Wednesday, August 22, 2007

America's Evangelical Future

According to secularization theory, as education, science and enlightenment progress, people should become more rational and less religious. Observe Europe, for example. But in that observation don't go back 70 years to the most philosophically and scientifically sophisticated nation in the world sunk in the darkest night of evil fanaticism. But I digress.

Today, the United States is a mighty engine of scientific research and technological innovation. Surely, according to the secularization theory of human progress, we should be a thoroughly secular nation, almost indistinguishable from France, our old ally from the revolutionary era. Not so! Arthur C. Brooks tells us ("Our Religious Destiny," Wall Street Journal, August 20, 2007, p.A11) that the following decades in America will see a growth of religious observance, and perhaps also a fundamentally religious view of the world. What are enlightened souls like Sam Harris to do in the face of this? They either flee their hopelessly Puritan homeland to enjoy the demystified life in secular Britain -- at least until it becomes an Islamic state, no doubt with the help of Charles when he is briefly king -- or they stay and fight.

That fight will be what Brooks calls a "tough slog," however, because religious people have demographics on their side.

A secular nation needs secular citizens. And nonreligious Americans are outstandingly weak when it comes to the most efficacious way to achieve this: by having kids.
If you picked 100 adults out of the population who attended their house of worship nearly every week or more often, they would have 223 children among them, on average, according to the 2006 General Social Survey. Among 100 people who attended less than once per year or never, you would find just 158 kids. This 41% fertility gap between religious and secular people is especially meaningful because people tend to worship more or less like their parents.
Of course some of those church attenders are liberal mainline Protestants and so forth who are no threat to a secular America. Brooks comes around to the political aspect, however.

Religious people who call themselves politically "conservative" or "very conservative" are having, on average, an astounding 78% more kids than secular liberals. Studies show that people are even more likely to vote like their parents than they are to worship like them.
A recent book by Lauren Sandler, Righteous: Dispatches from the Evangelical Youth Movement (Penguin, 2006), provides interesting statistics.
  1. Age of born-again Christians most likely to have engaged in evangelical behavior in 2004: 18-20-year-olds (88 %)
  2. Percentage of high school students who support prayer in public school: 84
  3. Percentage greater than Americans overall: 8
  4. Percentage of entering college freshmen who attend church: 81
  5. Percentage greater than Americans overall: 15
  6. Percentage increase in total enrollment for all public four-year colleges and universities from 1990 to 2004: 12.8
  7. Percentage increase in enrollment at the 102 campuses that are members of the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, a group that works to advance Christ-centered higher education by relating scholarship and service to "biblical truth": 70.6
  8. Increase in sales of religious music from 1989 to 2005: 318%
  9. Estimated number of Christian music festivals held in the summer of 2000 attended by more than 5,000 youths: 5
  10. ...and in summer 2005: 35
Sam Harris, atheist firebreather and author of Letter to a Christian Nation, says of Sandler's book, "If you have any doubt there is a culture war that must be won by secularists in America, read this book." Despite what Harris would have us think, Sandler, an atheist from Cambridge MA and now Life Editor for Salon.com in New York, is sympathetic toward, but ultimately unpersuaded by the subjects of her study.
In an interview with Publishers Weekly, Sandler shared, "The people I met showed me that the
need for what they have—the rigid structure of the lifestyle, the intense community—is deep among this generation. They want an alternative to mainstream culture, and they believe they are the true radicals out there. So Christianity spreads by being cool." Reflecting on the the Evangelical youth movement as a whole, Sandler observes, "A lot of people simply can't find what they are looking for in the secular world."
If what Brooks and Sandler report is accurate, the work of academically serious and spiritually ambitious institutions like The King's College in New York where I teach will become increasingly important in bringing that rising generation from explosive youthful enthusiasm into mature, biblically faithful, prudent adult accomplishment. And, God willing, the world will be better because of it…for everyone.

1 comment:

JR-BDOJ said...

Hi Prof. Innes !
I just received your e-mail (by chance?)about upcoming lecture @ Y in mid Sep. Of course I got curious who sent it because I knew it was one of my profs-to-be, and I happened to come here for that reason.
As you said, I pray that you would help us to grow into more "mature, biblically faithful,and prudent adult accomplishment" this fall :)