Christianity's demographic death grip on the United States continues to loosen its hold, new polling data from the Pew Research Center shows. The percentage of Americans who self-identify as Christian dropped from over 78 percent of the population in 2007 to 70 percent in 2014 – a decline of five million people. Most of this shift is attributable to people abandoning religion entirely; the percentage of Americans who have no religious affiliation grew, over the same time period, from 16 percent of the population to nearly a quarter of it. And this trend shows no sign of slowing down: Millennials represent the most non-affiliated demographic of all, with more than one in three young adults saying they don't have a faith.
This shift is inciting panic among conservatives, particularly those who like to argue that ours is a "Christian nation." After the release of the latest data, right-wing pundits immediately started casting around for anyone – anyone but themselves, of course – to blame.
So whose fault is it, according to the right?
Hip-hop. Bill O'Reilly has long been consumed by apparent anger over the fact that music has changed since his youth, and that so many black people make money off it. But even for him, this one was a stretch: "There is no question that people of faith are being marginalized by a secular media and pernicious entertainment," he whined on his Fox News show. "The rap industry, for example, often glorifies depraved behavior, and that sinks into the minds of some young people: the group that is most likely to reject religion."
(No one tell him about "I Am a God." He'll never stop talking about it.)
The gays. Rush Limbaugh, meanwhile, argued that the problem is too-liberal churches, particularly those that allow "female and lesbian ministers." Former Christians "have left their churches because of social issues and the evolution of their churches to social areas they didn't want to go and don't feel comfortable being in," he said, adding that "less than one million gay activists" have been able to "steamroll an entire country."
Limbaugh didn't explain why people who hate gays would take the rather extreme measure of abandoning their faith rather than just switch churches to one that teaches homosexuality is wrong – there are certainly plenty of those out there.
Politicians who aren't anti-abortion enough. At an event in New Hampshire last week, Rick Santorum praised himself for being the only anti-choice Republican who really, truly, for real wants to strip women of their rights – even though the politicians he was accusing of indifference have passed more than 200 laws restricting abortion over the past four years.
He then argued that those other Republicans' relative lack of fanaticism is what's leading to dwindling numbers in the pews. "A quarter of Americans are now non-religious," he said, referencing the Pew numbers. "The bottom line is, if you want to change the country, you've got to find someone who is bold enough to lay out a vision." And ladies, has Rick Santorum ever got a vision for you!
Lying liberals. David French of the National Review took a different tack. He blamed liberals for the "constant demonization of faithful Americans" and argued that media portrayals of him and his fellow homophobic misogynists are "built on a foundation of lies." Contrary to what those lefties want you to believe, he says, "churchgoing Americans are among our most generous, most loving and most selfless citizens."
As blogger Roy Edroso pointed out, this is an amusing angle for French to argue, because, regardless of what other churchgoing Americans are up to, French is most definitely not a "loving" and "generous" citizen. He's constantly raging about same-sex marriage, abortion, contraception, no-fault divorce and the "sexual revolution." Liberals don't need to paint Christians as a bunch of haters. David French is doing a fine job of that all on his own.
There's a great irony in all this conservative anger at Americans for leaving the church, since they're really the ones to blame. As the Christian polling group Barna recently noted, the public increasingly associates Christianity with "preventing gay marriage and a woman's freedom to control her body" and "mixing religious beliefs with political policy and action." And no wonder Americans draw that conclusion, given that we're subjected daily to a barrage of Christian right pundits and politicians spouting off about gay people, women and their "slut pills" and "legitimate rape." If Americans conflate religion with hate, the Christian right only has themselves to blame.