In a recent article for Reason, Ronald Bailey asks, “Is the Fourth Great Awakening finally coming to a close?” He writes:
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.”
I disagree with various aspects of Bailey’s analysis. For instance, by pitting religious “moralism” against “tolerance,” Bailey falls into the common stereotype of secularists as relativists and subjectivists.
While the information Bailey reviews in the quoted material is very interesting, various Objectivists rightly point out that the real battle is not between secularism and religion; it is between reason and unreason. If the younger generations are turning away from organized Christianity in favor of new-age mysticism and environmentalism that attributes to untouched nature intrinsic moral value, that’s hardly an improvement. Indeed, Bailey recognizes that “the Fourth Great Awakening might simply be taking a left turn.” If, as a society, we swap Christian fervor for crackpot mysticism and socialism, we are merely setting ourselves up for social decay and eventual dictatorship.
Nevertheless, there are some signs of renewed interest in a pro-human, pro-reason philosophy; to take but one example, sales of Ayn Rand’s books “recently reached the mark of 25 million copies.”