By R. Laurence Moore and Isaac Kramnick
A recent poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute placed white evangelical approval of President Donald Trump at 75 percent, a level of adulation higher than when he was elected. Anyone who doesn’t see a moral conundrum in that figure can stop reading. But it speaks volumes about why Americans, especially young Americans, are in increasing numbers joining the “nones,” a category coined by pollsters to single out people who have no religious affiliation, who say that religion is not very important in their lives, and who, while they may believe in some sort of spiritual power, reject the idea of God described in the Bible.
Trends are unmistakable. According to polls conducted by the Pew Foundation, 23 percent of Generation X Americans (born between 1965-1980) claim no religious affiliation. That number rises to 34 percent of older millennials (born between 1981-1989), and to 36 percent of younger millennials (born between 1990 and 1996). Although the retreat from traditional forms of Christianity has long been apparent in western European countries, the pattern of a declining attachment to religion in the young is unprecedented in American history. Until the last decades of the 20th century, they fell in line with the denominational attachments of their parents.
What has happened? One opinion attributes the growing religious indifference of young people to scientific knowledge that has made a creator of natural phenomena irrelevant. God didn’t design the evolution of species or arrange for the big bang. Yet American universities sanctified Darwinian biology for many decades along with the demystifying explanatory powers of physics loosening the ties of young Americans to their traditional faiths. True, there is a correlation between higher education and religious skepticism. However, even after most colleges and universities had broken ties with the religious denominations that had founded them and ended compulsory chapel, pollsters in the post World War II years had no need for the category “none” in recording the religious beliefs of college students. Theologians, Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich among them, attracted large audiences on college campuses and wrote best sellers used in college courses.
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