Changing Morals: Is “soft” religion the problem?

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Changing Morals
Man in prayer at a church confessional

How do you define “soft” religion? Less strident doctrines preached from the top? Or less interest in traditional disciplines among members? The regular practice of Catholic confession has been dwindling for many years. Some websites have tried to set up online alternatives to traditional confession, but the Vatican doesn’t recognize such Internet experiences as true sacraments.

America’s moral decline and decay are making the news again, reflecting Gallup’s latest finding that Americans are shifting left on many controversial moral issues. Many of these accounts skirt the issue of why—why it appears that Americans’ morals are slipping.

Could it be that “soft” religion is the culprit?

This week, we’ve covered the issues that have shown the greatest increase in moral acceptability over time, discussed the issues that are still widely considered objectionable, and considered the fact that Americans judge the overall state of moral values to be poor.

Today, we consider explanations of the changes Gallup documented.

Some commentators have noticed a correlation between rising moral acceptability and declining religiosity, putting together results from Gallup’s survey and Pew’s recent survey of a drop in the number of Americans with mainline Christian religious affiliations. (We covered Pew’s study two weeks ago on

In particular, mainline Christianity is too “soft.” Trying to appeal to bigger audiences, mainline Protestant churches dilute their messages, focus more on social than religious issues, and become more like society itself. Congregants become disenchanted and fall away. The cure, according to this line of argument, is to toughen up the church message. This may be a reason why Evangelical Protestants have not experienced the same drop in numbers as their mainstream counterparts.

It’s an argument made on the conservative website, Breitbart, founded in 2007 by conservative political activist Adam Breitbart. That site’s commentary on the two surveys concludes, “Though it is impossible to establish a strict causal relationship between the two phenomena of moral liberalism and declining religiosity, the correlation between them is still striking.”

Correlation is not causation, as commentators readily acknowledge, but putting Pew’s and Gallup’s findings together raises an interesting hypothesis.

A counter-hypothesis is that tolerance, acceptance, and a place at the table for all are, in fact, consistent with Christian values—whether or not church membership is up, down, or staying the same.

Do you think that soft religion is a cause of increasing acceptability of many moral issues?

Is the increase in moral acceptability a bad development—or a good one?

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  1. RamblingRob says

    The problem with religion whether soft or hard, it never asks about your personal experiences. Many people find that after undertaking a moral issue that the experience is not rewarding. We do not follow up with the next question, “Why not?” If you return to your church you may feel shunned, you have lost your credibility, you are not welcomed. Thus you leave the church for another softer approach. I feel religion is a personal preference, practiced between you and the spirit of life where you find it. Soft religion tends to make this possible