Religion Study

Is everyone jumping to conclusions about Pew Research’s most recent Religious Landscape Study?

When first reviewing the Religious Landscape Study (performed by the Pew Research Center), it is difficult to see anything other than a decline in faith, belief and religious commitment by Americans over the past seven or eight years. The percentage of Americans who declared themselves as “Christian” dropped from 78% (from the 2007 study) to 70% in the study performed last year between June and September. Over that same period, Americans who consider themselves “atheist, agnostic or ‘nothing in particular’” grew from 16% to nearly 23%.

Facts are facts, but don’t jump to the wrong conclusion about America’s religious landscape, warns Peter Manseau in a recent New York Times editorial.  Manseau speculates that in a country with such a diverse catalogue from which to choose and draw influence, Americans do not hesitate to reconsider religious assumptions they have held since their youth. Because of this, “[Manseau’s] eclectic spiritual formation also has made [him] an unwitting member of the ‘nones.’” 

In other words, “none” does not necessarily refer to a lack of spirituality, but possibly a lack of identity with an organized religion. Rev. Gary Hall, dean of the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, might know why this is. He believes that people are losing confidence in organized religion. Hall points to a secularization in the West that started in Europe after World War Two and has finally taken hold in the United States.  But he also reminds that well more than half of the populous considers itself religious and has a desire to pray and work to do good in the community, “but they just don’t see the church as the place to do that.”

Hall also thinks that churches have lost touch with their communities, and instead of gripping to historical religious traditions, they should organize communities based around “core principles about Christianity.” Other issues Americans might have, Hall suggests, are the use of religion as an excuse for widespread violence and a contradiction with the growing pool of scientific knowledge. So before we jump to conclusions on the upshot of the Religious Landscape Study, we need to consider the attitudes and values of the younger generations and willingness not to give up on prayer, but maybe as a rejection of organized religion.

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