A cover of the April 13 edition of Newsweek magazine did not pose the issue as a question but as a statement, declaring “The End of Christian America.” The story in Newsweek noted that the 2009 American Religious Identification Survey found the number of those in the United States declaring themselves religiously “unaffiliated” had nearly doubled in two decades — from 8 percent in 1990 to 15 percent in 2009.
Another finding was that the northeast United States, an area where Puritanism, Protestantism, Roman Catholicism and Judaism, have all had influence, has become the “stronghold” of those claiming no religious identification.
The findings alarmed R. Albert Mohler Jr., the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Newsweek quoted Mohler as saying, “To lose New England struck me as momentous,” about the area seen as the historical “religious home” of the United States.
Still, Richard Parker, who teaches religion and public policy at Harvard University, has warned religious groups against responding to falling numbers by branding themselves as something separate from each other.
In a March 26 address members of the Religion Communicators Council, an interfaith professional association, at its 2009 meeting in Boston, Parker said there was more to what has happened in the United States beyond statistics that show shrinking affiliation with bodies of organized religion.
“Your crisis is much more profound,” Parker told the religious communicators, many of whom have affiliations with denominations and religious groups losing members.
The problems facing religious groups are not linked only to message but also to ” meaning,” Parker said.
Religious groups are mistakenly trying to “brand” themselves as being distinctive from each apart from each other, Parker noted. In fact, they are in a “war” not with each other, but with prevalent claims and cultural thinking grounded in market capitalism.
Noting that religious traditions emerged before the prominence of the capitalist market, Parker said that U.S. citizens are mourning the loss of social relationships not based on market thinking and are seeking a respite from market conditions.
They want, he argued, to embrace institutions that can convey something of “the joy of living.” “What we hunger for is love,” Parker said. “What we hunger for is community.”