Secularism’s War on the Republican Party
by Anthony Horvath, PhD
My passion is the defense of the Christian faith. Everything I do is animated by the belief that there is a God and he has rescued humanity through the death and resurrection of his son, Jesus. This is good news, and it must be told! The things of this world pale in comparison to affairs of the world to come. And yet, it is clear that the things of this world are still important. Indeed, to step away from the affairs of the world altogether risks allowing terrible things to unfold. The history of the 20th century gives us an idea just how terrible things can get.
One of my areas of research has been the steep and rapid ascent of people identifying themselves as having no religion, otherwise known as ‘Religious Nones’ or, simply, ‘Nones.’ As someone who is concerned about responding to the objections and challenges raised against the Gospel of Christ, one might expect that I have a particular interest in understanding this ascent, and the factors driving it. However, this same research gives us reason to be concerned about the direction the 21st century is going.
Uniquely poised to change that direction is the Republican Party. Unfortunately, it does not seem that the GOP is aware of these trends or their implications , or even the fact that it is in its own self-interest to attempt corrective actions. Most of the GOP’s energy is focused on the symptoms. In the meantime, the disease spreads.
To understand the situation, consider these quotes from well-respected researchers about the ‘Nones.’
So what are the politics of this younger generation of Seculars? [...] 4 percent Conservative, 7 percent Libertarian, 11 percent Moderate, 44 percent Liberal, 20 percent Progressive, and 14 percent Other/Don’t Know. [Source: Barry A. Kosmin, author of a report on American Secular Identity (2013).]
64% of the respondents in their survey of secularists identified themselves as being on the political left.
The Pew Forum reports:
The religiously unaffiliated have become one of the most reliably Democratic constituencies in recent elections. According to national exit polls, 61% of the unaffiliated voted for Al Gore over George W. Bush in 2000. In 2004, John Kerry’s share of the unaffiliated vote increased to 67%. And in 2008, Barack Obama captured fully three-quarters of the vote among the religiously unaffiliated, while 23% voted for John McCain.
According to an ARIS report:
Religious students are the most likely to regard themselves “conservative” (34%) compared with 11% of Spiritual and 4% of Secular. Secular students are also the most likely to view themselves as “liberal” (44%) compared with 35% of Spiritual and 17% of Religious. Secular students are also the most likely to describe themselves as “progressive” (20%) compared with 12% of Spiritual and only 5% of Religious.
The percentage of secularists aligning themselves with the Democrat party would not mean much if the secularists themselves were a small portion of the overall population. But that is where the cause for alarm is: since the early 1990s, the ‘Nones’ have gone from representing about 8% of the population to about 20-30% of the population. And ‘Nones’ are, more and more, secularists.
These changes have not been gradual. They are occurring right before our eyes:
But the major new survey of more than 35,000 Americans by the Pew Research Center finds that the percentage of adults (ages 18 and older) who describe themselves as Christians has dropped by nearly eight percentage points in just seven years, from 78.4% in an equally massive Pew Research survey in 2007 to 70.6% in 2014. Over the same period, the percentage of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated – describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” – has jumped more than six points, from 16.1% to 22.8%. And the share of Americans who identify with non-Christian faiths also has inched up, rising 1.2 percentage points, from 4.7% in 2007 to 5.9% in 2014. Growth has been especially great among Muslims and Hindus, albeit from a very low base. [Source: Pew Research Center’s “America’s Changing Religious Landscape” (2015)]
These percentages represent millions and millions of people moving to the political left, and that within just two decades. From the perspective of Christian evangelism, the ascent in the number of ‘Nones’ obviously represents a serious challenge. Just as obviously, it represents a grave cause for concern for the political right, to conservatives, and to the Republican Party. The magnitude of the trend and the speed in which it is happening magnify the urgency in addressing this seismic shift in cultural attitudes.
How do we explain what it is we are witnessing? What do we do about it?
Ironically, research into why some people remain Christians while others fall away provides important clues on how one might approach the matter if one wanted to preserve the Republican Party and head off some of the nightmarish outcomes that Progressives have wrought over the years.
For example, the respected Christian research firm, Barna Group, notes that whether or not someone is married offers an indication as to which way they might lean politically:
When it comes to naming family as a primary influence on personal identity, those more likely than average to do so include Elders, those of various religious faiths, Republicans, those with families of their own (married adults, adults with kids under 18), Black adults, upscale Americans and residents of the Midwest. Those less likely to do so include adults with no faith, unregistered and Independent voters, Hispanics, those who have never been married, Millennials and Democrats. [Source: Barna Group (2015)]
Whether or not someone is religious is also associated with whether or not they will marry. Researchers have found that religious people are more likely to marry than those who are ‘unaffiliated.’ One study reports that 54% of Christians are married, while 46% of the unaffiliated are married. [Source: Pew Research Center’s “America’s Changing Religious Landscape” (2015)]
Is it a coincidence that marriage rates are falling almost as rapidly as the number of ‘religious nones’ is increasing? Correlation does not necessarily mean causation, but there are good reasons to think there is an actual connection in this case.
Christianity has a high view of the family, embracing and encouraging what might be called ‘traditional marriage.’ This high view begets (generally speaking) a healthy, stable environment for young people, and by extension, provides fertile soil for a young person’s faith to grow in. This same high view of the family, especially for those who are participating in it (ie, getting married and having children), tends to beget a conservative outlook.
By failing to protect and preserve ‘traditional marriage,’ the GOP is watching its own base dwindle.
The irony deepens as we consider how aggressively liberals and progressives undermine the institution of marriage--as if they know that they are widening their own power base--while the GOP appears timid and shy on the subject--as if unaware that this timidity is shrinking its own influence.
Yet, perhaps merely fighting for traditional marriage isn’t enough. Even if we succeeded, maybe the victories would only be temporary. The 2013 ARIS National College Student Survey states:
Many of today’s most hotly debated public policy issues are “culture war” issues. These are often depicted as battles between conservatives and liberals but at heart often they involve clashes of ideology and philosophy that can be traced to different worldviews.
Since the number of people with a leftist ideology is increasing, and with it support for the Democrat party, it follows that any gains made by the GOP are likely to be reversed as the trend towards secularism accelerates. If we want to see the ‘culture wars’ go a different way, then we need to ask ourselves why so many people are leaving Christianity and religion in general and becoming secularists. The culture wars are the symptom, not the disease.
Many on the political right believe that people will ‘grow out of’ their leftist tendencies, as they settle down, get married, have children, and so on. Barry Kosmin, mentioned above, believes that this is not likely to be the outcome: “To the contrary, I believe that a fundamental change has recently occurred in American society and that there has been a significant generational shift away from religion and theism.”
As a secularist who wants to see more secularists and embraces their leftist slant, and who knows very well that secularists lean left, Kosmin welcomes this development. For those who lean right, and fear the kind of world that leftists would create if left to their own devises, this is a most unwelcome development, indeed. But Kosmin is almost certainly correct: a fundamental change has occurred in American society.
Unless this is recognized, and addressed, in particular by the GOP, then it is only a matter of time--and probably not very much time--for this change to become a permanent fixture of American society.
Marriage and family are just two examples where there is an apparent relationship between religious beliefs and political persuasion. Dr. Anthony Horvath is available to present on these and others, as well as present solutions. Reach him at director@policyintersections.
Links to the sources cited in this essay can be found at http://policyintersections.