By James A. Haught
Religion is fading more quickly in the United States than in any other nation, according to a forthcoming research book.
Religion’s Sudden Decline: What’s Causing It, and What Comes Next, by University of Michigan scholar Ronald Inglehart, is to be released in January by Oxford University Press. Writing in Foreign Affairs magazine (in an advance summary titled “Giving Up on God: The Global Decline of Religion”) Inglehart says:
The most dramatic shift away from religion has taken place among the American public. From 1981 to 2007, the United States ranked as one of the world’s more religious countries, with religiosity levels changing very little. Since then, the United States has shown the largest move away from religion of any country for which we have data.
A profound cultural transformation is in progress — mostly happening quietly out of sight, little-noticed in daily life. Old supernatural beliefs are vanishing among intelligent, educated, science-minded people, especially the young. Religion is shriveling into the realm of myth and fantasy. Here are some indicators:
Almost two-thirds of teens who grow up in a church drop out of religion in their 20s, according to both Barna and LifeWay surveys.
The number of Americans who say their religion is “none” began to explode in the 1990s — first to one-tenth of the population, then climbing relentlessly to one-fourth. Among those under 30, “Nones” are now more than one-third.
American church membership has fallen 20 percent in the past two decades, according to Gallup research. Southern Baptists have dropped 2 million members since 2005.
Tall-steeple Protestant “mainline” denominations have suffered the worst. United Methodists have declined in numbers from 11 million in 1969 to below 7 million today — while America’s population has almost doubled. Evangelical Lutherans have decreased from 5.3 million in 1987 to 3.4 million now. The Presbyterian Church USA had 3.2 million in 1982 but now is around 1.3 million. The Episcopal Church went from 3.4 million in the 1960s to 1.7 million now.
These highbrow mainline faiths with seminary-educated ministers once drew public respect. But religion is shifting to lowbrow, emotional worship that is less admired. One-fourth of the world’s Christians now “speak in tongues,” researchers say. Christianity is moving from prosperous Northern nations to the less-developed tropics.
Let’s hope the Secular Age continues snowballing until supernatural religion is reduced to just an embarrassing fringe.
FFRF Member James A. Haught, syndicated by PeaceVoice, was the longtime editor at the Charleston Gazette and has been the editor emeritus since 2015. He has won two dozen national newswriting awards and is author of 12 books and 150 magazine essays. He also is a senior editor of Free Inquiry magazine and was writer-in-residence for the United Coalition of Reason.
This piece is adapted from a column published at Informed Comment and OpEd News.