestant Decline: Forever Versus Whatever

Someday I may be bitterly disappointed at the results of my efforts. Someday society might race the statute of limitations to charge me with child abuse. But I persist.

I speak of carrying my son Gideon (age eight) to our Protestant church, reminding him to say his prayers and helping him prepare his Sunday school lesson.

The uncertainty arises because of the results of a survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, revealing that for the first time in its history, the United States does not have a Protestant majority. (Some Protestants have pledged an incremental response to the decline. Others overreacted with, “This calls for desperate measures! We need a Hail Mary pass. Well, um, er…maybe a ‘How’s it goin’, Billy Graham?’ pass.”)

The Protestant decline comes not from a sudden upswing in Catholic citizens but from the Americans who say they have no religious affiliation at all. (This group, dubbed the “nones,” has increased from 15 percent of the adult population to 20 percent IN JUST THE LAST FIVE YEARS. One-third of adults under age 30 are uncommitted, often citing their religious affiliation as “nothing in particular.”)

Welcome to 2012. We can catalog our music collections out the yin yang and mercilessly overbook our kids with extracurricular activities, but somehow the idea of (ugh!) ORGANIZED religion is repugnant.

I have friends and associates who are forthright atheists and agnostics, but I have a hard time wrapping my unenlightened mind around the fence-straddlers who fancy themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” Hmmm…so people who like to “sleep in,” people who like to spend Sundays at the stadium and people who don’t like heavy reading MIRACULOUSLY stumble upon a spiritual regimen that resonates with them, meets their needs and pleases A Vague Higher Power To Be Named Later. As Dana Carvey’s Church Lady might say, “How conveeeeeenient!”

I’m sure there are many good people sincerely pursuing the “spirituality in nature” route, but for others it must be a handy cop-out. (“Okay, that speckled salamander over there didn’t exactly die for my sins like the Son of Man, but his tongue can catch flies like a son of a gun!”)

According to CNN, the Pew results have been met with “elation” by atheists and others in the secularist movement, who see a steadily growing body of “fellow travelers” to help them reshape the social/political landscape.

Most of the talk has centered on the “nones” and their overwhelming support for the Democratic Party and liberal issues such as gay marriage and abortion rights, but I can see the real agenda. The secularist leaders want to increase our dependence on government; someday sooner than you think, when people tell “A priest, a rabbi and a minister walk into a bar” jokes, a career bureaucrat will have to be on hand to explain what a priest, a rabbi and a minister ARE.

Please pardon any perceived snarkiness, but the words “fool’s paradise” really do pop into my head when pondering the freelance spiritualists who miss out on the intangible benefits of group membership. I sincerely worry about self-deluded individuals who could face Judgment Day crying “What are you going to do to save me from eternal punishment?” and receiving a booming reply of “Nothing in particular.”

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