What in God’s name is going on?
Some atheists and agnostics believe in God. Many so-called religious people do not. Those are the surprising results of the September 2014 Pew’s Religious Landscape survey.
According to published results, six percent of atheists said they were “absolutely certain” that God exists. Almost 18 percent of agnostics agreed with them. Meanwhile, on the other side, most Reform Jews (the most liberal of the Jewish sects) and Unitarian Universalists don’t know if there’s a God or don’t believe in the existence of a deity.
At the same time, despite exhortations by religious leaders, only about half of Catholics believe that God cares about them on a personal level. They were joined by members of such prominent Protestant sects as Presbyterian USA, American Baptist, and Anglican. More than half of Orthodox Jews don’t believe in a personal God either. Neither do Muslims.
Naturally, there are self-identifying agnostics and atheists who do.
Of course, the vast bulk of Americans believes there is a God, but the numbers are dwindling. Overall, only 71 percent of those surveyed absolutely believe there is a God. That has declined by 20 percentage points in a matter of a few decades.
The numbers correspond to the findings in the same survey about the Bible being the exact word of God. Only 33 percent of Americans agree with the statement. In contrast, 28 percent believe the Bible was written by humans.
In some conservative sects, like Jehovah Witnesses, almost as many (45 percent) believe the Bible is a human book as believe it is divine (48 percent). Some 27 percent of Catholics reject the idea that the book came from God. Overall, 44 percent of all Christians answered yes to the statement that the Bible was written by men and is not the word of God.
The Pew study also reflects what’s happening in the elections where people who think religion should have a bigger role to play in American life are pitted against those who disagree. The Pew Study found that the less-religious are winning.
The Democratic Party, which is seen as the political group less bound to religion, got 47 percent of the vote – either people saw themselves as Democratic or leaned that way. Republicans garnered 36 percent.
Whether or not the survey reflects what will happen after the upcoming election remains to be seen.
One thing is certain: Religion is losing its grip on Americans. More than 72 percent of AmericansThat’s up 5 percent and represents the highest percentage ever recorded in the annual survey.
As a result, Americans are torn between wanting the morals and ethics touted by religion and the freedom of self-expression. They can’t decide if they want their elected officials to be religious or not religious, whether or not churches should endorse candidates and a raft of related issues.
These kinds of differences reflect the slow fracturing of what had been a solid religious front, the groundswell that Republican leaders have largely kowtowed to. The Moral Majority is fraying at the edges under the constant friction of increased knowledge about the universe, shared ideas across the religious spectrum and international communication.
Children who grew up believing in the absolute truth of their inherited religious beliefs are being confronted of the reality of biblical research, the multiplicity of religious beliefs and shifting societal attitudes. Throw in the uncontrolled epidemic like Ebola, and even confident religious folks begin to doubt their beliefs.
In turn, the stranglehold religion has had on American life is slowly easing. In time, it may completely disappear. That has happened before elsewhere.
Judaism has been on the verge of disappearing several times in its history and was only saved because some ruler decided to attack the faith. Then, Jews rallied to defend it. Left alone, Jews – like all people – assimilate into the general population.
|Zoroastrian image from ancient Persia
At the same time, religions have an expiration date. Prominent faiths only last so long before something else comes along to replace them. The pagan faiths of the Romans and Greeks, for example, were dying about 2,000 years ago when Christian was founded. Zoroastrian was once the principle faith of the Persian Empire. Seen any Zoroastrians lately?
Today’s religions seem to be following the same path.
If self-proclaimed atheists can believe in God, then anything is possible.
Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history. He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida. You can reach him at www.williamplazarus.net. He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion. His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers. He can also be followed on Twitter.
You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at http://www.udemy.com/comparative-religion-for-dummies/?promote=1