I’m not sure what this poll really amounts to, but I sense that it’s another indication that religion is on the way out. When I say “on the way out” I don’t predict a total rejection of religion in America in my lifetime (which I figure to be roughly another 30 years if I make it as far as my father). No. Religion, like race, is something that’s with us for the long haul. But like race, it’s almost inevitable that it will disappear.
With the slow mixing of races, and the wide distribution of populations and ability to move around the globe, I think the human population will become more homogenized, with skin tones darkening to a nice shade of coffee, eyes slanting ever so slightly, and hair color deepening in hue. In short, we’ll all look much alike, matching the relative genetic similarities we presently share at the molecular level. This is something that will take time, over many generations, maybe thousands of years. There will always be pockets of isolated exceptions, but on the whole race will be an ever-declining attribute of differences among humans.
Similarly, religion will eventually go the way of all flesh.
If you believe Christian revisionists, America was founded as a Christian nation, which means that most if not all of the original population of the 13 colonies were Christians. I happen to believe this is true, up to a point. Individually, most pre-revolutionary men and women were Christians (let’s ignore the native American population for the purpose of this discussion), primarily because they came from European countries that were Christian. But the government that formed the basis of the country was decidedly not Christian; in fact, it was religiously neutral. Most of the Founding Fathers were nominally Christian (though unrecognizably so by modern fundamentalist standards), and their political philosophy may have been embraced, partially by Christianity, but it was primarily notable for having arisen out of the predominately secular Enlightenment. In short, America was comprised of Christians, while being founded on principles that had little to do with Christianity.
So, say 99% of pre-Revolutionary Americans identified as Christian. Compare that to the figures in this current poll, where that number has declined to about 78%; a roughly 21% decrease in a little over 200 years. A lot of this is due to an influx of immigrants, but a lot also has to do with the global dissemination of ideas, coupled with the advances of science as explanations for reality, and a lack of need for religious comfort in a modern society.
Religion is still an idea, a mental construct, something based solely on faith and beliefs. As society advances into the 21st and 22nd century, unsupported beliefs are going to fall to the wayside, in favor of factually supported reality. We are already there in many regards. When is the last time a country engaged in an all out war with another country over competing religious beliefs? How important is religion in the day to day structures of our society, compared to say, technology, science and medicine?
Religion may provide succor and comfort in times of stress to individuals, but no longer to monolithic populations. The structure of religion is breaking down into more and more liberal interpretations of theological belief, in order to accommodate the reality of life one see all around us. Facts can no longer be ignored. Does anyone ever remember a time when a religious leader said it was OK to steal? Much of the recent American phenomena of fundamentalism can be attributed to a knee-jerk, backlash reaction as a counter to this increasing theological liberalism in our fast changing modern society. The final result, however, I see, is the end of faith-based reality.
So, as civilization advances, we shed the primitive structures we developed in the early part of our progress, in favor of more realistic and encompassing structures that provide for the needs of humanity. Religion had a place in this progress, early on, and it was most likely needed, given our relative ignorance concerning how the world worked, but as we learn more and more, as we educate our populace, religion becomes not only no longer useful, but a hindrance to further advancement.
Eventually we will shed it, and move on.