According to a new study released today by San Diego State University in the journal Sage Open, fewer Americans are praying now than at any time in the country’s history, and that Americans are increasingly ditching their belief in God.
The team of researchers from SDSU, Florida Atlantic University, and Case Western Reserve University analyzed data from 58,893 respondents to the General Social Survey, a nationally representative survey of U.S. adults administered between 1972 and 2014.
Five times as many Americans in 2014 reported that they never prayed compared to the early 1980s, and nearly twice as many said they did not believe in God.
This could explain why political attempts to bring up Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders seeming lack of religious faith have done little to no damage to his campaign. The largest decline in prayer and belief in God came from those aged 18 – 29, which also happens to be right in the Sanders demographic. Hillary Clinton supporters are demographically older and would likely see a benefit in a religious candidate who admits to relying on prayer.
It is already known through previous studies that the number of Americans who identify with a particular religion is quickly falling and that religious “nones” are the fastest growing minority population.
“Most previous studies concluded that fewer Americans were publicly affiliating with a religion, but that Americans were just as religious in private ways. That’s no longer the case, especially in the last few years,” said San Diego State University psychology professor Jean M. Twenge. “The large declines in religious practice among young adults are also further evidence that Millennials are the least religious generation in memory, and possibly in American history.”
The argument has been made that though Americans are becoming less religiously affiliated, they are becoming increasingly spiritual. But according to Twenge, this is not the case. She said that studies have not found that spirituality is on the rise around the country. Rather than becoming more spiritual, she says, this implies that Americans are becoming more secular.
The one strange data point her team found was a slight increase in belief in the afterlife, something Twenge seems to blame on an entitlement mentality.
“It was interesting that fewer people participated in religion or prayed, but more believed in an afterlife,” Twenge said. “It might be part of a growing entitlement mentality – thinking you can get something for nothing.”
Why this belief hasn’t fallen out of favor is a mystery, but it would be unlikely to have anything to do with entitlement as Twenge implies, and more likely have to do with the comfort such a belief provides. Many belief systems, even some without a deity, offer some version of an afterlife to comfort its followers. The fact many people hold onto some form of this belief in not overly shocking and would likely fall as the other beliefs have over a slightly longer period of time.
Regardless of the puzzling belief in the afterlife, it is clear that America is becoming less religious and is on the fast track to religious belief becoming on-par with other groups and even a minority group itself. The less grip religion has on American politics and American life, the better. Religious belief should be a personally held belief, and no secular law should or will ever take that away.