Mother Jones Agrees: The Fourth Great Awakening is Dead


In reason's April issue I declared in my article –"The New Age of Reason"– that the period of evangelical moral and political bullying, known as the Fourth Great Awakening, that we've suffered through for the past 30 years is coming to a end.

As I pointed out:

Perhaps the best evidence that the evangelical phase of the Fourth Great Awakening is winding down is that large numbers of young Americans are falling away from organized religion, just as the country did in the period between the first two awakenings. In the 1970s, the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago found that between 5 percent and 7 percent of the public declared they were not religiously affiliated. By 2006 that figure had risen to 17 percent. The trend is especially apparent among younger Americans: In 2006 nearly a quarter (23 percent) of Americans in their 20s and almost as many (19 percent) of those in their 30s said they were nonaffiliated.

The Barna Group finds that only 60 percent of 16-to-29-year-olds identify themselves as Christians. By contrast, 77 percent of Americans over age 60 call themselves Christian. That is "a momentous shift," the firm's president told the Ventura County Star. "Each generation is becoming increasingly secular."

Now Mother Jones notes that baptisms are dropping among Southern Baptists. In addition, Mother Jones cites figures compiled by Christine Wicker in her new book, The Fall of the Evangelical Nation, that indicate that Evangelicals have been fibbing about their numbers

With more digging, Wicker came across a 2007 sbc report that found only 5.4 million adults attended services regularly enough to be considered church members. Further complicating matters, many of those who regularly filled the pews weren't official members, and, most significantly, 1 in 8 wasn't saved or born again. Factoring all this in, Wicker calculated that there are fewer than 4 million devoted Southern Baptists. Her math seems to be backed up by collection-plate totals: If the church truly has 16 million members, then they contributed a miserly $3.50 each to a nationwide fundraising campaign last year.

And it's not just the Southern Baptists who appear to be playing number games. The National Association of Evangelicals, an umbrella group that does not include the sbc, claimed 30 million members on its website. When Wicker contacted the association for comment, the figure changed to 4.5 million. No one there could—or would—explain the sudden 85 percent drop in believers. (However, the group's website currently describes its lobbying arm as the voice of "30 million Americans united under a common banner.")

As I concluded in April:

In 1908 Clarence Darrow told the Personal Liberty League, "The world is suffering more today from the good people who want to mind other men's business than it is from the bad people who are willing to let everybody look after their own individual affairs." That has been true for a long time now, but we may finally be heading toward a better world—one where Americans are increasingly willing to live and let live.

All I can say is, "Hallelujah!"