Donald Andrew Henson II

150 Million Non-Adherents Can’t Be Wrong

In Religion and Government on May 6, 2012 at 2:32 am

Well, the numbers are in. This week, the results of the 2010 Religious Census were released to the public – and there are a few interesting surprises. Catholics are still the number one group, followed by the Baptists – no surprises here. But, for the very first time, the census has included ‘non-denominational evangelical’  congregations in the count, and taken together, this is the third largest group in America.

Anyone who’s familiar with American life wouldn’t find this too surprising at all – pretty much every preacher on television belongs to this group, and almost all of those super huge castles you see from the main highways have signs that boast their non-denominational credentials. In fact, I would suggest that suburban life – outside of the former Confederate states – revolves around one of these kinds of churches. When you think of the soccer mom, NASCAR dad, Jerry Falwell, Tea Party, love Jesus, hate Obama crowd, I think you have to also think mega-church in the suburbs preaching the prosperity gospel, the Republican party, and American exceptionalism.

All of this holds true in the South as well, but the Southern Baptist convention holds sway there – think less speaking in tongues, a little more guilt – but with the benefit of eternal security. The Mormons are the fastest growing group in the US. This is intriguing to me, since most everything Mormons believe is based on the only decades-old teachings of Joseph Smith – clearly an Elmer Gantry before his time. At least the non-denominational evangelicals can boast roots going back to the Great Awakening.

The Census recognizes that some of the numbers could be skewed, as the information comes from the churches themselves, not from individuals. The thinking is that if you ask an individual if they belong to a church, they might say ‘yes’ even if they haven’t been in years. Churches were asked to estimate the number of ‘adherents’ they counted – and I’m not sure if any guidelines were placed on them, such as if said adherents were regular attendees or if they contributed financial support to the organization.

Growing up in the Assemblies of God, we paid a lot of attention to the average attendance – in fact, many AG churches have the attendance board posted prominently near the front of the church, with numbers updated weekly. If other evangelical churches are similarly fixated on attendance, then I’d say the numbers from non-denominational evangelical groups are a reasonably fair assessment of who ‘belongs’ to the church. This doesn’t even take into consideration the folks who agree with the ideas of Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn, Robert Schuller, and other evangelicals – but have chosen for one reason or another to stay with their denomination. (Schuller is Dutch Reformed, a Calvinist belief with roots going back to Revolutionary times – Martin Van Buren and Teddy Roosevelt were both members; but many evangelicals proscribe to Schuller’s positive-thinking doctrine).

From my limited knowledge of how Catholics and Baptists count their membership, I’d think those numbers might be overestimated; Catholics tend to put your name down when you’re christened as a little baby, and don’t take it off the record until you die and have your funeral in a Catholic church, even if you don’t show up much in between. Baptists tend to do the same thing – once you join, you’re counted in the membership until you ‘move your letter’ or die. I’m not sure about Mormons – but I know there’s a big controversy about them baptizing people posthumously – don’t know if this pads their numbers or not.

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I say all this to get to the number that I think is really important – the 150 million ‘non-adherents’ in American society. These are the people who either don’t believe in God, or don’t think he’s important enough to show up for any kind of Sunday (or Saturday) service or to offer any kind of financial support to a religious institution. How is it, then, that we are supposed to be a Christian nation?

Out of our 300 million citizens, fully one-half adhere to nothing. Out of the 150 million remaining, one has to subtract those of the Jewish faith, the Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Jain, Daoists, etc., etc., etc. Then, take into account that many denominations may be giving us over-blown numbers – someone may have been christened, but never darkened the door of a church since then. And speaking of christening – how many children are included in those numbers? Is it really fair to call toddlers and pre-schoolers ‘Catholic’ or ‘Evangelical’? If a church has a thousand people attending a Sunday morning service, how many of those would not be old enough to make decisions about eternity for themselves?

Could we only be looking at perhaps 75 million adult Christians in America? And perhaps only a third of them actively anti-secular? This would mean that a group comprising less than ten percent of the country are wielding enormous power when it comes to trying to inject religion into our schools and into our laws.

It’s time to stand up and be counted.  Are you non-Christian? Your senator, congressman, school superintendent, and others need to hear your views – the fundamentalists have had their ear for too long – and their political power is disproportionate to their true numbers. It’s exciting to think that – given the right information and the opportunity to use it – four or five out of six Americans could  be persuaded to a secularist approach to education and government.

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  1. If you count the religious groups individually(since the only thing they have in common is a vague belief in one diety or another), Athiest, though not a religion, are the second largest group.(catholics are first ofcourse, which evangelicals refered to as a cult before they got together on the abortion issue). Either way you slice it, the fog seems to be lifting. Now there should be a push for rational thought to drive the policy of this life, and let the superstitious and after-life speculators enjoy the confines of their temples….though i still think they should pay property taxes on those castles.

  2. That’s why I think it is crazy that some say “Christians are taking over” whether it be the government or country! I feel that we as Christians are really a minority in the country. Half of the people that “say” they are Christian or Catholics really couldn’t tell you the last time they darkened the door of a church. So, the way I see it as a Christian, we are a minority trying for our own rights, just the same as any other minority try to have their voice heard. And, as far as “we are forcing religion the schools” & so on or having power to do so? Well, they have taken every bit of Christianity plus the 10 commandments out of school, so I don’t really see us as having too much say or power in any aspect of this country really to be honest. And I’m, in no way, saying all of this in a hateful or “touchy” way. :). I respect your ideas, but I think some groups give us Christians too much “credit” as having some kind of power in this country. I don’t feel that way. Maybe in history it has been so, but nowadays, we’re a minority & the ones that nobody listens to anyway. Every other minority is encouraged for their voice to be heard & at least given respect but Christians are considered “a bunch of idiots” by some & not given the same respect as other groups. I just thought I’d write my opinion on it, coming from someone who is a Christian that does attend church regularly. 🙂

    • Hey Carisa, thanks for the comment. I’d have to disagree about the American church not having political and financial power, however. Just this week, North Carolina became the 32nd state in the Union to pass some sort of ordinance against gay marriage. Now, as I say in another post – got no horse in the race on this one, so no strong feelings. But I’m pretty sure those 32 state governments were persuaded to do that kind of legislation based on the opinions of evangelical Christians. If Christians truly are a minority in this country, then it would seem to me that they have a lot more political power than they should have for their numbers.

      Another example would be the on-going battle to teach ‘creationism’ or ‘intelligent design’ in schools. If Christians were a minority or lacked political power, this would be a non-issue. But again, state after state is adopting this kind of ‘science’ into the school curriculum.

      I can’t drive a mile in any direction from my house without passing a multi-million dollar church building. I can sometimes drive for hours without passing a university. Churches provide religious education in comfortable, beautiful buildings to anyone who wants to show up – absolutely free. College educations are so expensive that student-loan debt is becoming a national crisis. There are at least 50 ministries that are wealthy enough to provide programming to my cable company at no charge whatsoever; the local channel that provided free tutoring for anyone who wanted to get their GED has run out of funds and is no longer available. It seems to me that secular, non-religious education is on the ropes, not Christianity.

      I think churches preach the minority-under-attack thing to attract more money and zeal from their members. And I’m not saying that they shouldn’t be allowed to do it. I think Christians ought to be able to do whatever they like. I just don’t understand that if I want to do whatever I like with my personal life – and it doesn’t agree with some group’s interpretation of the Bible – suddenly THEIR liberties are under attack.

  3. […] 150 Million Non-Adherents Can’t Be Wrong (americansecularist.com) […]

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