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Opinion: Agnostic, not amoral

The “nones” are growing in number.
Image by Ava Weinreis
Being non-religious does not make you a bad person.

America has long been a nation “under God,” but many are stepping out of His divine shadow.

The proportion of religiously unaffiliated people — those who would select “none” on the census under which religion they identify with — has increased greatly over the past few decades. In the 1990s, as many as 90% of adults identified as some form of Christian. Now, that share has fallen to two-thirds.

That doesn’t mean our values will shift.

Following the wayward mid-century, the religious right made a staunch attempt to cement Christian values in the American ethos. After decades of rising hemlines, conservative think tanks wanted to find a way to truncate social progress for a mixture of political and religious motivations.

Christianity was at its peak in the late 1970s, after which its grip began to slowly loosen. Christian leaders remain concerned by this, but is it really cause for alarm?

“It’s been going on for a long time,” said J.B. Shank, a professor of history at the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota.

Right-wing politicians have always tried to frame the decline in strict Christian adherence as a moral issue. Every past decade had its own moral panic to characterize the kind of thing Christians were meant to worry about. The 1970s and 1980s had satanic panic and the War on Drugs. These days, the right’s anti-Christian boogeymen have been condensed into the indistinct idea of “wokeism.”

While conservatives have clumsily attempted to define the term many times, their opposition to “wokeism” is largely recognized as the simple aversion to progress. The right is also known to refer to “Cultural Marxism,” the name far-right conspiracy theorists give to a widespread effort by academic and Jewish elites to destroy Christian and conservative values.

It isn’t clear how many people adhere to the bonkers conspiracy theory associated with the word, but “wokeism” has a visibly large number of people upset. What tends to resonate more than the anti-Semitic ideas behind it is there is indeed an effort to undermine traditional conservative values.

So many Christians believe they are persecuted in this still predominantly Christian country that the phenomenon even has a name: the Christian persecution complex.

While Christianity has faced and does face opposition in different periods and areas, it is not a problem in the U.S., where a policy institute has already crafted a mandate with instructions for the next president to turn the country into a theocracy.

The truth is, America remains a largely Christian country (for now) and the religion enjoys a great amount of influence. Neither Christians nor the right wing have anything to be afraid of.

“One of the dominant frameworks that I particularly like is to see secularism not as a revolt against religion, or a breaking free of religion, but in fact as a phenomenon that, at some levels, is about the pluralization of religion,” Shank said.

On the other side of the political spectrum, one thing the left outspokenly supports is tolerance of all kinds. Tolerance, one of the things right-wingers decry for being woke, is the virtue by which one accepts everyone, regardless of race, sex, creed or religion — including Christians.

Nobody opposes prayer in schools solely because it is Christian, supports same-sex marriage because they hate God’s ideal familial structure or teaches comprehensive sex ed because they want to foist ungodly material on children.

I don’t doubt that conservative lawmakers know this to be true, but they run on these ideas, and people believe them. The increase in “nones” might make them more susceptible.

The “nones” are not a threat to religious liberty, and they certainly are no threat to American values, a concept which itself is so nebulous that a meteorite couldn’t shift it. The one thing we ought to value above all else is tolerance.

Tolerance is key to living in any multicultural society, especially one going through an ideological puberty as profound as ours. As our nation changes, the measure of our strength will lie not in the dominance of any belief but in the embrace of what makes us all unique.

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  • Steve Carnes
    Dec 8, 2023 at 4:48 pm

    I’ve always chuckled at how the “religious” claim sole ownership of morality. I saw a sign at a *church* that said, “A Gay Christian is not an oxymoron. I Hateful Christian most certainly is.” Think about it.