Updated: Oct 3
A recent poll by a leading organization found that the majority of self-identified Republicans say they go to church at least once per month.
We have long known that what people tell pollsters is more aspirational than actual fact. People tell those who call for a pole what they want to think about themselves, rather than what they actually do. We have long seen this show up when black candidates are running in primarily white districts. White people are far more willing to say they will vote for a black candidate than to actually do so.
We also found this “aspirational” answer to be even more pronounced when discussing very sensitive things such as sex. There is a huge gulf between what people say they do and what they actually do. We know this both from a process of empirical evidence, such as the frequency of children born to mothers who say they have never had sex outside of marriage that are not biologically related to the mother’s husband. We also know this from studies where a simple survey is followed up with weeks of “getting to know you” interviews that show the initial survey answers were simply what the respondents wanted to be true, not what was factually true.
All that to say, religious conservatives lie about how much they go to church on a massive scale.
I’m writing this because I was out this Sunday morning because Paual has been sick and needed some things from the store. I drove by several churches during normal service times and in the large churches, the parking lots seemed completely empty.
You see I live in the epicenter of far-right-wing Christianity, yet if the poll about church attendance was anything like accurate, the roads would be clogged with church goers every Sunday morning. But they are not. Even the few trendy mega-churches that once created traffic jams in front of their parking lots before Covid, don’t seem to do so.
Compared to the traffic created by a Clemson football game that happens thirty miles away, there is very little “church” traffic these days.
I’ve read a number of places where church attendance over the past decade has been in steady decline, and that decline has accelerated in the past few years. My anecdotal observations when I am out on Sunday mornings in the last few years would agree with that.
The reasons for this are multiple. Certainly, Covid had an effect. Once people get out of the habit it is hard to get them back. That is why right-wing church leaders defied Covid restrictions. They knew full well that once people realize they don’t need authoritarian church leaders, they would not be back.
However, I would suggest that the deep-seated reason that church attendance is down is the changing nature of “Christianity.” Once church attendance was primarily about community and mutual support bracketed by doctrinal teachings that emphasized the unity of the church group. The idea that “we are God’s chosen” is a very powerful one. Yes, conservative churches talk about Jesus a lot, but they have downplayed his teachings as the basis of faith and practice for over a century. Group identity & exclusion has long been far more important than the teachings of Jesus for conservatives since before 1900.
What has changed in recent years is that the group identity is no longer driven by church attendance & denominational unity, but by political affiliation. Local pastors have been all but replaced as the fount of Christian knowledge by secular media figures such as Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson. This is not surprising since TV & radio “personalities” are professional entertainers AND have the ear of self-identified Christian conservatives for two, three, and four hours a DAY. This is far more influential than the 45 minutes a week their local pastors have. Moreover, as right-wing preachers shifted their focus from personal holiness and self-sacrifice to the sins of “others,” their content sounds more and more like that of TV/radio personalities.
The simple fact is that right-wing “Christianity” is no longer remotely about Jesus or the traditional doctrines of evangelicalism. Multiple surveys have found that most self-identified “Christians” have virtually no knowledge of the Bible or the teachings of Christ. My own experience is that few of the so-called “Bible-believing” Christians I know have more than a few sound bites of knowledge about Christianity. Even more telling is that most people I talk to don’t seem to think that it is important to follow the teachings of Jesus from the Gospels. Instead, right-wing Christianity is a hodgepodge of verses, mostly from the Old Testament, taken out of context and arranged to justify their conservative political beliefs. Rather than shaping their beliefs to fit the scriptures, they have simply adjusted the scriptures to fit their beliefs.
Modern right-wing Christianity is a political identifier more than anything else. Yes they will get all up in arms about forgetting “Christ” at “Christmas” but in their day-to-day lives, the right-wing “Christian” community has all but excised the teachings of Christ from their religion and their morality.
So, while Christian Nationalism is on the rise and millions of Americans claim our country was founded as a Christian Nation and should return to being one; the vast majority of those people don’t have any interest in actually practicing Christianity as defined by Christ himself.