What is American Secularism

Secularization tendencies in the USA?

For a long time it was taken for granted that the USA was the counter-evidence to the theory of secularization. While in Europe the increase in economic prosperity as well as the democratization and pluralization of society led to a decline in the importance of religion and church, in the USA a high level of modernization and vital religiosity would go hand in hand. However, more recent studies show: Even in the USA, the tendencies towards secularization can no longer be denied. In the past few decades, the proportion of those who say they do not belong to any religion has increased from 3% to 20%. The percentage of those who are not religiously bound will continue to grow, because belonging to a congregation shows the typical age distribution: of those over 50 years of age, more than four fifths say they belong to a church, while only three fifths of the 18-29 year olds. Attendance at church services has also declined in the USA, and so has faith in God, albeit weakly.

Nevertheless, the level of religiosity for most indicators in the USA is above the European average. The higher religiosity of the Americans compared to the Europeans is, however, compatible with the assumptions of the theory of secularization. It can be explained, among other things, by the unusually high degree of existential insecurity and social inequality in the USA for modern societies and the immigration of millions of believers from highly Catholic countries, especially Latin America. The Catholic Church has therefore remained roughly the same strength over the past few decades. The Protestant churches, which comprise the majority of the population, however, suffered significant losses. It was above all the so-called mainline churches (Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Episcopals) that lost members, while the evangelical congregations have not grown since the 1970s, but have been able to maintain their membership. The fact that they remained comparatively strong has above all to do with their demarcation from the liberal values ​​of the 1960s and their affirmation of conservative positions, for example with regard to feminism, abortion, homosexuality or the American war effort abroad. The polemical distancing from liberal values ​​with their tendency to escalate conflicts contributes to the strengthening of the evangelical camp.

Because of the increasing amalgamation of evangelical and conservative positions, liberal Americans are increasingly distancing themselves from religion and church. If you consider that the recognition of liberal, individualistic and hedonistic values ​​is gaining in importance in the USA as a whole, then it is clear that the ability of the conservative-evangelical camp to bind will decrease. The membership of the Southern Baptist Convention declined for the first time in the 1990s. Americans are already approaching the various religious denominations with a high degree of tolerance. Only a tiny minority still believe that Christianity is the only true religion. A few decades ago it was still the majority. Almost two thirds think that every religion has a truth in it. Almost nobody would have anything against a Jewish or Catholic president. About half would even elect an atheist president. For a qualified minority of conservative Christians, religious and political attitudes are closely intertwined. But precisely because of the public visibility and volume of this considerable minority, a culturally, socially and politically different majority is increasingly turning away from religious ties. Whether the USA, as widely assumed, can be regarded as an exception to the rule of a close connection between modernization and secularization has at least become questionable.