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This Week in God, 7.16.16

For years, Catholics, white mainline Protestants, and white evangelical Protestants were the nation's biggest voting blocs by faith. Not anymore.
The sun rises behind the steeple of a church, Aug. 23, 2015, in Plains, Ga. (Photo by David Goldman/AP)
The sun rises behind the steeple of a church, Aug. 23, 2015, in Plains, Ga.
First up from the God Machine this week is an interesting new report from the Pew Research Center on Americans' religio-political attitudes, and the Washington Post's notable catch in the results.

More American voters than ever say they are not religious, making the religiously unaffiliated the nation's biggest voting bloc by faith for the first time in a presidential election year. This marks a dramatic shift from just eight years ago, when the non-religious were roundly outnumbered by Catholics, white mainline Protestants and white evangelical Protestants. These numbers come from a new Pew Research Center survey, which finds that "religious 'nones,' who have been growing rapidly as a share of the U.S. population, now constitute one-fifth of all registered voters and more than a quarter of Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters." That represents a 50 percent increase in the proportion of non-religious voters compared with eight years ago, when they made up just 14 percent of the overall electorate.

For the purposes of the research, "nones" was used to describe religiously unaffiliated voters who consider themselves atheists, agnostics, or "nothing in particular." Pew found this constituency is now up to one-in-five Americans -- up from about 14% in 2008.
Greg Smith, the survey's lead researcher, told the Post, "In 2008, religious 'nones' were outnumbered or at parity with white mainline Protestants and white Catholics. Today, 'nones' outnumber both of those groups."
That's a striking societal shift, but in recent elections, there's evidence that suggests these secular voters, for whatever reason, tend not to vote as much. This is a growing constituency, but to gain influence, secularists are going to have to start showing up to participate in elections in greater numbers.
That said, if they do, it will likely benefit Democrats over Republicans. Pew's report found that in a Hillary Clinton-Donald Trump election, "nones" prefer the former Secretary of State by a two-to-margin -- the same proportion these voters preferred President Obama over Mitt Romney four years ago.
It's a reminder about the demographic challenges facing the contemporary GOP. As the nation becomes more racially and ethnically diverse, it creates new difficulties for the Republican Party that's overwhelmingly white, but the same is true for religion: if a growing number of Americans are secular, that's yet another advantage Democrats will have going forward over their rivals.
Also from the God Machine this week:
* A worthwhile awareness campaign: "This weekend, black Christian leaders around the country will be using their Sunday sermons to address a topic many consider to be a 'stigma' in African-American communities: HIV and AIDS. Ahead of its annual convention, the NAACP has enlisted more than 100 pastors to preach about HIV's disparate impact on black Americans for a 'Day of Unity' -- hoping to raise awareness among some of those most affected by the disease."
* Former Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), an adviser to Donald Trump on religious issues, said this week that she and Trump would welcome the day when Jewish people said "Merry Christmas" more regularly. I don't think she was kidding.
* On a related note, Robert Jeffress, a prominent Southern Baptist pastor, said this week he's supporting Trump because it's "biblical" to support a "strongman" in government.
* A mosque in Palm Beach, Florida, was designated as a polling location for local voters, but not anymore. Elections officials, responding to widespread complaints, agreed this week to drop the house of worship from its list of places people can vote.
* And in South Carolina, another megachurch leader appears to have fallen on hard times: "Perry Noble, founder and senior pastor of NewSpring Church in Anderson, South Carolina, has been fired after 16 years. Elders of the Baptist megachurch cited alcohol abuse and the pastor's 'posture toward his marriage' as concerning."