Near-record high say religion is losing influence in U.S.

The church of my youth, Trinity Lutheran, St. Louis

I had a chance to return to my hometown, St. Louis, last month.While I was there, I took time to visit with Glynn Young, who writes one of my favorite blogs, Faith, Fiction, Friends.

Glynn and I have known each other for years, but not well. In recent years, through his blog, I’ve learned that we both have a strong interest in religion, and I was eager to see whether we might deepen our friendship. I think we’re off to a good start.

Glynn talks about his faith more easily than I do, and I admire that. I learned that, as children, we both were raised in The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. I’ve remained a lifelong Lutheran; Glynn has tried other flavors of Christianity over the years and has learned to be more open in discussing his faith in Christ. I’m working on it. The statistics show that on average, Lutherans invite someone to church once every 26 years, so at least I come by my shyness honestly.

During our visit, we agreed that Christianity is undergoing a major upheaval, and we’re not entirely sure where it’s headed. The obvious trend is that Christians are becoming as divided as Americans on the major issues of the day – abortion, stem cell research, homosexuality, the size of government and on and on. Sadly, as we divide, we seem to demonize one another so much that it’s hard to tell we belong to the One who tells us not to do that.

What brought all this to mind is a recent survey from Gallup. The survey indicates that seven in 10 Americans believe religion is losing its influence in American life. This is one of the highest percentages since 1970, when 75 percent of America said religion was losing influence. Keep in mind that these were the days of Vietnam, Woodstock and racial upheaval.

Self-reported membership in a church or synagogue has fallen over the years as well, from a high of 76 percent in 1947 to 61 percent today. It’s common today to hear people say they are spiritual but not religious, which usually means they’re not involved with a community of faith. I think they’re missing out on the strength, comfort and personal growth a church or synagogue can offer, but my view seems to be fading fast.

So, where are you on this issue? Do you think religion is fading in influence in America, and how is it faring with you?

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12 Responses to Near-record high say religion is losing influence in U.S.

  1. Glynn says:

    Pete – I have to say that my current church – a Reformed Presbyterian – seems a lot like the church of my youth. Although the beautiful stone church is a lot prettier than the A-frame church building of my childhood.

    Like a lot of other parts of American society, religion seems to be fracturing. We’ve stopped trying to talk with each other and just scream and yell past each other. Our civil society is becoming increasingly uncivil. And some would say that one of the causes is the decline of religion. I don’t think we fully understand the influence that religion can have in being some of society’s “glue.”

    I enjoyed our talk, too, and look forward to more.

    • Peter Faur says:

      Glynn, thanks for your comments. As always, I think we’ll do best if we yield to the guidance of the Spirit in trying to get this one solved. That will require that we stop yelling and be quiet long enough to listen! Have a great new year. I hope to see you next time I’m home.

    • nance.marie says:

      You bring up how people have stopped trying to talk with each other and scream and yell past each other, as well as our civil society becoming uncivil. As i read a post this morning by billy coffey
      it got me thinking about the words we use…how we use them…what kind of relationship we use them in…and what media we use to say them.

      If someone is doing more relating with people by phone or email than they used to, it is easier to be less caring because that person does not have to encounter the other face to face.

      Communication comes to us by radio, television, computer wwweb, text, phone and messages in which we do not have any real person reference mentally keeping us at a face-to-face personal interaction. I think that the quickness and the lack of personal physical interaction has led generations now and to come in a place where we get input from television and advertisements in how we are to relate, and have not learned the how to or the basics of civil interpersonal communication. I am old enough to remember the importance of community and being civil. But when I started blogging, I had to learn this all over again. I had to realize that I was not doing anyone any good by pointing fingers, or shouting my opinion. I have actually learned how to better talk about my beliefs, by having friends, in the blog world, that are kind, listen and comment on their faith in Jesus as well.

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  3. Brian says:

    Religion lost me more than two decades ago….and I’m 35. What turned me off then and continues today is sanctimony. My disdain for religion, but not the religious, is furthered by systemic concealment of child abuse. By condoning intolerance of Muslims and other non-Christian faiths. By politicizing theological issues. By generating profit (lecture circuits, books, tapes, news letters, etc) under the guise of a non-profit entity.

    To me, religion is losing influence because it has lost direction. It forgot why people are drawn to it in the first place. It has replaced community with membership, universal salvation with sanctimony, spiritual guidance with political ambition, and charity with profitability.

    Can you really attain comfort and personal growth from your balcony seat in a stadium of 5,000 churchgoers watching the minister on a thirty foot screen enhanced by special effects and a live band of professional musicians?

    It’s one thing to speak to the people in your flock. It’s quite another to speak to a flock of people.

    • Peter Faur says:

      Brian, thanks for your comments. I belong to a fairly large congregation – about 3,500 – and as you know, I’ve had my issues with it lately. The one thing I’d say is that my support and growth don’t come so much from what happens while I sit in the pew but rather from classes that are offered and from a small group of friends within the congregation who get together regularly.

      There’s plenty to criticize in the institutions of religion, and some of the actions, such as the cover-ups in the Catholic church, are appalling. All denominations, and all congregations, will fall short of the ideals Christ gave us. But over the course of time, it seems to me that, collectively, they’ve carried the ball forward more than they’ve fumbled. They get into trouble most often when they think they’ve reached the end zone and have nothing more to do.

      It’ll be interesting to see what happens with Christianity over the next 20 to 30 years (which is as long as I think I’ll be able to watch!). It’s not going away, I’m sure, so I hope it’s morphing into something that does a better job of bringing support and hope to more people in more places.

  4. Hi Pete!

    (I’m the former Cindy Rossman — got married!) I happened to see your article in a LinkedIn update and read out of curiosity. Loved reading your perspective on this.

    I too have Christian roots (non-denominational) and while I continue to have a strong faith in the fundamental teaching of Christianity, I find myself becoming far more comfortable thinking of myself as spiritual (one of the reasons being mentioned in your article). I have a great article on the differences of religion vs. spirituality, and if you’re interested in seeing it, let me know.

    Hope all continues to be well with you.


    • Peter Faur says:

      Hi, Cindy, it’s great to hear from you, and wonderful that you’ve taken this new step in your life! Please send the article along. I hope you have a great year. Are you still in Arizona? Pete

  5. Pam Baggett says:

    Well, from my viewpoint, I see no problem with the stats and fervently hope they are accurate.
    In my experience, too many ‘religious’ people use their religion as an excuse for promoting their financial interests, not to promote programs to help our fellow travelers. They want to force me to say things I don’t believe in the Pledge of Allegiance (added in about 1952, not original to the pledge), they want to deny birth control, prenatal care, and a child’s lifetime of health care. I have seen congregations more interested in building a church bigger than the one down the street than they are interested in helping people in their own community. Oh, they’re happy to go on “missions” to Costa Rica, but volunteer or give $$ to indigent people in their own community, not so much. “We always give out blankets” is the response I got when I confronted a friend who was leading a fund-raising campaign to build a bigger church.
    Too many people believe that all they have to do is claim they have faith. But they don’t follow through with deeds. This was an interesting debate point between born-again Bush and Catholic Kerry. Kerry did not jump on this basic tenet of the Catholic faith. Religion in name only.
    Too many people oppose health care reform despite the millions without insurance, people who work hard but for companies that do not offer health insurance. Oh, I could go on and on. Religion, to me, is just another word for hypocrisy. Now I’ll go pour the Crown Royal.

    • Peter Faur says:

      Thanks, Pam. Once in a while, the church, or at least a few believing types, get it right – William Wilberforce, Martin Luther King Jr., and Lech Walesa come to mind.

      There are many things wrong with established religion, more than you or I can catalog here! I still think, though, that over time, good wins out (even in churches), and I see that as God pushing and cajoling people to get their heads on straight about mercy and justice. We don’t hear many voices like King’s these days, I admit, but when they emerge, they are game-changing. I still think the church will be a breeding ground to raise up others like his over time.

      One thing is sure, I think, and that is that the church in some form isn’t going away. Because of that, it needs people of all voices to step up and help shape its direction and set its path. I want to see it on a path of service, not a power trip. That’s why, in some small way, I’ll continue to be involved.

    • Kiki says:

      great comment. there is no good deed that can’t be done through secular means. there is no purpose for religion or the church. it’s a social network that provides plenty of benefits for the “in” crowd, but little for the outsiders.

  6. Kiki says:

    I’m relieved to hear that religion is losing its influence…god-based religions are poisonous and oppressive, and they are based upon false claims and mythology. No modern society that is interested in promoting the well being of its citizens should seriously regard this type of nonsense.

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