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New Poll: The Role of Religion in American Life Is Fading

Half of those surveyed think it's a bad thing.

The role of religion in American life is shrinking. At least that’s what people think, according to a new study by Pew Research Center. A whopping 80% – the highest number ever recorded by the organization – believe the influence of religion is waning in the US, and they are not happy about it one bit.

Pew has been tracking the changes in the perception of American religion since 2002, when 52% of those surveyed said religion’s influence appeared to be declining. Despite their negative outlook, 57% say that the influence of faith and religion is a positive thing in America. Survey analysts put it this way: “Overall, there are widespread signs of unease with religion’s trajectory in American life.”

Religion and the Political Divide

Religious and nonreligious Americans alike say they feel their beliefs “put them at odds with mainstream culture, with the people around them and with the other side of the political spectrum.” These people, in particular, take aim at Christianity and are wary of Christians exerting too much influence in public schools and government. However, turnabout is fair play, and 63% of believers say the same thing about secular liberals. Another 64% want their president to stand up for religious Americans.

Regarding the party divide, more Republicans than Democrats want religious belief to influence American public life, though neither party’s prospective nominee scored high on the spiritual scale. But here’s the kicker, according to Pew: “Almost all Americans (94%) say it is ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ important to have a president who personally lives a moral and ethical life.”

While 50% of Republicans surveyed said former president Donald Trump was either very religious (8%) or somewhat religious (44%), they still believe he would lobby on behalf of those with faith. Democrats had a similar view of Joe Biden.

Unsurprisingly, conservative Christians were seen in a negative light by almost three-quarters of Democratic and religiously unaffiliated respondents. However, Americans were almost evenly split in response to questions about the Bible:

“The survey finds that about half of Americans (49%) say the Bible should have ‘a great deal’ of or ‘some’ influence on U.S. laws, while another half (51%) say it should have ‘not much’ or ‘no influence.’ And 28% of U.S. adults say the Bible should have more influence than the will of the people if the two conflict. These numbers have remained virtually unchanged over the past four years.”

One might conclude there is a cognitive dissonance in the American public. They voice criticism for those with a religious bent but, at the same time, support morality and high ethical standards as if these characteristics bore no relationship to a faith-filled life. Half of them think the Bible should have at least some influence on laws in the US but then claim Christians have too much influence in public life. Bottom line: It appears Americans think religion is diminishing in the US, but that’s okay so long as this faithful remnant doesn’t exert too much influence in the public square.

Read More From Leesa K. Donner

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