Some distinguished secularists have been fast to applaud the newest pattern. “This growing godlessness in America,” wrote sociologist Phil Zuckerman within the Los Angeles Occasions, “is definitely a very good factor, to be welcomed and embraced.”
However the disappearance of faith from American life just isn’t a purpose for optimism.
To start with, researchers have lengthy identified that church attendance and spiritual providers are positively correlated with bodily, psychological, and social well being.
Peer-reviewed research present that common worshipers are likely to reside longer, to endure decrease ranges of stress, to have fewer signs of melancholy, and to have higher cardiovascular and immune perform. Equally, the info counsel that non secular worshipers are typically happier, to drink much less, to have decrease charges of drug abuse, and to provide to charity and donate blood at above-average charges. Amid the uniquely troublesome circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic, a survey of self-reported well being circumstances discovered that Individuals who attended non secular providers repeatedly have been the one demographic group that appeared to keep away from a decline of their psychological well being in 2020.
Why church attendance correlates with such well being and social advantages has not been definitively defined. However to the extent that non secular follow throughout America is weakening, it appears solely too possible that these advantages will fade too.
A really completely different impact of faith’s disappearance is already all too seen: The unwavering religion and fervour of true perception is more and more being channeled not into non secular observance however into id politics and the tradition wars.
“Political debates over what America is meant to imply have taken on the character of theological disputations,” remarks Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Establishment in The Atlantic. “That is what faith with out faith seems like.”
On concern after concern, Individuals more and more deal with political disagreement as blasphemy and dissenters as apostates. From local weather change to immigration, from face masks to weapons, debates tackle the fervor of crusades, and true believers painting the stakes as all-or-nothing — a alternative between salvation or damnation.
At its most excessive, this “faith with out faith” is giving rise to harmful political cults.
On the appropriate, there may be the Donald Trump cult with its QAnon conspiracies and adoration of a savior who can do no improper — somebody whose followers can’t be deterred by something he says, irrespective of how false or absurd. Within the blindness and ecstasy of their religion, hundreds of them went as far as to storm the US Capitol in an try and overturn the 2020 election.
On the left is the cult of wokeness, during which everybody, in Andrew Sullivan’s phrases, is both “good or evil, antiracist or racist, with advantage hooked up, horrifyingly, to pores and skin colour or gender” — a cult as fixated on banishing sinners, punishing heresy, and forcing public confessions of guilt because the Inquisition may as soon as have been.
As fewer Individuals discover that means or fellowship in homes of worship, extra of them will embrace the tribal solidarity and judgmental certainties of ideology. As an alternative of turning to faith in hope of redemption, Individuals will flip to politics. With one large distinction: Totally different faiths and church buildings have lengthy coexisted in concord. Faith thrives peacefully in America as a result of church and state are separate. Nobody is pressured to undertake anybody else’s religion. Disagreements usually are not deadly. Certainly, they want by no means be resolved — no less than, not on this world.
However there isn’t any separation of politics and state. Within the tradition struggle, the hunt is all the time to win and the struggle should be had now, for there isn’t any afterlife to which deliverance will be postponed. “Faith with out faith” is aggressive, illiberal, and scary. As America’s homes of worship proceed to go darkish, what’s taking their place is a society even atheists will come to remorse.
Jeff Jacoby will be reached at email@example.com. Comply with him on Twitter @jeff_jacoby. To subscribe to Debatable, his weekly e-newsletter, go to bitly.com/Debatable.