Religious diversity may be changing beliefs in America.
Diversity has long been listed on the table of assets that have served to make America the Superpower that it is today. Being a nation of immigrants, it is unquestionable that there are different groups of people with different cultures and different religions co-existing together. For a long time, religious pluralism and diversity has been viewed to be good for religious life overall. The competing churches, synagogues and mosques would translate into a vigorous and vibrant religious culture. However, could the opposite be happening right under America’s nose? Could religious diversity be making America less religious?
For starters, ranked globally, the U.S. is not the most religiously diverse country in the world. According to the Pew Research Religious Diversity Index, the U.S.A. ranks 68th out of 232 countries that were studied for religious diversity. This is probably because the study treated different Christian denominations under the banner of Christianity. The country’s population is 95 percent Christian or religiously unaffiliated, whereas all the other religions combined account for 5 percent of the population.
However, recent research indicates that America is becoming less religious. Robert P. Jones in his book, The End of White Christian America highlights how White Christian America has been on the decline. He remarks:
“Today, white evangelicals are not only experiencing the shrinking of their own ranks, but they are also confronting larger, genuinely new demographic and cultural realities. When Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, white Christians (Catholics and Protestants) constituted a majority (54 percent) of the country; today, that number has slipped to 45 percent. Over this same period, support for gay marriage — a key issue for evangelicals — moved from only four in 10 to solid majority territory, and the Supreme Court cleared the way for gay and lesbian couples to marry in all 50 states. The Supreme Court itself symbolized these changes, losing its last remaining Protestant justice, John Paul Stevens, in 2010.”
It is not certain that religious diversity has led to a drop in religious activity across the road. As has been proved consistently in scientific circles, correlation does not mean causation. However, there are many ways in which religious diversity can lead to a drop in commitment to religion.
For example, the fact that there are so many people of religious faiths living, working or studying together means that people have been exposed to different schools of thought and different belief systems. This leads to a serious challenge on long held American consensus agreements on religious character and heritage. These consensus agreements are key to fostering a strong attachment and commitment to one’s religion.
It is also possible that increased religious diversity amongst people’s social networks might have a role to play in reducing religious activity. This could be as a result of wanting to avoid controversy and conflict between oneself and friends. The same could also be said for religiously mixed marriages, in which children raised in such interfaith unions report a lower drive to be interested in any particular religion.
Daniel Cox, writing for FiveThirtyEight notes, “Americans raised by parents of different faiths report much lower levels of religious activity in childhood than those raised in religiously unified households. Nearly 6 in 10 (58 percent) Americans raised by parents who shared the same religious background say they attended religious services weekly or more often. Only 40 percent of Americans raised in religiously mixed households report attending services regularly as children. Americans raised in mixed religious households are also less likely to have prayed regularly with their family and to have attended Sunday school.”
— Ruth Braunstein (@RuthBraunstein) August 24, 2016