Barry Kosmin – One Nation, Losing God

December 31, 2010

By now you’ve probably heard the finding-the United States is growing less godly. More precisely, more and more Americans in surveys report that they lack a religious identity.

These are the so-called “nones,” and they already comprise 15 percent of the total population. But there are estimates that their numbers will continue to grow and could someday even surpass major denominations like Catholicism (currently 24% of the country). Being a “none” is particularly popular among those aged 18-29.

Barry Kosmin is the nation’s leading expert on the “nones,” a group that he studies through the ARIS, or American Religious Identification Survey. In this episode of Point of Inquiry, he discusses where America is heading with respect to its religious identity, why this change is occurring, and what the implications will be for secular advocacy in the future.

Barry Kosmin is a sociologist and research professor in the Public Policy & Law Program at Trinity College, and founding director of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture. Dr. Kosmin has been a principal investigator of the American Religious Identification Survey series since its inception in 1990 as well as national social surveys in Europe, Africa, and Asia. His publications include One Nation under God: Religion in Contemporary American Society (1993) and Religion in a Free Market (2006).

This is point of inquiry for Friday, December thirty, first 2010. 

Welcome to Point of inquiry. 

I’m Chris Mooney point of inquiry is the radio show and podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank advancing reason, science and secular values in public affairs. And at the grassroots. My guest this week is Barry Cosmin, director of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture at Trinity College in Connecticut. He’s the nation’s leading expert on the growing percentage of Americans who lack a religious identity. The so-called nones. So I wanted to speak with Dr. Cosmin about where the country is heading with respect to religion. Why this change is occurring and what the implications are for secular advocacy and the separation of church and state in the future. Very. Cosmin is a sociologist and research professor in the Public Policy and Law Program at Trinity College. He’s been a principal investigator of the American Religious Identification Survey since 1990 when it began. His publications include One Nation under God, Religion and Contemporary American Society and Religion in a Free Market. 

Barry, Cosmin, welcome to Point of Inquiry. 

Well, I’m very happy to be here, Chris. 

I’ve wanted to have you on since the 2000 10 counselor’s secular humanism conference in Los Angeles, where it seemed to me you had the data on the subject that everybody really wanted to know about the most. And that is which direction is the country headed? With respect to its religiosity, its religious identity. Can you tell us a little bit about your work, the American Religious Identification Survey and these findings about the so-called nones? 

Yeah, happy hour. Of course, we do really have the data. And one of the reasons we have the data is because because there is a secular state and a secular Republican separation of church and state, which many people, of course, are not so happy about as some of us, the United States Census is precluded from asking questions about people’s religion or religious identification. So beginning in 1990, we created what we might call a time series called the American Religious Identification Series, which is called ARRIS. And people can look up Århus on the, you know, on the Web and find all the data for three points in time when we’ve asked a very large number of people anywhere between, according to the survey, between 50000 and a hundred and 12, 140000 people. A very simple question, what is your religion, if any? And as a result of that, we have the religious belonging identification for the nation at number of points in time. And we report that and it’s even published in the statistical yearbook of the United States, where the government can publish this stuff, but it can’t use taxpayer money to collect it, of course. So that is it. It’s a representative national sample of telephone survey. As I said, it’s very large number of people. And they’re asked an open ended question, which, unlike a lot of the questions which are about religion, they ask people to martyr themselves up on album, on the list. And, of course, what do you do then is you get what we might call historic establishment or status quo, because you don’t allow people to create new groups to come along and new answers to be, you know, to be to be included. So if we have what is our religion, if any, you probably wouldn’t have answers if it was run by religious group or maybe even the government, they probably wouldn’t have answers like atheist, agnostic, secular, non religion, get lost, etc.. But but we do. And that’s why we have very good data set. Now, the interesting part about this is that since we started recording in 1990, the number of people or the proportion of Americans saying no religion, non or various, what we might call secularists on face replies, has gone from 17 from seven percent to 14 percent or 15 percent. That’s more than doubled. And it’s gone from about 14 million to 34 million people. So four million adults extrapolated from our sample say they have no religion and don’t identify with this kind of myriad of religious groups and organizations that are out there in the marketplace of religion, which is apparently pretty well stocked. 

But they’re they’re not all atheists. Right. Let’s clarify that point. 

No, it’s you know, the nuns are a kind of coalition or a collection of people. It’s an amalgam of nonces. Some days some people say it’s people who didn’t identify with the religion. So you got the anti religious and the irreligious, the religiously indifferent. So it’s, you know, deists, agnostics, atheists, anticlerical list, skeptics, secularists, humanists, et cetera, et cetera. Because this is a belonging question. When you asking people is what is your religion, if any? They aren’t near enough answering a belonging question. Now, when you ask people a belief question, how does God exist? That’s where you’re going to find many more people saying they’re atheists. In fact, I mean, the atheist. But I mean, we get about about a million atheists. It’s more agnostics. The last time out in 2008. But if you ask people, does God exist, you get even more people saying atheist. But still, the atheist population of the country is pretty, pretty small. We’re talking about atheists and agnostics generally. And and so less than two percent of the population. And we’re talking here about 15 percent. So it’s there’s a lot of people here who may be believers, but they’re not blondeness. Right. That’s that’s what the nuns are, a lot of those people. And then the other part of of of religious. Interests their behavior. Right. So we’ve got a lot of these people who don’t belong and maybe believe, but a large number of them don’t behave very religiously. So we know that only 50 percent of the population, for instance, follow up questions. Only 50 percent of the population belong to a religious congregation claimed to be affiliated with one. Which means you’ve got a lot of people there who who, you know, sort of think or believe don’t belong. Right. And then we come down to behavior, which we often very specific questions like, you know, are you going to have a religious funeral or interment or something like that? And about 27 percent of the population say they don’t particularly want one. OK, so that’s a no religion answer is larger than the numbers. So the number of people who want clergy to see them off all right. Is smaller than is larger. The number of people say that my religion is much larger. The number of people to say that atheists. So I guess these are kind of, you know, shades of gray. If he’s, you know, sort of evangelicals as Wighton atheist, as black as or vice versa, according to your disposition. But, you know, there’s a thousand shades of gray in between. And a lot of people are in that kind of middle ground, which, you know, they’re not they’re not happy with having beliefs which may be slightly contradictory or haven’t even worked out. 

One thing we often hear about the millennial generation today is that they say in surveys, I’m not really very religious, but I’m quite spiritual. Are those the same kind of people as the nuns, too? Or is that something different? 

Well, I mean, if they if they again, that’s a belief question. Is it? You know, sort of what do you do if they identify and say, yeah, well, I’m kind of Buddhist and spiritual or I’m Methodist. They go into the religion column. If they say that I have no religion, but I’m quite spiritual, there’s a belief that means a different type of question. But undoubtedly link these two things at length. I mean, the overall rise in the number of people, in effect, rejecting religion, being irreligious, but saying they’re spiritual is, you know, part of it is linked to another piece of feeds, the no religion or the nuns cohort, if you want to call it that, is the kind of anti clericalism out there. So it’s popular to say I’m spiritual and not religious because then you don’t have to. You know, I think good things and I like the world and maybe there’s something divine. And it’s a kind of deistic answer, but I don’t have anything to do with organized religion. That’s what they’re really saying, which is very similar to the what’s in in effect, recruiting this population of no religion people, which is, Andy. Clericalism, the kind of satisfaction and this kind of bad vibes a lot of people have for very good reasons, I guess, in terms of, you know, religious clergy scandals and things that people are distancing themselves from religion. So it’s I think it’s just a symptom of a kind of, you know, to call it the kind of feeling of the population. You know, it’s an undercurrent. 

And when you released these findings, I gather you just got tons of press attention. I mean, everybody was surprised maybe or just intrigued. Why is America so, so obsessed with this? 

Well, first of all, it’s the kind of man bites dog story. I mean, you know, when you know, if you think about it, we’ve been told for the last, you know, 20 years there’s been no great religious awakening, the rise of a religious right, evangelicalism on the march and the rest of it. And we see that there was a lot what was actually happening was it was a kind of equal and opposite reaction, at least from a sankt section of the population that was being turned off. Right. Moving away from organized religion at least. So, you know, that was that was surprising. And, you know, so it was counterfactual in the media to some extent, you know, sort of, I think being a little bit kind of overwhelmed with the kind of rise of the religious right, which has been a political force. Remember, what we’re talking about here is not politics. We’re talking about society in general. We’re talking about the whole of the American people at 200. And you can have at least we extrapolate our 54000 people in 2008 to 208 million Americans out the 280 million Americans and not the 90 million Americans that voted, you know. So it’s a much larger population than that. We’re talking about the society in general. So, you know, when we need from the political point of view, these undoubtedly being the rise of, you know, strike religious, religious, political religion, if you want to call it that. But that, you know, some of that has caused some of this reaction is basically among young people and others. 

But there’s definitely a doubling. And the great strength of our of our survey, one of the reasons why people take notice of it. Not just because we have a good design. I think we’re pretty, you know, scientific and objective about it. But because there’s a Time series, the same questions asked in the same way, using the same method over 20 year period gives it the ability to compare across states and across across time. And that gives. That’s that’s that’s in the media. 

They’ve actually got some hard data, which they should actually show graphically of how they try. The pyramid has been growing or declining. 

One at one irony here, I guess, is that you seem to be saying that the religious right, the people who went around pronouncing that the United States is a, quote, Christian nation by their very act of doing it so loudly helped push us into becoming less of a Christian nation. 

Well, I mean, if we’re going to look at this historically and of course, you know, I run an institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture at Trinity College in Hartford. And, you know, I talk to historians and others about this. And if you think about American history has been a kind of a rivalry between two traditions is the Pilgrim Fathers tradition to create a theocracy, a city upon a hill. And then there was one hundred years later was kind of reaction of that world, what we call the founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, Madison, Paine, Franklin, who wanted to set up a secular republic. And in fact, refuted this idea of a theocracy and actually wanted, you know, the first secular republic where there would be no religious test for public office. So you’ve got this you’ve had for 200 years now a kind of competition, if you want to call it that, culture war. Some people would call it between these two traditions and in the United States and at some epochs, one has been more powerful than the other in the political sphere and also among the general public with a great awakenings. And we’ve had the kind of enlightenment and neo enlightenment lists as it was. So I don’t think that’s an interesting way to look at this, that there’s, you know, both of them are kind of American traditions and they’ve been vying with each other for a long time. And you see it play out in different places. And I’ll give you example, in the 19th century, 1940s, it was a big debate in the House of Representatives about delivering the mail on a Sunday. Right. And exactly the same arguments we used then, you know, 50 years ago as being used. Now people saying is a Christian nation, the mail shouldn’t be delivered on a Sunday. Now, the secularists won because they said secular republic. That’s an important symbol of the fact that we’re not a Christian nation and Christianity is not is not an established religion. So the mail was delivered on a Sunday until the unions, the postal unions mailed unions decided otherwise. 

And you also predict that in terms of this tension between secularization and wanting something more theocratic, you seem that you seem to say that the nuns have the momentum and they will continue to expand in the future. Why is that your expectation? 

Well, I thought, first of all, the proportion of of of people who are kind of secularly minded in terms of belief, belonging behavior is much larger among the young people than it is among older folks. Right. So in other words, the under 25 under 25 is a much less religious in all different ways than the overate is. OK. And then we’ve got other other factors out there that they’re born into a different society that is much more materialistic. 

Let me give me one example that again, you know, people, again, was surprised by the numbers, but I wasn’t really surprised because what have we seen in the last 20 or 30 years we’ve seen. Let me give an example. The blue laws. Right. Which were you carryover from that theocratic Massachusetts of the 17th century, which restricted everything from hunting to drinking to shopping on Sundays or playing sport, have been for the last 40, 50 years eroded even in the Bible Belt? You know, so we’ve got a 724 material consumer culture, you know, where one of the biggest recreations, I mean, that shopping malls are the new cathedrals in many ways, and more people go to them on a Sunday than go to church. So, you know that that’s that’s. And people brought up in that society. You know, I mean, I guess, you know you know, people till 1934, there was no baseball on a Sunday. Right. First first commercial, you know, paid sport on a Sunday took place. It was between the wars that that battle was for. Major League Baseball was a really forceful secularism. Now, you don’t even think about the fact that Super Bowl Sunday closes the churches or rearranges their their schedule of services. Right. So you do see that. And that’s what the young people have been I’ve been kind of socialized into. So, you know, and they’re not, you know, in the world at the top. Bill. Describe where, you know, sort of nothing moves on a Sunday change put across the street to stop the carriages and, you know, it was it was a classic Puritan Sabbath. 

One thing that I read about your research is that, you know, you did do this time series and it attributed this change, saying that a lot of it happened over the course of the 90s. You know, the kind of Bill Clinton era. 

Why did it happen then? 

Well, I mean, again, we have to look at this kind of social psychology, right. Bodiless some of those forces in, you know, political, generational, economic forces that we’ve already spoken about. 

But also, you know, when do people risk change? When do they not feel threatened? Well, in times of peace and prosperity, undoubtedly, what was a good time for secularism and rationalism is societies which were not in crisis. And undoubtedly the end of the Cold War made a very big difference, because if you think about it, you know, it’s the beginning of the Cold War. 

People with anxiety and the fact of godless communism, you know, that’s what brought God into the money and got into and to the Pledge of Allegiance and things like that. Again, it’s part of my point about the fight between the pilgrims other than the Founding Fathers concept that, you know, the Pilgrim Fathers were on top, but their traditions on top in the 50s when that was changed. Now there’s a kind of if you want to think about it, reaction to guys with Godly. It was no longer unpatriotic to be godless, right. No part of the enemy. So and material prosperity. People were not anxious. They don’t need external assistance, transcendental existence or magic, you know. So I think it’s understandable that was it was going to happen. You know, it was gonna be that kind of period where people would challenge, you know, organized religion. And there’s also the you know, sort of there was also social change is the beginning of the Internet. The rise, obviously, of of of what we might call feminism, at least coed culture, which, you know, religious, traditional, patriarchal. You had big advances in higher education, which which I think teaches people to be more skeptical or at least challenging of authority, traditional authority. So I think a lot of those things were happening in the 90s. And you know what that meant. And we’ve got the figures there that about a one million people, they know no religion, what we call the nuns population was growing at about one million a year in the 90s. 

Now, today, it grows at about 750000 a year. It’s still growing. But, you know, so you see that it’s not that it’s petered out, but it’s it’s not as as vibrant as it was. And that probably reflects the more anxious times. 

Well, I guess we have an anthem from the 1990s, the RBM song Losing My Religion, which maybe was quite appropriate for coming out during that time. And one thing that your findings do imply, when when the nuns are increasing at the clip that you describe, a lot of decon versions are happening. 

Right, because you say that they’re largely first generation, not religiously affiliated people. 

Yeah, I mean, I let me give you I mean, we did ask this question of no religion. People let we ask them, what were your parents? So we got some very interesting results. I mean, boy, you with a couple of statistics. 17 percent of the people are going to second generation nuns, both their parents, they claim Hadlow religion. 

Right. So that’s 17 percent. 10 percent say they had one parent had no religion. So that’s 27 percent came from a household where there was certainly no religion in the household. So they had a kind of role, a parental role model without religion. So that’s one in four. Now, 18 percent of the people who say they’re nuns had parents of different religions. Now, if you think about it, that’s if, you know, if you accept that one parent who’s got a different religion to the other, if one’s a Methodist than the other one’s Lutheran or Catholic or something, but one is neither. No one is certainly not mad or bad. Therefore, you accept the both of, you know, sort of relatively harmless or both equally dangerous religions. But certainly it leads you to question it. And often the when you have parents of both religions, of two religions married to each other, that kind of the kind of consensual position is to be less religious or no religion. So that explains about 45 percent say my 17 percent definitely come out of it in the 18 percent. Coming out of all of different religions and the 10 percent coming out of one religion, which means 55 percent of the nuns are what you would call discomfort. Right. They were raised in a religion where both of their parents were of the same religion of faith and denomination. So that gives you and I an idea of how those, you know, that population is created. Now, what causes that reaction? Well, there’s all different personal kind of run ins, different in different parts of the country. One of the findings of the 2008 survey was a particular bleeding, if you want to call it that, of Catholicism, especially in New England. And that was a reaction, especially among, interestingly, middle aged males to the priest. Scandals in the Boston diocese is one of the kind of worst case scenario, at least in terms of the scandals. And that’s where it was most reaction to that. So that’s one. You know, that’s that’s one particular feeding suburbanization, the decline of the Catholic school system on bourgois one of the population and, you know, the priest shortage, all those things could have meant that, you know, sort of that the Catholicism has produced the largest amount of the nuns from any particular religious group. 

That’s really intriguing. You know, as as a social scientist, I guess, ah, I’d love to hear your response to this question. I don’t know how often you can take a particular event or scandal, something like the Catholic Church scandals that occurred and say, wow, we see the effect of this in the population. 

When we do a statistically adequately sampled survey, we see people change. Everybody knew about this and it was it impacted them so much that it changed the religious demographics of America. 

Yeah, well, I mean. Well, I mean, that’s why we you know, you say, you know, what was the reaction? Well, you know, we were on the front page of the Boston Globe because when we were in 1990, Massachusetts was 53 percent Catholic. You know, when we did it again in 2008, it it’s 38 percent or whatever it is Catholic. So they’ve lost a tremendous amount of people. I mean, you know, the Catholic Church is losing millions of people in New England. And, you know, I mean, those 20 year they didn’t die. You know, the 25 year old is now 45 year old in nineteen ninety. He was a Catholic and today is a nun. 

I mean, we’ve actually got you know, it’s not the same people that, you know, it’s on a panel survey, but we’ve got people in the same kind of thing. So that’s why you say about impact, that’s the impact. 

That’s a huge, huge impact. What I want to transition to talking about what this means for the agenda and the outlook of organizations that are, you know, secularist organizations and trying to promote a secular worldview both in people’s lives and also to ensure the separation of church and state organizations like the Council for Secular Humanism. A lot of what you hear in that community is, hey, wow, you know, we love these data. We’re winning. The country’s going our way. I mean, is that an accurate way of interpreting it? 

Well, look, I certainly think they winning in the battle of I think to some extent, the battle of ideas and certainly that, you know, the social and. Trends are going in that favor the the not winning organizationally in terms of affiliation, because the history of American secularism and Securus non faced organizations has always been they have been always particularly weak on recruitment and organization. Somehow they, you know, unable to. I mean, if you are coming back to the religious population, you know, 55 percent of people claim a religion are affiliated. If you take the 34 million people who say they have no religion or even the two million, you know, atheists and agnostics, you down into the mine, you know, two or three percent being affiliated. So you’ve got a very different profile. And one of these things, of course, is that, you know, by definition, skeptics. I mean, interestingly enough, nones are politically more likely to be independents than than the rest of the population. So they’re not joiners. They’re skeptical not only of organized religion, but political parties and things like that. There’s a certain, I guess, in a sort of psychological mindset associated with with with this kind of position which, you know, skepticism, suspicion of organizations, etc.. 

So I think that that’s an important piece of it. 

And then the other thing about it is that a lot of these people are not really highly committed and very interested in theological wars. I mean, they kind of despise or dislike religion because it’s, you know, theologically judgmental. It’s obsession with dogma and doctrine. So to some extent, that’s why they don’t like Acey ism either, because he appears to be just part of the same kind of stuff. But on the others on the other side. So, I mean, and and one of the interesting points about this is that we get many more male nuns than we do female nuns. It’s a 60 40 60-40. The nuns are the most in terms of gender, the most male group in the United States in terms of this religious world views, if you want to call it that. And the more you go to the hard secularist positions, the more male it gets. So, I mean, I just saw the Freedom from Religion Foundation did a survey of their members, and I was reading their latest newsletter last night. And 79 percent of their members were male. Right. So that’s not exactly a cross-section of society. So there’s a kind of maleness. And I you know, I obviously, given that I run the only institute for the study of secularism in the country, I get a lot of people from blogs and media people talking to me, but also writers and people. And a lot of the women say that they’re turned off by what they call the war lords of Athie ism and the kind of approach of, you know, sort of people who don’t like sort of the very, very well they interpret, it’s not my words, aggressive outages of Christians and Dawkins’ and people that they don’t know. So that’s that’s another issue which is out there as a challenge for you to ultimately the organizations. It strikes me that, you know, what attracts the people that they were worried about. So they’re not really interested in theology and they’re not really interested in you know, they accept that, you know, God doesn’t that if God exists, he or she doesn’t do very much. So they’re not really worried about that, but they are worried about organized religion. So it strikes me that the critique of organized religion is much, much better than worrying about, you know, say, ism and, you know, atheists and etc. and therefore, political secularism seems to be what they’re in for. I mean, there’s a strong feeling among what I’ve seen in the game going round that people don’t want tax privileges for religion. They don’t like they that they’re annoyed about textbooks. You know, they’re annoyed about religious clergy interference in politics, you know, that kind of kind of stuff. So much more as you’d expect in a funny kind of way. And probably, you know, the atheists might not like this, but they might in some ways much more interested in the human action side of no religion than they are and in the kind of cerebral, philosophical side of it. 

Would that include them being interested in evolution battles, stem cell battles, those kind of issues? 

Oh, yeah. I mean, science and naturalism. Yeah. I mean, I think that’s one of the major pieces. I mean, we can say quite clearly that one of the big differences between the No religion population and the general population is on the, you know, no sort of belief in human evil, in human evolution. You know, we had a question there. Yes, sort of. 

Do you think that human beings, as we know them, developed from an earlier species of of animals and, you know, sort of we’ve got here something like 60 per cent, just over 60 percent of nuns saying, you know, that they agree with that statement in the general populations, about 38 percent. So you’ve got it’s not like there’s a lot of people in between. But certainly that belief in science, the much more. 

We inquiry, if you want to call it that, empiricism, those are the things that appeal to the nuns, but doesn’t mean to say they believe in all that kind of what you might call political liberalism, because there’s a lot of libertarians there. A lot, as I said, is independent streak. There is no. So not all liberal causes, if you want to. If you want to call it that. But certainly in those areas, you’re correct. Science school textbooks keeping, you know, keeping what you might call religious interests out of the public domain, which is classic Jeffersonian Madisonian positions. 

Exactly. I’m intrigued to ask you one question that’s always come up in my talk about the relationship between the American public and science. Whenever we talk about evolution, I guess there’s a Gallup survey that’s been done over many, many, many years and it returns this recurrent figure. People don’t seem to move. The population in general doesn’t seem to become more accepting of evolution over time. Does your data suggest that that is going to eventually we’re going to see that change? 

Yeah, I mean, certainly among the young is this this and there are some differences. I mean, part of part of it is that if you look at very closely crisped that the data, you see a very big difference between evolution and human evolution. All right. You understand what I what I’m saying? 

So, you know, these Kansas farmers are quite willing to accept that they you know, they dog evolved from wolf and that their tomato is tomatoes are not exactly, you know, genetically modified tomatoes are different to the ones their grandparents planted. You know, that kind of stuff. So they they do you know, they not, you know, to deny a kind of naturalism or, you know, that kind of change, if you want to call it, and random selection and that kind of stuff. It’s the human evolution kind of stuff. You know, a lot of people, you know, I saw you go along group any group of teenagers and try to tell them, you know, that 90 percent or more of these genes are held in common with a mouse or something like that. And, you know, they had their eyes open and they become a little bit more questioning of, you know, you’ll be a sanity, you know. And that’s a problem. Right. And that’s because of obviously, you know, sort of the way we talk. We met science education and, you know, other kinds of things. The big issue is, is is human evolution. And religious people hopefully have a problem with human evolution. You got the people to the flat earth. As you know, the world is 5000 years old and the dinosaurs were around with Adam. And, you know, the Grand Canyon is, you know, that was produced by a flood or something like that. But you know that they really are an extreme kind of group. But it’s it’s this idea. It’s not just that this you know, in the you know, when Darwin was facing it was a pole problem is, you know, we descended from apes. How ridiculous. Well, now the scientist come along and say, well, you got a lot in common with them. An amoeba in my mouth, you know, about that kind of stuff. So it become a little bit even more. It seems to be a, you know, counter-intuitive claim, if you want to call it that. So I think that’s the difference between, you know, observation and, you know, science is up observation, you know, and science’s analytical. 

Well, nevertheless, there is, I think, a lot of a lot of positive news here for people who care about having a secular society. 

But one question that comes to my mind is that, you know, in a world with more nuns, so to speak, is a secular organization or are secular organizations needed more or they needed less? And how are they best to service this growing population? 

Well, let me let me just say that. I mean, I think there’s I mean, let’s to say, first of all, this this has said but you know the pun, but the secular trend has created this has not been done by leaders and it’s not been done by great, you know, missionising activity here. It’s still, as I said, it’s societal historic forces have created this. Now, you might turn around and, you know, just as you know, the books of Hawkins and Hitchens and Sam Harris and with how they affect that, it might my argument would be that actually, if not, the Methodists leave church and the Sunday and rush down to Barnes and Noble to look for books on, you know, atheist men evolution, if, in fact, it’s that the the market for those books is created by these forces. 

Right. And people are looking for some kind of, you know, who beginning to question things, do look for AIDS, that explanatory AIDS. And so, in other words, a more amenable to these positions to the two aspects, the organizational one. One is that, you know, you that you should have alternative religious congregations offering Life-cycle kind of rituals and things like that for this population. 

I’m a bit skeptical about whether these people want that kind of thing, that kind of a non theistic mimic mimicking of of of religion or an organized religion. I don’t I don’t know to what extent. I mean, obviously, all people want that, but and. Sort of. So they want all the marriages and marriages and burials and some kind of, you know, sort of baby rituals or something naming rituals, but they don’t want, you know, Jesus or Allah or or Moses or anybody involved in that. Right. So that’s one thing. I don’t think there’s a large population, but I do believe that one of the things is on the political side, I think this is this cohort here, which is very much a coalition as say, it’s very amorphous, is has a there has a certainly a political organization around the issue of, as you said, unfettered science textbooks, tax advantages. 

That’s generally the kind of that the fight for a fault for kind of, you know, Madisonian, a sort of free access, non establishment of religion. So I think, you know, sort of the all these nuns would think it was going to preposterousness sort of to and would very much in favor of slobbing kind of prayer at, you know, high school football games. Right. Because they probably think it’s ridiculous, you know. And at the other level, that it shouldn’t be done any way. But, you know of constitutional legal reasons. And so I think those are the kinds of issues maybe where you where you’ve got a a can, a consensus and a kind of collective identity, if you want to call it that. But, you know, obviously organizations all do different things. And, you know, but I don’t think you know that to me, the interesting thing is that it hasn’t. 

You know, this is not a kind of a Ron Lindsay and this is why I think it’s very important. This is not like, you know, sort of the growth of a religious group. It’s not like the megachurches or somewhere. You’ve got charismatic preachers out there out, you know, sort of winning over the masses and sort of public events where people sort of, you know, Billy Graham style, the Crusades and things like that. It’s not, though. It’s happened much more under the radar. I’m coming back to your earlier question. That’s why some extent you can’t graphically show this in terms of photographs happening right now. 

You can agree Hilgert Moon or anything. It’s happened under the it’s gone under the radar. 

Yeah. Well, let me ask you one final question here. If you could, you know, take a gasp trying to sketch a religious picture of America in 2050. Was it look like have we become Europe? 

No, I like I think there’s a way as I say, there’s all this Pilgrim Fathers religious tradition here is going to be stronger, mainly because, I mean, there’s a whole lot of other because, you know, the size of the country and the fact that, you know, there’s a lot of sorting goes on and you’ve got. 

But I think you’re going to get my view of it if you’re going to get increased polarization. Right. So I think that’s you know, we we know that we’ve got, you know, 15 percent of the country at the moment is no religion. But we also know that about 30 percent of the country are evangelicals born again. Right now, that ratio may change. I think it will probably be 25, 25 within 20 or 30 years. And I think you still have the 50 percent in the middle who are kind of liberal, religious or don’t knows or, you know, where those go is the interesting point. You know. You know which particular group was is it the we gonna call it the atheist and the evangelicals who will alienate that middle ground the most or who will gather your crew from that middle ground the most? I mean, I think it’s you know, I’m I you know, I’m not a prophet. I mean, you know that I’m a skeptic. And so therefore, I don’t predict the future. But I think, you know, the trends are that I don’t think it’s going to be reversed. I don’t see any great religious revivals because I think these are some very many kind of structural and character and ethical problems with organized religion in the United States, which I don’t think it will be. 

They will be able to overcome them in the next 20 or 30 years with with with a much more educated and more sort of questioning public. 

Well, I think that’s a great thought to end on, we don’t know what’s going to happen. But the struggle will beef over the middle. And on that note, very Cosmina. Thank you very much for being with us on point of inquiry. 

You’re very welcome. Chris. 

I want to thank you for listening to this episode of Point of Inquiry to participate in the discussion about Barry Cosmo’s research on the nuns. Please visit our online forums by going to center for inquiry, dot net slash forums and then clicking on point of inquiry. The views expressed on point of inquiry aren’t necessarily the views of the Center for Inquiry, nor of its affiliated organizations. Questions and comments on this show can be sent to feedback at point of inquiry, dawg. 

One of inquiry is produced by Adam Isaac in AMR’s, New York. And our music is composed by Emmy Award winning Michael Waylan. This episode also featured contributions from Debbie Goddard. I’m your host, Chris Mooney. 

Chris Mooney