The Huffington Post has an interesting article about a recent Gallup poll showing that many Americans have lost confidence in organized religion. The shift represents a more than 22 point swing over the last forty years.
While the polls are clearly denoting a loss of faith in the institutions of organized religions and NOT a loss of faith in God or religious doctrine, they still represents cracks in the armor. Growing up, I don’t know that I held anyone outside of my immediate family in higher esteem than my church elders. Even after I was no longer a practicing Christian, I considered the ‘the cloth’ as an estimable position to have.
Very public scandals involving the Catholic church and televangelists preachers have clearly had a deteriorating effect on people’s trust in church leadership. There was the immediate effect of those scandals of course, but there were also long term effects. By painful example a religious title obviously doesn’t give a person greater insight into the human condition. It doesn’t make a person more wise or less prone to mistakes. It certainly doesn’t make a person better at decision-making.
I think another factor in this loss of confidence is the proliferation of the personal relationship with God central to evangelical Christianity–the fastest growing religion in the world. Evangelicals don’t need church fathers to intermediate between God and themselves. Through prayer and contemplation they seek the connection with God themselves and only turn to church officials for guidance in this effort.
While I still maintain that individual spirituality can have a obstructive impact on some advancements in science and technology as well as human rights, organized religion is the true culprit in the fight against cultural egality.
Most of the people I have observed who characterize themselves as spiritual rather than religious, no matter how similar their beliefs might be to organized religious dogma, do not presume nearly the same level of moral authority to impose those beliefs on others.
Obviously, the power of the church is far from broken. It’s more accurate to say the overall influence of the church is somewhat diminished and it has been considerably diminished over the last decade or so.
While it is my hope that–someday–everyone will come to see the merit–even wisdom–of skeptical reason, I have the utmost respect for religious freedom. In practical terms alone that goes to our basic freedoms of speech and thought. So I am not interested in any course that leads to the restriction or loss of rights for any churches or belief systems (except that any church that is politically active loses its tax exempt status. No one should be able to use tax free dollars to influence policy.)
It will be interesting to see how this trend continues. As an element of civilization, I think it is inevitable. The more we know, the less superstitious we become. Still, even the inevitable can take centuries and be rife with backslides and regressions. Hopefully, this trend will instead snowball to a point where we start moving towards policy dictated by evidence-based argument rather than unfounded claims based solely on religious beliefs.
Money out of politics.