America is becoming less Christian because young people are less religious. That’s not blessed news for conservatives.
While the effect on evangelicals is new, the general pattern isn’t. The Catholic church, the largest single religious denomination in America, was the first to feel the pinch. Church leaders and Catholic apologists have been fretting for years over the problem of aging and shrinking congregations, declining attendance at Mass and fewer people signing up to become priests or nuns – although their proposals for how to solve the problem all consist of tinkering around the edges, or insisting that they need to try harder to convince people to believe as they do.
But even if this secularizing trend continues, it’s likely that there’s a hard core of believers who will persist no matter what: no one is forecasting the total extinction of the religious right in politics.
Still, for progressives, the eroding power of the churches is a most welcome development: the religions right can no longer claim to be the sole source of morality and virtue, nor can they expect to assert their will in political matters and be obeyed without question. Instead, they’ll have to muster evidence and make their case in the marketplace of ideas like everyone else.