Faith without affiliations

Nathaniel Peters writes on the persistent faith of Americans—just not the sort of faith that we might expect:

Roughly one fifth of Americans, and one third of young Americans, are what the Pew Research Center has dubbed “Nones,” people who claim no religious affiliation…

Some might consider the rise of the Nones to be proof of the “secularization thesis”: that “modernity inevitably produces a decline of religion,” as Peter Berger put it. However, as Berger himself came to see over the course of decades, that thesis is false. Instead of secularism, modernity produces pluralism, “the coexistence in the same society of different worldviews and value systems. . . . The problem with modernity is not that God is dead, as some people hoped and other people feared. [Rather,] there are too many gods, which is a challenge, but a different one.” …

The decline of religious affiliation among those with a weak identification marks not only a decline of cultural Christianity, but a new norm for American society, a norm that is replacing a broadly Christian culture. What is the new norm? Certainly not a militant skepticism or atheism. Fourteen years ago, Christian Smith and Melinda Denton coined the term “moralistic therapeutic deism” for the religious beliefs of the next generation, which sees God as “something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist.” Many now describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious,” believing in some such supernatural force but seeing no need for the bonds of religious community and authority.

More recently, scholars such as Adrian Vermeule have noted the religious character that contemporary political liberalism has taken on. Its protests and denunciations have sacramental and liturgical elements. It makes the free exercise of the will its highest good and works to tear down any barriers in its way, social or biological. It now has a liturgical calendar, too.