They say that if you want to know the truth, follow the money. Despite several polls confirming that atheism is on the rise while religious belief as well as religious fundamentalism are on the decline, religious leaders would have us believe that everything is peachy keen.
However, the money is telling a different story.
Americans donated $316 billion to charitable causes in 2012, a 3.5% increase from 2011, a new report by the Giving USA Foundation found. But while charitable donations to education increased 7% to $41 billion, religious donations dropped slightly (by 0.2%) to $101.54 billion. “Americans continue to be the most generous people in the world, despite discretionary income percentages nearing all-time lows,” says Eileen Heisman, CEO of the National Philanthropic Trust. But donors are writing the checks to different recipients.
That’s not to say that donations to religious institutions have dried up. In fact, they accounted for 32% of all charitable donations. But that’s down from around 38% a decade ago, according to Giving USA. And Heisman expects that number to continue to fall. “I don’t think it will plummet to zero,” she says. “At some point, it will level out; the question is when.” But there’s reason to think the next generation may be even less generous to religious institutions. One-in-three people under 30 had no religious affiliation versus just one-in-10 of those 65 and over, a 2012 Pew Research Center report found. Among all U.S. adults, 20% report having no religious affiliation, up from 15% in 2007.
“People don’t belong to religious institutions like they once did,” Heisman says. “The idea that the place of worship was the center of your social existence is no longer as strong as it once was.” More than 13 million people — nearly 6% of the U.S. public — identify as atheists or agnostics, and 33 million say they have no particular religious affiliation, Pew found. Instead or donating to religious institutions, they’re giving more to secular organizations like those that support the arts (up 7.8%), animals and the environment (up 6.8%) and, of course, education.
If you’re trying to determine who’s telling the truth about public opinion between all-powerful god and the almighty dollar, the dollar’s got the track record you want. Religion is on the decline, and in the upcoming generations it’s on the decline faster than ever before.