While many atheists celebrate the recent poll from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life showing a record number of respondents in the U.S. report no religious affiliation, religious leaders are struggling to make sense of the numbers. Is organized religion really on the decline, and if so, why?
For such a complicated phenomenon, there are almost certainly many causes. Still, I suspect that one is more important than the rest. If I had to pick one reason I suspect we are seeing a decline in religious affiliation, it would be the culture war being waged by fundamentalist Christian organizations such as the Catholic Church and the Southern Baptists. Essentially, they are giving religion a bad name in the eyes of the younger generation. By waging war against same-sex marriage, women, and a host of other issues, these groups have made themselves far less appealing.
I realize I may be engaging in some wishful thinking here. Perhaps I see this as the main reason for the decline because I want it to be the case. I just know that when I talk to young adults, I'm far more likely to hear support for same-sex marriage and confusion over why religious organizations continue to be on the wrong side of history than I remember from my youth.
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