Thursday was Barack Obama’s last full day in office as President of the United States. After eight years in office, a recent Pew report demonstrates that the America Obama leaves behind in 2017 is much different than the America that embraced him as president in 2009. The report discusses a number of issues that have been impacted by the social, political, and religious changes that have occurred during the course of the Obama presidency.
One of the more significant changes is how Americans identify with or distance themselves from religion.
From the report:
Profound social, demographic and technological changes have swept across the United States during Obama’s tenure, as have important shifts in government policy and public opinion.
…When it comes to the nation’s religious identity, the biggest trend during Obama’s presidency is the rise of those who claim no religion at all. Those who self-identify as atheists or agnostics, as well as those who say their religion is “nothing in particular,” now make up nearly a quarter of the U.S. adult population, up from 16% in 2007.
Christians, meanwhile, have fallen from 78% to 71% of the U.S. adult population, owing mainly to modest declines in the share of adults who identify with mainline Protestantism and Catholicism. The share of Americans identifying with evangelical Protestantism, historically black Protestant denominations and other smaller Christian groups, by contrast, have remained fairly stable.
Due largely to the growth of those who don’t identify with any religion, the shares of Americans who say they believe in God, consider religion to be very important in their lives, say they pray daily and say they attend religious services at least monthly have all ticked downward in recent years. At the same time, the large majority of Americans who do identify with a faith are, on average, as religiously observant as they were a few years ago, and by some measures even more so.
According to Pew’s data, the Democrat constituency, while making positive gains in some categories, is increasingly less religious.
[T]he partisanship so evident during Obama’s years is perhaps most notable because it extended far beyond disagreements over specific leaders, parties or proposals. Today, more issues cleave along partisan lines than at any point since surveys began to track public opinion.
I believe these two issues (the growing lack of traditional religious identification and the increasing incivility that characterizes extreme partisanship) is intimately related.
Americans in general – particularly those on the political Left – who consider themselves “nones” and increasingly reject traditional religious practices are instead finding religion, morality (various configurations of “justice”), and meaning in the political arena.
This recognizable, politically-partisan religiosity has had a disruptive and corrosive effect on both common political discourse and American culture. More and more, rather than limiting ideological disagreements to the specifics of the issues (debating political issues dispassionately or with a semblance of emotional restraint) people have instead embraced insolence as an acceptable posture for discussion. Too many people are rejecting the responsibility to maintain respect for the person or group with whom they disagree, preferring to personalize political disputes. Americans now disparage and demonize those who hold differing views rather than limiting criticism to the views in dispute.
Many Americans (religious and non-religious alike) are guilty of allowing the civil religion of politics to dictate and justify attitudes and behaviors most traditional religions reject.
However, much of the anger, vitriol, and attempted moral stigmatization (racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, anti-science, etc.) that has corrupted political conversation emanates from those who have deliberately rejected traditional religion. Instead, these people have placed their sanctimony and piety in politics — and the majority of these people are on the Left.
History has proven, time and again, that replacing God with government has bad consequences. The past eight years demonstrate that the religious practices of dogmatic Leftism (especially the petty personalization of politics), subject the country to a tenuous sectarianism. This damages the country in progressively destructive ways and validates the concern that politics isn’t a suitable replacement for traditional religion.
Contemplating the future, Pew said that going forward, “requires equal measures of caution and humility, particularly when it comes to politics and public policy.”
That caution is especially precious should more people decide to spurn traditional religion, putting their faith into politics instead. Conversely, people of faith should continually strive to have their faith influence politics rather than allowing politics to influence their faith.