Finally, for Americans of any religious affiliation or none at all, the decline of Christianity will make political communication more difficult. For centuries the Christian faith has indelibly shaped the English vocabulary — it is no exaggeration to say the King James Bible specifically is unparalleled in its cultural influence. That’s especially so with politics, which beside religion is the most common context in which we discuss the world as it is and as it should be.
The ways of thinking and turns of phrase that Christendom once made normative in America will become newly strange as Christianity declines. Those of us who remain religious will have to thoroughly rethink our assumptions about other Americans’ frames of reference. I am regularly reminded of this by revealing expressions of religious ignorance by my fellow journalists, the archetypal example of which is an Associated Press headline which announced, after the famous cathedral burned, that “Tourist mecca Notre Dame [is] also revered as [a] place of worship.” (For the AP writers, if no one else, “mecca” is a metaphor from Islam, and Notre Dame was a place of worship for centuries before the concept of tourism emerged. I read this headline to religious friends to peals of rueful laughter.)
Perhaps, whether you are among the nones or not, you think moving toward a more secular shared vocabulary is a good thing. But even if you’re right, the transition will be no less challenging. In an era of social fracture, loss of common language patterns can only exacerbate our disintegration. We have always talked against each other in politics; now we are talking past each other, too. As the decline of Christianity in the United States “continues at a rapid pace,” it will influence every level of our fractious project of self-governance, down to our very words.