How a Great American Victory Altered American Faith

US President Ronald Reagan, commemorating the 750th anniversary of Berlin, addresses on June 12, 1987 the people of West Berlin at the base of the Brandenburg Gate, near the Berlin wall. (Photo by Mike Sargent / AFP via Getty Images)

Last week I read a tweet that led me to a book I’m now devouring at record speed. The tweet was from my friend Skye Jethani, and it referred to a potential link between the end of the Cold War and the rise of America’s religious nones. I’ve been thinking about the continuing influence of the Cold War on American life for a very long time. Our nation spent generations defined by the struggle against Soviet communism, and that struggle (along with its rather abrupt end) was bound to have profound effects on our national life.

The book is called Nonverts: The Making of Ex-Christian America, by a British sociologist named Stephen Bullivant. It’s not just an important book, it’s the best-written and most readable work of religious sociology that I’ve read in a very long time. 

At the risk of over-simplification, Bullivant’s book attempts to explain the data contained in this chart, which maps the remarkable rise of religious “nones” in the United States:

The first thing you need to know about Bullivant’s work is that he recognizes the complexity of immense cultural trends. In Nonverts, he maps out and distinguishes between the different cultures of the different strands of American faiths. Ex-Evangelicals are not the same as ex-Mainline Christians, for example. Ex-Mormons are different in some ways from ex-Catholics. 

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