Have We Reached the End of Traditional Religion?

Jews and Christians Alike Are Straying From Affiliation

Changing Church: ‘The Catholic Church seems to be doubling down on its most conservative teachings. You know something’s changing when Rush Limbaugh calls the pope a Communist,’ writes Jay Michaelson.
getty images
Changing Church: ‘The Catholic Church seems to be doubling down on its most conservative teachings. You know something’s changing when Rush Limbaugh calls the pope a Communist,’ writes Jay Michaelson.

By Jay Michaelson

Published December 31, 2013, issue of December 27, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

Finally, even among those who still profess religious belief, the LGBT equality movement has caused a striking moderation in views. Staying with the Catholic Church for a moment, over 60% of church-going Catholics in America support same-sex marriage (compared to over 80% of Jews), which is above the national average. Even younger Evangelicals, galvanized around the Emerging Church movement, are beginning to say “live and let live” when it comes to gays, although they remain as staunchly anti-abortion as ever. Taboos are falling.

And at the same time, the influence of the so-called Christian Right is at a low point. Think about it: A few years ago, when we talked about conservative Republicans, we talked about the Christian Coalition and the Family Research Council. Now, we talk about the Tea Party. Yes, many Tea Partiers are just warmed-over Christian Rightists. But the rhetoric is different, the issues are different and the churchmen aren’t calling the shots.

Clearly, no one factor explains all of these disparate trends. We still don’t know why Americans are becoming more like Europeans when it comes to matters of (un-)belief: secular culture, science, the excesses of “bad religion,” interfaith marriages and so on. It may just be a matter of survey respondents feeling more comfortable saying “None.”

Nor do we really know what the future holds, for Jews or anyone else. We can speculate that the growth in secularism and the concomitant growth in fundamentalism are related — but which is the horse and which is the cart?

It does seem, though, that 2013 was a year in which traditional religious affiliation underwent significant change. Is this the dawning of a new, liberal age, in which America finally starts to look a little more like the rest of the Western world?

Don’t count on it. American religion is nothing if not resilient. It is malleable enough to change with the times, and if anyone ever does declare war on Christmas, they will lose. We remain a weirdly religious country.

There are signs of innovation and renewal, too — forms of religion which focus on the pastoral and the personal, rather than the dogmatic. And these values are timeless. No matter how shopworn and threadbare our religious language sometimes becomes, the mystery and tragedy of human experience still remains — and so religion endures. Remember, even that famous sermon about losing one’s religion begins, “Oh, life, it’s bigger — it’s bigger than you…”

Jay Michaelson is a contributing editor to the Forward.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.