On my post “The Nones are Causing the White Evangelical Aging Crisis” I wrote:
I guess they [younger people] are leaving [evangelical churches] more because of politics than theology, while the older folk are leaving due to theology. Why do I think this? Because the political differences between white evangelicals and former white evangelicals are wider among people who left religion than people who switched congregations.
A new research paper by Paul A. Djupe, Jacob R. Neiheisel, and Kimberly H. Conger shows that in states with anti-gay rights policies, the nones increased more rapidly. Abstract below
Hout and Fischer have made the repeated, controversial claim that the dramatic rise of “religious nones” in the United States is due to the prominence of the politics of the Christian Right. As the argument goes, the movement’s extreme stands on gay rights and abortion make religion inhospitable to those who take more moderate and liberal positions. We take another look at this proposition with novel data drawing on expert reports and interest group counts that capture the prominence of the movement in each American state from 2000 to 2010. We attach these data to decennial religious census data on the unchurched, as well as estimates of the nones from Cooperative Congressional Election Study data. At stake is whether religion is independent of political influence and whether American religion is sowing its own fate by failing to limit taking extreme stands. Rising none rates are more common in Republican states in this period. Moreover, when the Christian Right comes into more public conflict, such as over same-sex marriage bans, the rate of religious nones climbs.
This paper is very useful for understanding how politics affects religious identification. Alas, it doesn’t answer (and it wasn’t its goal to do so) the larger question about the religious beliefs of people who move toward no-identification. I think people, particularly young people, who become nonreligious and come from a conservative Christian background leave religion because of doubts about the veracity of religious beliefs than political matters. Otherwise they would join or start to identify with a more liberal Christian tradition.