Confidence in Organized Religion at an All-Time Low, Says Gallup

How much confidence do you have in the church/organized religion?

That’s the question Gallup recently asked people. Then they grouped together the people who had a “Great Deal” or “Quite a Lot” of confidence in the church. Even combined, the resulting trend has a beautiful downward slope:

In 1973, “the church or organized religion” was the most highly rated institution in Gallup’s confidence in institutions measure, and it continued to rank first in most years through 1985, outranking the military and the U.S. Supreme Court, among others. That began to change in the mid- to late 1980s as confidence in organized religion first fell below 60%, possibly resulting from scandals during that time involving famed televangelist preachers Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart. Confidence in religion returned to 60% in 2001, only to be rocked the following year by charges of child molestation by Catholic priests and cover-up by some in the church.

This is why we have to keep pointing out what the church gets wrong. When it comes to issues of homosexuality, the American public is becoming more progressive while churches lag far behind. When it comes to women’s rights, the church isn’t even close to catching up with popular sentiment. And every time we expose religious hypocrisy, every time a church pushes Creationism, every time Christian Scientists choose prayer over actual medicine, people lose confidence in organized religion’s ability to get people practicing what they preach and following the evidence where it leads.

Gallup points out that, despite the downward trend, most Americans still believe religion plays an important role in their lives… but even those numbers have been in decline for decades.

So keep pressing on and pushing back, atheists. It’s working.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://leavingfundamentalism.wordpress.com/ Jonny Scaramanga

    Most of the time, I feel like I’m wasting my breath when I point out flaws in fundamentalism. But then I remember that I was able to think my way out because other people pointed out those flaws to me. So, just occasionally, you can get through to a fundy.

  • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    I agree that the steady decline is closely related to the ability of most religious structures in the U.S. to keep up with changing social trends. But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the decline coincides with the rise of the Moral Majority and the blatant involvement of religion with politics and politicians.

    I’m interested in the extremely noisy nature of the data. I think most surveys that track social issues over decades are smoother. Here we have 10-15% shifts on an annual scale. That makes me a little skeptical of the methodology- perhaps the numbers represent individual events that occurred in those years more than any true significant shift (although there is certainly a slight decline apparent in the data.

    • 3lemenope

      Especially folks under thirty have said when surveyed that the intermingling of religion and politics has turned them off in droves, so it’s not a bad hypothesis. I think most of the rest of it is self-inflicted wounds, like the Catholic child abuse scandal. It’s certainly what all but killed the church in Ireland.

  • Randomfactor

    Wow, wonder what happened in the fourth quarter of 2001 to cause the precipitous decline?

    Oh.  Right.

    • Sindigo

      I was about to ask the same question. But then I read your post…

      • https://twitter.com/#!/OffensivAtheist bismarket

         I’m still a little confused, we had both the Catholic abuse scandal begin around that time & 9-11, so i’m left wondering if some Americans did a little reflecting on Organised religion & came to the same conclusion that Atheists did?

        • Sindigo

          I was certainly thinking about 9/11. I would have though that it gave a lot of younger adults pause to think about religion.

  • ChatoyantHoochie
  • http://anonatheist.wordpress.com/ Mike Hunt

    Yay!

  • Lance Finney

    Before crowing too much about this, I’d be curious to see how confidence in other major institutions is holding up. My sense is that our society has been losing confidence in the White House, Congress, business, universities, medicine, science, etc. during the same time frame.

    This result might be less about religion than about a general erosion of trust in institutions.

  • smrnda

    Comparing this to other institutions, with the rise of the mix of religion/politics I’m not sure faith in government and faith in religious institutions would be truly independent.  A person with declining faith in organized religion might have less faith in government because of the influence of religion on politics.

    I’m not sure that declining trust in institutions is bad as I think skepticism at least encourages thought, but I’d like declining trust to be based in reality and not delusional conspiracy theories. I’m sure there are people who don’t trust the government because Obama is both an atheist, a secularist and a secret Muslim and a radical Marxist feminist all at the same time, but that type of mistrust isn’t the result of a health skepticism but high levels of gullibility in the institution of talk radio and Faux News. 


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X