The recent flurry of news reports and blogs about Anne Rice's defection from Christianity has been fun, but most writers missed the story behind it. Anne Rice isn't just an oddity or an exception. She's not one of those rugged individualist authors (though she certainly is unique) trying to hack a new path through the jungles of religion.
No, the real story is how utterly common these defections are becoming.
According to a new LA Times story, defection from organized religion is becoming so frequent among young people that a high-profile case like Anne Rice is barely news any more. "Rice is merely one of millions of Americans who have opted out of organized religion in recent years," according to the Times.
The Times goes on to cite the now-famous 2008 Pew study that showed 1 in 6 people in America are not part of any specific religion, a number that jumps to 1 in 4 for young adults 20-30 years old. "American Christianity is not well, and there's evidence to indicate that its condition is more critical than most realize – or at least want to admit."
This is particularly bad news for religion, and Christianity in particular, because of the two-generation effect. Generally speaking, to make religion "stick" requires a strong indoctrination. Although these non-affiliated Americans still believe in God, most of their children will be agnostics at best, and more likely atheists.
People like Anne Rice are concrete evidence that we're well into the first generation of the two-generation loss-of-faith process. If 25% of young adults (the very population that has children) don't go to church, and thereby don't expose their children to the indoctrination that's necessary for religion to "stick," then in twenty years at least 25% of Americans will be atheist or agnostic. Add to that the normal attrition rate (people who go to college, for example, are far less likely to be religious), and it's possible that within forty years the majority of Americans won't be religious at all. Among the remaining half that is still religious, there will undoubtedly be yet another generation of those abandoning the organized churches.