God and religion are slowly dying in America, according to a new Pew Research Center study released on Tuesday. The study, which questioned 35,000 people from June 4 through September 30 of 2014, found that more Americans identify as nonreligious. Of those Americans who have no religious affiliation, more consider themselves atheist or agnostic than in previous years.
Between 2007 and 2014, those who described themselves as having no singular religious faith, as Atheist or as Agnostic increased from 16 percent to 23 percent. Of the 23 percent of “nones,” as the study dubs them, 31 percent identified as atheist and agnostic – an increase since 2007 when the percentage was 25.
The study does not necessarily show that God is dying in America, but if one looks at the numbers more closely, an increase among young adults (18-35) who identify as atheist and agnostic is noted. Even as those young adults aged, they still did not become believers. What this shows is that this is a trend, and with these young adults having children and being less likely to pass a faith in God to their offspring, it is unlikely that the country will see an increase in believers.
Is the death of God and religion a good thing for the United States? Some will say it is. Many in the nation have fears of Christianity or the religious right turning the country into a theocracy. With the “nones” becoming the second largest voting block, those fears can perhaps be alleviated somewhat. Still,even though Christianity, for what could be the first time in American history, is declining, it still remains the dominant religious group in America.
The impact of an America without God or religion will be felt in more than the pews in houses of worship; it could have an impact on politics and society in general. Studies show that the more people attend church, the more likely they are to vote Republican. If the decline in belief continues, the Republican Party could find itself in trouble when attracting young voters. The further right the party shifts, and the more it embraces the religious right, the more voters will be lost, which may in fact be having an impact on religions in America. As more people embrace same-sex marriages, religious institutions and faiths who do not share that acceptance find themselves at odds with an increasing amount of society. The stance taken on same-sex marriage by the Christian faith has, according to some, driven them from the church, and even made them angry. How do churches address this growing disconnect?
Some believe the best way to attract more followers is to change the message, but others say that relaxing of church rules is the problem, and that the watering-down of dogma is what is turning people away. The president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, Russell Moore, thinks the movement away from organized religion could be a good thing; a new beginning for churches and people of faith. He believes it will free churches from its “American civic religion captivity” and allow them to be real churches again, and no longer house “pretend Christians.” Changing dogma to attract members, he believes, is dangerous for the soul and for churches.
The dean of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C, the Very Rev. Gary Hall, believes that violence in the name of religion has turned many people off, and that the survey shows that people who do consider themselves religious still find praying, social work, and improving their communities important, but that they are not finding church to be the place to do these things. He thinks that churches need to know their communities better, have a deeper understanding of who is attending their churches, and return to their core Christian values.
Perhaps the biggest lesson to be learned from this survey, and one that atheists and liberal Christians can agree on, is that most people want religion out of politics. Books like the Koran and Bible have no place in our legal system, and the harder people try to make those books part of determining laws, the further it drives people away from religion.
God is slowly dying in America. Science, politics and the fact that identifying as secular is no longer taboo as it was in previous generations, may all be contributing factors to His/Her death. For those who are faithful and identify with a particular religion, the question may be how to prevent God’s death completely. For atheists, it could be a welcome sign of things to come. With 70 percent of those who took the survey still identifying as Christian, it will be a few more years before we see the true consequences of an America without God or religion.
Opinion by Jessica Hamel
limaohio.com: Study: U.S. Notably Less Christian
NPR: Losing Faith: A Religious Leader on America’s Disillusionment With Church
Top Photo Courtesy of Lawrence OP’s Flickr Page- Creative Commons License
Side Photo Courtesy of Emily Bennett 1979’s Flickr Page- Creative commons License