Are we becoming less religious?

Are we now less religious?

First, look at this chart (it’s from here):

The ties between wealth and religion

In general, then, richer nations — UK, Germany, Japan, Australia — tend to be less religious, but the U.S. actually seems to be far more religious than other nations among its wealth-generating peers.

Now consider this, from 2013 on NPR. It’s an interview about the rise of the “nones,” meaning people with no real religious affiliation as they become heads of households, captains of industry, all that:

“It begins to jump at around 1990,” he says. “These were the kids who were coming of age in the America of the culture wars, in the America in which religion publicly became associated with a particular brand of politics, and so I think the single most important reason for the rise of the unknowns is that combination of the younger people moving to the left on social issues and the most visible religious leaders moving to the right on that same issue.”

So if you take the chart and the quote (which is from a Harvard professor) together, you come to this picture:

  • Kids started growing up in a world where religion was becoming a political weapon.
  • As such, they kinda threw up an “Eh…” to religion, much like they’d tune out a brand that always advertises.

There’s a potential second tier (third tier?) which is backed up by this Harris study from 2013: Americans might just believe less. Belief in miracles, heaven, Christ as a concept, and other core religious pillars have dropped in recent years and across new generations of the population.

Here’s how Psychology Today explains it: 

Of course, as modernity has emerged in the last few hundred years, many have predicted the downfall of Christianity, only to see it endure. As a meme(link is external), Christianity has certainly shown impressive survival value. Just as importantly, however, the numerous memes of modernity—especially science, but others as well—show no sign of diminishing either. As communications become easier, information spreads, and modern values become embedded, more are moving away from doctrines proclaimed by ancient men. It is the strength of modernity that best explains the growth of the Nones and decline in Christian numbers.

The two answers we have right now, thus, are “politics” and “modernity.” Those are pretty big concepts, and we may have a “reification” error here — taking a tangible concept (numbers are dropping) and trying to assign it to a broader societal element (“modernity”).

Obviously every case is different, as in, every individual and family who attends church less, worships less, prays less, believes less … those come from different places and different backgrounds.

In my own life, I tend to agree with the modernity argument. I think I have faith and believe in a lot of things, but I think the notion of “going to church every week” and “checking all the various boxes for your specific religion” is a little out-dated in some respects. I converted to Catholicism in March 2013 (to get married, essentially); since then, I’ve probably been to Mass about 10 times, if that. It’s not that I don’t see the value (sorry for the double negative); it’s just that I tend to view religion and faith and beliefs as an individual journey in many ways, and that doesn’t necessarily mean sitting around with 500 others standing and sitting at the right times. I could be naive, though.

I also don’t think my parents were particularly religious, give or take, and that might explain a lot. Then again, my wife’s parents are pretty religious and I’d say she’s somewhat turned away from it too (not in any kind of evil or spiteful way), so, like I said, it’s an entirely personal journey for each person and each family.

What do you think: are we getting less religious? And do you have a personal story about it?


Ted Bauer

One Comment

  1. I believe religion is in deed the opiate of the masses. Just another way to control people.

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