Did America Lose Community Prior to Losing Its Religion?

Article: Three Decades Ago, America Lost Its Religion. Why?
“Not religious” has become a specific American identity—one that distinguishes secular, liberal whites from the conservative, evangelical right.
SEP 26, 2019 by Derek Thompson, Staff writer at The Atlantic

“Not religious” has become a specific American identity—one that distinguishes secular, liberal whites from the conservative, evangelical right.SEP 26, 2019.

Thompson’s article suggests that disconnection from churches and the rise of the “nones” is connected to a familiar litany of causes.

Quote: Stubbornly pious Americans threw a wrench in the secularization thesis. Deep into the 20th century, more than nine in 10 Americans said they believed in God and belonged to an organized religion, with the great majority of them calling themselves Christian. That number held steady—through the sexual-revolution ’60s, through the rootless and anxious ’70s, and through the “greed is good” ’80s.
But in the early 1990s, the historical tether between American identity and faith snapped. Religious non-affiliation in the U.S. started to rise—and rise, and rise. By the early 2000s, the share of Americans who said they didn’t associate with any established religion (also known as “nones”) had doubled. By the 2010s, this grab bag of atheists, agnostics, and spiritual dabblers had tripled in size.
[1]

Quote: According to Christian Smith, a sociology and religion professor at the University of Notre Dame, America’s nonreligious lurch has mostly been the result of three historical events: the association of the Republican Party with the Christian right, the end of the Cold War, and 9/11. [2]

Umm … but what if there is a simpler, more universal answer?

The rise of religious non-affiliation follows a rise of national non-affiliation. In other words, it is a national if not global trend for individuals to disconnect with each other, resulting in a decline in the sense of community. While the points in the Thompson article make seem to make sense, the social changes reported by Putnam are simpler, therefore passing the test of Occam’s Razor.

The famous example is “Putnam also uses bowling leagues to point out that even though more people bowl today than ever before, they are choosing to do so without joining an organization of other community members. This information helps prove his point that people are less likely to join community groups.” [3]

Being on a team requires making and keeping commitments. It requires trust and community. That’s what we’ve lost prior to the events listed in the Atlantic article.

Quote: Systemic Problem #4: Stranger Evangelism
HEADS: Robert Putnam’s research indicates that American networks of engagement are breaking down and that this loss of “social capital” is the primary cause of many serious social problems. As the church is the primary builder of social networks, the decrease in social capital is both a cause and a result of the decline of church participation in America. Relationships that build community bonds between neighbors are essential to disciple making.
What are the causes for decline in social capital according to Putnam’s research? Factors which probably contribute little to the decline in social capital include divorce, people living together or alone, the decline of the traditional American family, racial issues, big government, the welfare state, two career families and working women.
Factors which contribute significantly to the decline in social capital include slum clearance which destroys neighborhood relationships, the shift from local businesses replaced by regional giants where people shop as strangers, and the involvement of the power elite in corporate politics rather than community politics. Major factors in the decline include pressures of time and money, especially for two career families (10%), suburbanization, commuting and urban sprawl (10%), television and electronic entertainment (25%), and generational change, where lack of community involvement seems normal (over 50%). [4]

The people in the neighborhoods are no longer neighbors … not in the way they used to be.

A few Factoids from Putnam’s research (http://bowlingalone.com/):
Joining and participating in one group cuts in half your odds of dying next year.

Every ten minutes of commuting reduces all forms of social capital by 10%

Watching commercial entertainment TV is the only leisure activity where doing more of it is associated with lower social capital.

Declining Social Capital: Trends over the last 25 years

  • Attending Club Meetings = 58% drop
  • Family dinners = 43% drop
  • Having friends over = 35% drop

SOURCES

[1] Three Decades Ago, America Lost Its Religion. Why?
“Not religious” has become a specific American identity—one that distinguishes secular, liberal whites from the conservative, evangelical right.
SEP 26, 2019 by Derek Thompson, Staff writer at The Atlantic

[2] Ibid.

[3] The “Putnam also uses bowling leagues” quote is from … https://cdn.filestackcontent.com/ihJah3aHTpuOxF9geGbv?signature=09fd48a87405c2a70765fb72e13edaa4c20fd1cf23432f324465b3fe599f53e4&policy=eyJoYW5kbGUiOiJpaEphaDNhSFRwdU94RjlnZUdidiIsImNhbGwiOiJyZWFkLGNvbnZlcnQiLCJleHBpcnkiOjE3OTg3NjE2MDB9

[4] David Kueker, Seminar 3, from http://disciplewalk.com/files/Seminar_Three_Decision.pdf
page 5

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