Secular Power Changing America

by | September 12, 2021

By James Haught

Here’s a dramatic example of the growing power of Americans who say their religion is “none”:

Last spring, progressives in the Washington state legislature, backed by Planned Parenthood, mandated that all public schools must teach sensible, practical sex education. The goal: to prevent teen pregnancy, reduce sexual disease, save girls from “date rape,” caution grade-schoolers about predators, foster respect between sexes, and the like. Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee signed it into law.

Conservative churches and Republicans erupted in outrage. Congregations signed petitions to repeal the new law — forcing a referendum in the Nov. 3 election. But the hidebound opponents lost 58–42. Thus Washington became the first state to have sex education approved by public vote.

Danny Westneat of the Seattle Times wrote that the church defeat occurred “because of Washington state’s most profound political development in recent years — the religion gap.” He explained:

“We talk all the time about the gender gap in voting, the education gap and the urban-rural divide. But in our state, an even bigger influence on local politics is religion. Or rather, lack of religion.

“In surveys of state voters released for the 2020 election, the group answering ‘none’ to the question of ‘what is your religion?’ easily forms the largest religious group in this state. The ‘nones’ made up 34 percent of the state electorate this year…. That’s far higher than evangelical and born-again Christians at 19 percent, or Catholics at 14 percent…. Also, 45 percent of Washington voters answered ‘never’ when asked how often they go to church.”

Westneat said this godless cohort is a powerhouse in Washington politics. “Now, in this state, the ‘nones’ rule local politics. The ‘nones’ tend to be strongly pro-science and against anything that smacks of morality-policing.” He warned politicians: “Either appeal to the ‘nones’ or forget it.”

Washington, Oregon and the “Left Coast” have evolved away from religion faster than some parts of America, such as Dixie’s Bible Belt — yet they seem to indicate where the whole nation is heading.

A big X

Sociologists are amazed by the rapid collapse of faith in Western democracies. Until the postwar years, Christianity dominated all cultures, while unbelievers were a fringe of outcasts. But a remarkable reversal happened. On charts, it promises to form a large X as Christianity sinks and the churchless rise.

Western Europe was first to experience the change, followed by Canada, Australia, Japan and elsewhere. America lagged behind — until secularism snowballed. Researcher Ronald Inglehart of the University of Michigan says America now is losing religion faster than any other nation.

Gallup says American churches lost twenty percent of their members in the past two decades. Barna says two-thirds of teens raised in church drop out in their twenties. Southern Baptists lost two million since 2005. Once-prestigious “mainline” Protestantism is fading to a shadow.

Meanwhile, churchless Americans began soaring in the 1990s and climbed past one-fourth of the population. They tend to hold compassionate social views, making them the biggest faith group in the Democratic Party base. Researcher Ryan Burge of Eastern Illinois University credits them with tipping the 2020 election to Democrats.

Most of these “nones” are young, and the young vote at lower rates than seniors. But if they continue rising as a progressive political force, America will be a better place.

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*Associates and resources listing last updated May 31, 2020.*

Canadian Atheist Associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular Alliance, Centre for Inquiry Canada, Kelowna Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists Association.

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Other National/Local Resources: Association humaniste du Québec, Atheist Freethinkers, Central Ontario Humanist Association, Comox Valley Humanists, Grey Bruce Humanists, Halton-Peel Humanist Community, Hamilton Humanists, Humanist Association of London, Humanist Association of Ottawa, Humanist Association of Toronto, Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics of Manitoba, Ontario Humanist Society, Secular Connextions Seculaire, Secular Humanists in Calgary, Society of Free Thinkers (Kitchener-Waterloo/Cambridge/Guelph), Thunder Bay Humanists, Toronto Oasis, Victoria Secular Humanist Association.

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Other International/Outside Canada Resources: Allianz vun Humanisten, Atheisten an Agnostiker, American Atheists, American Humanist Association, Associação Brasileira de Ateus e AgnósticoséééBrazilian Association of Atheists and Agnostics, Atheist Alliance International, Atheist Alliance of America, Atheist Centre, Atheist Foundation of Australia, The Brights Movement, Center for Inquiry (including Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science), Atheist Ireland, Camp Quest, Inc., Council for Secular Humanism, De Vrije Gedachte, European Humanist Federation, Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations, Foundation Beyond Belief, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist International, Humanist Association of Germany, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist Society of Scotland, Humanists UK, Humanisterna/Humanists Sweden, Internet Infidels, International League of Non-Religious and Atheists, James Randi Educational Foundation, League of Militant Atheists, Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, National Secular Society, Rationalist International, Recovering From Religion, Religion News Service, Secular Coalition for America, Secular Student Alliance, The Clergy Project, The Rational Response Squad, The Satanic Temple, The Sunday Assembly, United Coalition of Reason, Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.

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Image Credit: James Haught.

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About Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. Jacobsen works for science and human rights, especially women’s and children’s rights. He considers the modern scientific and technological world the foundation for the provision of the basics of human life throughout the world and advancement of human rights as the universal movement among peoples everywhere. You can contact Scott via email, his website, or Twitter.

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