Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Americans are rejecting religion as the Christian right becomes more extreme

New Ipsos poll suggests Trump and Christian nationalism have discredited religion in the eyes of many Americans

Chrissy Stroop
Chrissy Stroop
17 May 2023, 12.54pm

Local pastors pray for Donald Trump in Miami, Florida during the launching of ‘Evangelicals For Trump’ campaign event on 3 January 2020

Marco Bello/Bloomberg via Getty Images

For centuries, American evangelical Protestants have been obsessed with religious ‘revival’. Fear of ostensible societal, moral, and religious ‘decline’ is the other side of the same paranoid Christian coin.

The United States, deeply influenced by early Puritan settlers and other assorted Christian fanatics, has been slow to secularise relative to European countries. In fact, the rapid increase in the proportion of religiously unaffiliated Americans at the expense of Christianity – a trend that has generated significant buzz in recent years – can be traced back only to the 1990s. Since then, however, the shift has been stunning.

I’ll put my cards on the table here: I consider that a good thing, given that frequent church attendance consistently correlates with voting Republican, especially among white Americans. At the same time, I understand that religion is far more diverse than Christianity alone, and that even Christianity – despite its heavy imperialist baggage – comes in pro-social forms. I advocate embracing pluralism and emphasising shared values rather than shared beliefs in building coalitions to work for the common good.

In order to understand American secularisation, however, it is necessary to understand that because of Christian dominance and pervasive Christian privilege, many Americans’ primary association with religion is Christianity, and that shapes their responses to the questions about ‘religion’ they encounter in public opinion polls.


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