Christianity’s Ratings Falling

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.)

2 thoughts on “Christianity’s Ratings Falling”

  1. As an atheist who was an evangelical a generation ago, I certainly have a more negative view of Christianity that I did then ;-).
    Joking aside, I think you’re bang on in the reasons you give. Back then, I certainly never liked the rightwing militarist politicized version of Christianity, and from the late 70s on, I and they moved steadily in opposite directions. Add a few clergy sex abise scandals (and up here, the Native residential school mess) and even the non-fundy churches have muck on them.

    Re gays: they’re out and mainstream to an extent unthinkable 30 years ago. Every straight highschool/college kid (including my two) has a couple of G/L/B friends (maybe even a kid they grew up with since well before puberty), like it’s no big deal — no way they’re going to listen to some asshat trying to demonize their pals.


  2. its understandable. Christianity has been at the root of many atricities and crimes. heres a great possiblity that a lot of monotheists dont like to hear, what if the Gods and Goddesses dont want people to be christian or muslim? perhaps the religion is showing a dark side because the Gods dont like it? After all, if the so called false Gods are not false, wouldnt they be furious? I mean, with all the hurricaines and floods in the south, you think most people would take a hint? Ive heard christians say things like God hates fags, God hates blacks etc. Perhaps God hates christians? Now thats a phenominal idea. I guess some people dont want to think outside the box that they build for themselves. “think for yourself question authority” Man lenny bruce was wise.


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