But there is a dynamic in the modern media that too often gets the story wrong. Sometimes it starts with a hunch, which a journalist seeks evidence to support and an editor turns into a headline, and sometimes it starts with academics themselves, running with an idea that gets more attention than it should. There is an enormous amount of misinformation out there about American religion, and this is unfortunate, especially because it misleads the public and our policymakers, but also because there is usually good solid evidence that should be brought to light.
The particular falsehoods I am going to talk about today are ones I happen to believe are especially misleading. They have been recounted again and again in the media, and yet they are easily refuted.
Myth #1: America is in the midst of a religious and spiritual awakening.
Myth #2: There is no secularization.
Myth #3: Politics is driving people from the church.
Myth #4: Membership in evangelical denominations is growing.
Myth #5: The culture war is over—or never happened.
As always, there are different ways of defining terms and assessing data. But there is no reason why we should be content with simplistic arguments about American religion. It is, after all, a complex phenomenon, and even describing the broad contours requires being careful about notions that seem plausible but are not supported by the available research.
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