BY HARRY ANDERSON
December 16, 2015
This is the time of year we hear a lot about religion. Mostly about Christianity because of Christmas, but also about Judaism because of Hanukkah. There are also significant days this month for Muslims, Buddhists, Zoroastrians and pagans. And there are spiritual overtones for many African Americans who celebrate Kwanzaa as a festival of family, community and culture.
There is even more religious noise this year, sadly, because of the recent terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino linked to followers of radical Islam. There’s been a lot of nasty talk against Muslims, hand-wringing about God forsaking America, and broadcast praise of God— but usually only the one preferred by Christians, especially Evangelicals. Some even complain about a so-called “War on Christmas,” citing coffee cups as evidence.
Much has been said about our nation’s deeply held Judeo-Christian “values.” But here on our Rock, at least, most of us seem to be agnostic about religion. The other day I perused some fascinating statistics compiled by something called the U.S. Religion Census, which gathers information from the federal census as well as a variety of religious sources.
Here’s what it shows: Almost 77 percent of us in Island County say we have no religious affiliation at all. That’s right, more than three-quarters of us. The other 23 percent break down as Evangelical Protestants (9.6 percent), mainline Protestants (6.6 percent), Catholics (3.8 percent) and Others (3.2 percent).
The census also shows that the “None” category actually increased a hefty 18 percent from 2000 to 2010 to a whopping 60,245 islanders. Adherents of Evangelical Protestantism rose by an astonishing 51 percent to 7,546 during that period. Meanwhile, Mainline Protestant membership dropped by a bit more than one percent to 5,207 and Catholic membership fell almost 60 percent to just 2,962. “Other”—a catch-all that includes Jews, Hindus, Unitarians and every other faith—jumped 53 percent to 2,546.
All this teaches me a variety of things. First, based on these numbers, I have to believe that most of those who proclaim Judeo-Christian values don’t have a very deep grasp of the source material. They have probably absorbed it second- or third-hand, but most haven’t been to a church or synagogue since they were taken to one in childhood. Except maybe for those rare visits on Easter or Yom Kippur, if dragged by someone near and dear.
Second, the growth of Evangelical Protestantism on our Rock explains the huge number of storefront, oddly named churches that have sprung up all around us in recent years. (Not sure if we, as yet, have things like “Church of the Eternal Bedspring of Life” or “Tabernacle of Universal Ecstasy,” but just wait. There are lots of empty storefronts available.)
Third, when I talk with some in the “None” category, I often hear the same refrain: “I’m a spiritual person but I’m just not religious.” When I ask why, the answer is usually a version of “church isn’t relevant to me; it doesn’t grab me.”
And finally, I am really troubled by how some forms of religion have overtaken our political dialogue in recent years. From abortion to terrorism to gay rights—loud, conservative religious voices seem to have a stranglehold that prevents political compromise. Since “None” is the largest religious affiliation we have around here, I wish that huge majority would flex its muscles and demand a return to separation of church and state.
Truth in publishing: I am a fervent Mainline Protestant (hopefully that’s not an oxymoron). I am a proud member of an Episcopal church, and I attend services almost every Sunday. But my faith doesn’t require yelling. Thank God!
Once upon a time, Harry Anderson made an honest living as a reporter, editor and columnist at the Los Angeles Times. He now lives in central Whidbey, where he spends his time gardening and ruminating on things that interest him.
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