In a follow up report released today, Pew Research Center reveals that the United States is becoming steadily less religious and more secular. Though Pew describes this report as generally revealing “a great deal of stability in the U.S. religious landscape,” there are also clear downward trends in religious affiliation and clear upward trends in secularization. The religious remain as religious as they ever were, which should be unsurprising. In the face of greater secularization it stands to reason that the “faithful” would see it as their role to hold strong and even retrench.
The clearest trends to my mind are the generational ones. Notice the steady decline in every category as the generations move along. What we don’t know is whether Millennials will become gradually more religious as they age, but this seems unlikely given what we know about the steady advance of science and knowledge, in general.
This study also sheds new light on what the beliefs of the unaffiliated really are. The clear trend is that the “nones” are more secular than before. Fewer pray or attend religious services. This may reveal a weakening in the cultural expectation of church attendance and a greater degree of comfort in simply forgoing attendance. Also of note: fewer people believe in God or any kind of “universal spirit.”
Finally, more people are experiencing a sense of peace and wonder. The report refers to this experience as “spiritual,” which is fine by me. I don’t inherently find a problem with the word spiritual, though some will object to the root word, spirit, spirituality can simply refer to a person’s sense of peace and harmony, mental health, and feelings of awe and wonder at the magnificence of the natural world.
I find this new report incredibly encouraging and I hope it will generate a much needed conversation between the religious and the irreligious about what really matters: creating opportunities for more people to participate in a better world and a better life rather than endlessly debating the existence of a (not)being which cannot be empirically proven one way or the other, and which is clearly unnecessary for a meaningful, ethical life.