According to a report by the Barna Group, a Christian organization, young people’s perception of Christianity is lower now than it has been in past decades.
The study shows that 16- to 29-year-olds exhibit a greater degree of criticism toward Christianity than did previous generations when they were at the same stage of life. In fact, in just a decade, many of the Barna measures of the Christian image have shifted substantially downward, fueled in part by a growing sense of disengagement and disillusionment among young people. For instance, a decade ago the vast majority of Americans outside the Christian faith, including young people, felt favorably toward Christianity’s role in society. Currently, however, just 16% of non-Christians in their late teens and twenties said they have a “good impression” of Christianity.
Among young non-Christians, nine out of the top 12 perceptions were negative. Common negative perceptions include that present-day Christianity is judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%), old-fashioned (78%), and too involved in politics (75%)
Interestingly, the study discovered a new image that has steadily grown in prominence over the last decade. Today, the most common perception is that present-day Christianity is “anti-homosexual.” Overall, 91% of young non-Christians and 80% of young churchgoers say this phrase describes Christianity.
Gee, no shit, Sherlock.
The article does point out that this trend is due at least in part to the fact that a smaller percentage of the US population is Christian than in decades past. It also points out that this does not seem to be a youthful phase that people grow out of as they get older.
Comments after the jump.
Frankly, these findings don’t surprise me. For one thing, at least since the 1980s, right-wing Christians have been building themselves up as a social and political movement, wooing the Republican party, insinuating themselves into the media, campaigning for various issues, and so forth. So for the last couple of decades, they’ve worked to make “Christian” synonymous with “right-wing fundamentalist/evangelical”. So when people hear “Christian”, they’re more likely to think of Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson than Jimmy Carter or Jesse Jackson.
At the same time, more liberal and tolerant Christians don’t seem to have done all that much to dissociate themselves from the right-wingers. In part, this may be intrinsic: people who believe in tolerance for different points of view tend not to convert people to tolerance on pain of excommunication or eternal damnation. And people for whom religion isn’t that big a deal are less likely to wear their religion on their sleeve, so opposition to right-wing Christianity may not be as easily perceived as coming from within Christianity itself.
It’s also hard to hold a positive image of Christianity when one vocal Christian after another says something incredibly stupid, like Jerry Falwell blaming 9/11 on gays and the ACLU, or is caught in a scandal, like Ted “Completely Heterosexual” Haggard or Kent Hovind, or when they pressure school boards to stop teaching science because it conflicts with their dogma (Kansas, Ohio, Dover, PA, etc.).
As for homosexuality, the gay community has been pretty vocal itself in trying to achieve acceptance, which naturally leads to clashes with right-wing homophobes. Naturally, this leads to the perception, whether justified or not, that Christianity is opposed to homosexuality. And if you know people who are gay, you can compare the rhetoric and see if it matches what you see. To quote Jim Derych, author of Confessions of a Former Dittohead:
The world that I lived in refused to conform to the world Rush was telling me about. When my best friend turned out to be gay, I discovered it was easy to hate “the gay agenda,” but it was hard to hate “Scott.”
I’m pretty sure that the so-called “new atheism” (which is hardly new; it’s mainly a rise in the number of people unwilling to give nonsense a pass just because it’s labeled “religion”) is also at least partly a result of right-wing Christian activism. In other words, it’s not an attack on Christianity as much as a counterattack. But it’s a recent enough phenomenon that I doubt that writers like Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens have contributed much to the declining numbers that Barma reports.
In short, I’m sorry, Christians, but you did this to yourselves. Some of you have shown yourselves to be ignorant bigots; others have failed to prevent Christianity from being represented by ignorant bigots.
(HT Martin Wagner.)