Jerry & Cristie Johnston Interview Phil Zuckerman at Pitzer College19 January 2017
A Christian student attends a university and is confronted with very aggressive, seemingly knowledgeable professors challenging the tenets of Christianity they have embrace during their young life. What happens? Statistically, approximately 75 percent or more stop attending church in their new environment, and many never return.
The Pew Research Center often quoted 2014 study, “America’s Changing Religious Landscape,” states that, “The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of the U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing.” Sounds grim. Atheists and agnostics have repeatedly told us there are 55 – 70MM “nones” in America. Is it true? In 1950, only two percent of adult Americans were “nones.”
Pew again, “Between 2007 and 2014, the Christian share of the population fell from 78.4 percent to 70.6 percent.” Yet, their data indicates the religiously detached “unaffiliated” phenomenon was driven among “mainline Protestants and Catholics.” In contrast, evangelicals have lost less than 1 percent of their market share holding steady at about 1 in 4 Americans (25.4 percent).
Pitzer College is one of the Claremont Colleges in California. The college has a curricular emphasis on the social sciences, behavioral sciences, international programs, and media studies. Cristie and I filmed with renowned scholar, Stephen T. Davis, PhD, the Russell K. Pitzer Professor of Philosophy, at Claremont McKenna College, who is a solid believer in Jesus Christ.
His impressive colleague, Phil Zuckerman, PhD, at Pitzer College, is an atheist, and filmed with us as well. Maybe you watched him as he interpreted religion @chelseahandler on Netflix. He is articulate and very sharp. How would the average “Christian” university student respond to Phil’s remarks?
“So basically, secularization is what we call the process whereby religion weakens or just appears in a society over time. Now there have been many theories to explain how this might happen and some of those are sort of general universal theories of secularism saying, you know, no matter what society we’re in, no matter what country, if X happens the result is going to be a weakening of religion. And these are kind of, you know, universal theories.
“So the big universal theories are — well, as populations get more educated, strong religious belief tends to go down. As societies becomes more technologically advanced, religiosity tends to weaken a little bit. The biggest theory that I have the most data, is what they call the existential security theory which is basically that when people in a society are existentially secure meaning they have, you know, food, shelter, a relatively stable government, access to medicine and healthcare and life is essentially more or less secure, barring you know some extreme. Those societies tend to have religiosity go down. Societies that are more racked with more precarious situations — life is nasty, brief and short, housing is scarce, jobs are scarce, health and medicine are scarce, there’s political instability, a lot of war, corrupt governments — those societies tend to have higher levels of religiosity, and tend is the operative word here. It’s not an absolute. We work in tendencies, correlations and averages in social science. So on average, societies that are most secure — where people have the best housing, healthcare, job situation, stable governments, democracies — they tend to be more and more secular, religion tends to weaken there. And in societies that are racked with more social problems and life is more precarious for your average person, religion tends to be strong there. So that’s the bigger, larger picture.”
It is time for believers to learn how to ‘critically think.’ Cristie and myself are working on multiple, digital, informative tools to help them do just that.