America’s religious landscape has been experiencing a significant shift over the past few decades and a recent study reveals some interesting findings regarding attitudes toward organized religion and belief in a higher power. We have already seen surveys over the years showing church attendance has dropped precipitously. But a Deseret News and Marist poll showed that faith in God has not experienced as much of a downturn as one might expect.
The percentage of Americans who pray on a routine basis remains high, as is the number of those who believe in a higher power, specifically, the biblical Creator. “Nearly 7 in 10 U.S. adults think the country would be better off if Americans prayed for each other,” according to the study.
Researchers also found that while the share of Americans who proclaim faith in the God of the Bible has dropped, they still represent the majority at 54%. Also noteworthy is the finding that while 15% said they do not believe in God, they do subscribe to the idea of “higher power or spiritual force.”
The results of the study indicate that religious belief is not as much in decline as it is in flux. It seems to be evolving as more people eschew church attendance and involvement in faith-based communities. A Gallup poll conducted in 2020 found that for the first time in the 80 years it has given this survey, church membership dropped below 50%. “In 2020, 47% of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque, down from 50% in 2018 and 70% in 1999,” according to the polling company.
Daniel Cox, the director of the Survey Center on American Life and a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said, “[w]e’ve gotten used to the ability to pick and choose what pieces of things we like. With our online dating profiles and social media profiles, we pick which people to engage with and what information or materials we want to see.”
Younger Americans are less likely to become part of a church community despite respecting religious traditions. Michael Conte, a Maris poll research analyst who worked on the study with Deseret News, indicated that the “younger you are, the less likely you are to believe in God.”
Nevertheless, the poll’s findings suggest that Americans see the value of religious practice and traditions and even community involvement, but they are just not inclined to practice these tenets. Not surprisingly, black Americans still ranked high in terms of religious activity. Researchers found:
“On the flip side, Black Americans stand out for their high levels of religious commitment. Nearly half of Blacks say they attend church at least weekly and two-thirds pray every day. Three-quarters of Black Americans believe in God as described in the Bible, compared to just half of whites and Latinos, according to the new poll.”
However, despite the high numbers, Cox pointed out that even these figures are a drop from where blacks stood in the past. “We are seeing increasing disaffiliation across the board,” he said.
The study also seems to suggest that this religious shift is “part of a broader transformation taking place in American culture.” Cox explained that people are “less civically minded than they used to be” which means that they “prioritize individual pursuits over community ties.” He noted that parents are spending more time with their children in 2022, but families are less likely to show up at neighborhood events or eat dinner together.
The data is revelatory, but it raises one glaring question: Why don’t Americans value church attendance as they used to? We will address this matter in part 2 of this series.
~ Read more from Jeff Charles.