Sam Smith – The decline of morality in America – typified these days by Trumpism – actually has a variety of sources including corporatism, the media and educational systems that teach success but increasingly ignore moral issues. The Ethics Sage lists some of the problems: “Mass shootings, racial hatred, social injustice, incivility, fraud, and White Supremacy are just a few of the examples of the moral decay in America. These extremes forms of behavior have occurred because of a decline in morality and ethical behavior.”
And religion is both a cause and a reflection of the problem with a decline in church membership from 70% of US adults in 1940 to 47% in 2020. And America is more religious than many countries. 54% here believe that religion is not necessary in order to be moral and have good values, but those numbers shoot up to 79% in the UK and 90% in Sweden. It may seem strange for a Seventh Day Agnostic such as myself to point this out, but, in fact, I am a nontheist, not an anti-theist, which is to say that while I don’t believe in God and many of the preachings of the Bible, I am quite comfortable with the moral intent of much of religion (with some exceptions such as the extremism of the evangelical movement).
During the 1960s I had a number of friends who were ministers and my lack of faith was never an issue. What we shared was the action we worked on. In these days when cultural identity is often more important than shared causes, this may seem strange, but it worked and is one reason why the 1960s got more things done than we find happening today.
I strongly suspect that theism is a major issue contributing to the decline of religion. God has a hard time making it in a high tech and heavily science oriented society. We are not living in the world of 300 years ago. And one of the side effects is that moral issues are no longer the main turf of religion, but are shared with everyone from Fox News to advertising in general.
It has lately occurred to me that religion could regain at least some of its ground if it changed its emphasis from God to the good. I went to a Quaker high school run by a Quaker Meeting and one thing that strikes me when I recall those days is that faith was not an issue; our actions were. Our meeting, for example, had come out against slavery in 1677. You were who you were – not because of your beliefs but because of what you did.
What if we had a non-theistic religion that concentrated on moral behavior rather than supernatural theories? You can already find pieces of this in Quakerism, Buddhism, and Unitarianism. It could be a religion that meets on Sundays and whose pulpit is used for the moral rather than the mystical, that quotes from purposeful books other than just the Bible, and joins in songs like “I’m gona live, live, live the life I sing about in my song. I’m gonna look for the right and shun the wrong.”
The purpose would not be to compete with traditional religions but to provide a better home for those no longer involved in them. Even God, if there really is one, might enjoy it.