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Thursday, May 13, 2021

Politics as Religion, Religion as Politics

Linda Feldmann at The Christian Science Monitor:
The United States has long been known for what some sociologists call “civil religion” – a shared, nonsectarian faith centered on the flag, the nation’s founding documents, and God. But the God factor is waning, as so-called nones – atheists, agnostics, and those who self-identify as “nothing in particular” – have risen to more than a third of the U.S. population, according to a major 2020 survey out of Harvard University.

From MAGA devotees on the right to social justice warriors on the “woke left,” political activism that can feel “absolute” in a quasi-religious way is rampant. At the same time, American membership in houses of worship has plummeted to below 50% for the first time in eight decades of Gallup polling – from 70% in 1999 to 47% in 2020.

And as American politics has become polarized, so too has the nation’s religious profile. The mainstream Protestant center has hollowed out, its population shrinking dramatically. Today, religious Americans tend to choose their congregation with an eye toward partisanship – to the point where the choice of presidential candidate can lead a voter to move to a new church.

“Liberals and ‘nones’ went to the left; conservatives and Evangelicals went to the right,” says Ryan Burge, an expert on religion and politics at Eastern Illinois University, and author of a new book called “The Nones.” “There’s no middle anymore.”