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 OurValues.org.)
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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