Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Great Asleepening

Today's Washington Post has a weird article with the following title:

"Bush Tells Group He Sees a 'Third Awakening'"

You can probably guess at the content.

President Bush said yesterday that he senses a "Third Awakening" of religious devotion in the United States that has coincided with the nation's struggle with international terrorists, a war that he depicted as "a confrontation between good and evil."

Bush told a group of conservative journalists that he notices more open expressions of faith among people he meets during his travels, and he suggested that might signal a broader revival similar to other religious movements in history.
Now, let's put aside the fact that it's religious devotees who are causing the terrorism and necessitating our response. Let's also put aside the fact that Bush tends to surround himself with hand-picked sycophants who tell him what he wants to hear, while his goons cull anyone from the audience who may ask embarrassing or difficult questions (not that he'd need to worry about this in an audience of "conservative journalists"). And let's also put aside the fact that this is an election year, and lacking anything else to run on, the Republicans reflexively go for religious divisiveness. What I'm wondering is, is there really any evidence of a third "Great Awakening" in America, meaning that Americans are becoming more religiously devout? Or perhaps the religiously devout are becoming more vocal and strident, helped along by a President who encourages them?

Let's check out the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) from 2001. Here are some key findings:

  • In 1990, ninety percent of the adult population identified with one or another religion group. In 2001, such identification has dropped to eighty-one percent.
  • the proportion of the population that can be classified as Christian has declined from eighty-six in 1990 to seventy-seven percent in 2001.
  • The greatest increase in absolute as well as in percentage terms has been among those adults who do not subscribe to any religious identification; their number has more than doubled from 14.3 million in 1990 to 29.4 million in 2001; their proportion has grown from just eight percent of the total in 1990 to over fourteen percent in 2001.
  • There has also been a substantial increase in the number of adults who refused to reply to the question about their religious preference, from about four million or two percent in 1990 to more than eleven million or over five percent in 2001.

That does not to me look like the signs of a "Great Awakening", unless we mean something different (and in my opinion, more accurate) than what Bush means. The percentage of religious people and Christians specifically has been in sharp decline, whereas the non-religious have been growing rapidly.

Of course things might have changed since the survey was conducted in 2001, but it's unlikely that the religiously devout have made up as much ground as was lost since 1990. I never thought I'd say this, but I'm afraid that our President may just be out-of-touch with what's really going on in America.