The Pew Research Center released the results of a poll last week showing a dramatic drop in the number of people who claim to be Christians in America. Over a period of only seven years, the number went down eight percentage points — from 79% to 71%. Meanwhile, the number of those who claim to be atheists, agnostics, or “nothing in particular” went up from 16% to 23%.
Headlines across the nation ballyhooed the news. But closer examination shows that it’s hardly a victory for the forces of secularization. National Review’s David Paul Kuhn put the poll in perspective. “The share of Americans who identify as Christian has been declining for years,” he wrote. “The share of religious Americans has not. For about 75 years, despite periodic fluctuations, the Gallup Poll has found that approximately four in 10 Americans say they attend religious services at least once a week. Religious Americans made up the same share of the presidential electorate in 2012 as they did twelve years earlier, 42 percent.”
The eight percentage point drop that Pew found comes primarily from people who weren’t serious about faith in the first place. They didn’t attend regular services, and religious faith wasn’t a big deal in their lives. Also, the old line, extremely liberal denominations continue their decline.
The percentage of Americans who identify themselves as “evangelical” and/or “born again” has remained constant for a long time. That’s good news and bad. It means we’re keeping up with population growth, but not making much headway.
So, it may not seem like a big deal that a few seculars stopped calling themselves Christian. But there are some disturbing factors for America. While some of the nation’s founding fathers and mothers were full-on followers of Jesus, others weren’t. What you find on close examination, though, is that in almost every case, non-believing leaders from that era in U.S. history expressed a world view that was essentially Biblical. They respected Christians and the Bible, and even if they didn’t embrace all of the Bible’s teachings, they saw it as a source of moral guidance.
Secularism has fallen a long way since then. Today, the animosity of the anti-Christian, anti-Bible crowd takes your breath away. To get a glimpse of their vitriol, read the comments section on internet articles that deal with these issues. It’s all too easy to imagine some of these people cheering for the lions as they rip Christians to pieces.
What would happen if Christian-haters came to be the majority, or even close to it? That’s not just a hypothetical question. We can look at history to get an idea. The French Revolution was not only a revolt against the monarchy, but against the Catholic Church. They outlawed Christianity. They stole Notre-Dame Cathedral and turned it into a “Temple of Reason.” Accounts written at the time tell of debauchery going on there that was anything but reasonable. After that, the magnificent structure was turned into a wine warehouse. It wasn’t used again as a house of worship for several decades. Similar things happened to churches all over the country during those years.
In the 20th century, scores of communist countries took the ultimate step toward secularization and became officially atheist. The results were similar to those in revolutionary France. It turns out that atheism is not a tolerant or benevolent belief system. They killed, tortured, persecuted, and repressed Christians in all sorts of ways.
To be fair, governments pushing religion have also been disastrous at various times in history. But American history shows a remarkable balance — tolerance and even good will for believers and unbelievers alike.
Now, even though a remarkably high 71% of the nation’s adults claim to be Christians, the faith of Christ is viewed in negative ways by the media and academia. The word “Christian” began as a pejorative when it was first used at Antioch in the early days of the faith. Today the word is regaining its old taint. Without a new Great Awakening, the percentage of self-identified Christians will continue to go down.
But my biggest concern is about the real Christians. There are enough of us that if we refused to watch certain kinds of television programs, most of those shows would disappear. But we rarely even complain. Christians make many of the same secular lifestyle choices as their atheist, agnostic, and “nothing in particular” neighbors.
Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” [Matthew 5:14 NASB]
I’ll be talking more about this poll and the implications of it on The Hal Lindsey Report that will be airing this weekend on TBN, Daystar, Word, and other outlets. Check your local listings for exact times and channels.
The Hal Lindsey Report
P.O. Box 470470 / Tulsa, OK 74147-0470/ United States