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Is America Losing Its Religion?

Americans are becoming less religious. But don't expect the Religious Right to just give up.

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That has to worry  Republicans. White evangelicals are the most sizable segment of their base and the unaffiliated – in particular, the atheists and agnostics – are the most sizable part of the Democratic base. Still, Republicans maintain a party identification advantage among Christians as a whole (with the exception of black Protestants and all Catholics, which includes Latino Catholics). Because  Democrats, overall, have a party identification advantage over the GOP (48% to 43%, according to Pew), will those numbers make each party intensify their efforts to make religious voters happy, or encourage them to present a less religious case for election?

With a tight presidential race, and each campaign trying to peel away as many persuadable voters in swing states as possible, appeals to religion – including from the Obama camp – are likely to continue, if only to targeted audiences. Oddly, 67% of all groups, including nearly a third of "nones", agree it's important for the president to have "strong religious beliefs". At the same time, though, 43% of all groups said it makes them uncomfortable when politicians talk about how religious they are.

The numbers are important, telling and potentially transformative for our politics. Yet, questions remain: there's nothing in the Pew survey on public attitudes about religious freedom, church-state separation or the secular nature of our government. These are the issues around which the "nones" can organize. The religious right, whose leaders maintain America is in the throes of a revival, has spent decades mythologizing a "Christian nation", denigrating and undermining church-state separation, and questioning the very American-ness of secularists.

While this is just one survey, and the "Christian nation" advocates retain their intensity and organization, there's evidence here that an opening exists for a new revival: a secularist one.

 

Sarah Posner is associate editor of Religion Dispatches and author of God's Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters. Read her blog or follow her on Twitter.
 
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