70% Of Americans See Religion’s Role In Life Declining

A new Gallup poll reflects the declining role of religion in American public, and private, life.

An interesting new poll from the folks at Gallup that reflects the ongoing secularization of American life:

Seven in 10 Americans say religion is losing its influence on American life — one of the highest such responses in Gallup’s 53-year history of asking this question, and significantly higher than in the first half of the past decade.

Americans’ views of the influence of religion in the U.S. have fluctuated substantially in the years since 1957, when Gallup first asked this question. At that point, perhaps reflecting the general focus on family values that characterized the Eisenhower era, 69% of Americans said religion was increasing its influence, the most in Gallup’s history.

Views of the influence of religion shifted dramatically in the mid-1960s. By 1970, in the midst of the protests over the Vietnam War and general social upheaval, a record 75% of Americans said religion was losing influence in American society. These views moderated in the years thereafter. At several points during the Reagan administration, a plurality of Americans returned to the view that religion was increasing its influence. By the early 1990s, Americans became more convinced again that religion was losing its influence. These views persisted until a sharp reversal after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when a number of social and political indicators, including presidential and congressional approval and overall satisfaction with the way things were going, showed substantial increases.

As usual, the chart tells the real story:

The poll also found adults saying that the personal importance of religion in their life has steadily declined:

This is isn’t entirely surprising, of course, we can see signs of secularization all around us in everything from the near-total elimination of Sunday “Blue Laws” that restricted the ability of businesses to open on the Christian Sabbath to church attendance itself, which has steadily declined over the years to the point where a majority of Americans are no longer regular church goes. Will we end up like Britain, where a majority of citizens now see themselves as non-religious ? Because of the different role that religion has played in American life, it’s likely to take some time before that happens but I think it’s pretty clear that there’s no going back.

FILED UNDER: Religion, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. floyd says:

    And the other 30% see secular humanism for what it is.
    No doubt we will end up like Britain.

  2. John Peabody says:

    It is possible that the number of non-believers has not changed, but the number who will admit it to a pollster has changed since 1952.

  3. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    “The poll also found adults saying that the personal importance of religion in their life has steadily declined…”

    I would bet that there are regional differences on this point. Here in the Bible Belt of the deep South, religion is as important in everyday life as it has ever been.

  4. floyd says:

    John;
    There are no non-believers.
    To quote Dylan…

    http://www.bobdylan.com/#/songs/gotta-serve-somebody

    And when I say Dylan, don’t think I mean Dylan Thomas (whoever he was)

    The Gospel is still the only eternal “Good News”

  5. anjin-san says:

    Floyd you should expand your horizons a bit…

    The Tao of heaven does not strive, and yet it overcomes.
    It does not speak, and yet is answered.
    It does not ask, yet is supplied with all its needs.
    It seems at ease, and yet it follows a plan.

    Heaven’s net casts wide.
    Though its meshes are coarse, nothing slips through.

    Tao Te Ching – Lao Tzu – chapter 73

    (The man ain’t got no culture – but it’s allright ma, everyone must get stoned)

  6. epistorese says:

    I’m not surprised by the statistical shift, but I think it may well be a reflection of the negative influence of politics and political activism by religious people (primarily fundamentalist Evangelicals). As long as the religious right keeps relying on the power of the state to change the social fabric of the nation, religion and the religious will be seen as just another faction in the debate. Perhaps if the religious will concentrate more on their philosophy than on their politics–and particularly their anger at no longer being the majority–true faith will begin to surface again. As true faith rises, interest in religion will also. But this statistical change is no more permanent than any other over the past 5 decades.

  7. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    Here is an interesting counter-point. From CNSNEWS.COM:

    “Just two weeks after a federal judge in Madison, Wis., ruled that the annual National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional, 92 percent of Americans told surveyors for the USA Today/Gallup poll that they believe in God and only 5 percent said they oppose the National Day of Prayer.
    Thursday, May 06, 2010 ”

    Notice that Gallup also participated in this poll as well. At first glance there would seem to be a contradiction here. But there is a big difference in “belief in God” and personal opinions about religion.

    It is quite possible that a person can have a strong belief in God and yet not be part of any organized religion. It can also be that a person has a strong belief in God but thinks that religion is not important to Americans as a whole (notice the way the first question is framed). And it can be that a strong believer in God thinks that religion, i.e. religion as an institution, is becoming less important.

    Or it may just be a general feeling that everything is going to hell in a handbasket as it is so religion doesn’t seem to work anymore.

  8. floyd says:

    Patrick;
    Lucid comment!

  9. floyd says:

    “Floyd you should expand your horizons a bit…”

    Been there…. then decided to separate the wheat from the chaff and accept the truth of the Gospel. Thanks anyway.
    Be careful what you let into your mind, it might just drive you out of it! (lol)

  10. anjin-san says:

    When I finally get myself together
    Gonna get down in that sunny southern weather
    And find, a place inside to laugh
    Separate the wheat from the chaff
    I feel like I owe it… to someone

  11. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    What do you expect when college clowns teach there is no God and to believe is weak and the rest of thier BS. How else can you justify the millions who have died at the hands of the communists? There is a price to pay for turning away from our roots. I do not know what it will be, but it will not be better.

  12. Trumwill says:

    One noteworthy thing: the decline is not among the much-maligned evangelical and hard-core religious so much as it is among the softer, mainline religions such as Episcopalianism and the like. In other words, those religious people left standing are those most detested in these parts.

    This is a key area of contrast with Britain, where Anglicanism (Episcopalianism) is the default religion. With that, it’s easier for religion to go more softly into the night. Religion may become less prominent here as it has in other countries, but it will likely be along a different path. My guess is that we’re going to hit a wall in the 40-50%. The 70% figure includes a large number of religious people lamenting the secularization they see around them and the other 30% includes a number of irreligious people scared to death of the coming theocracy (if we’re not careful).

  13. matt says:

    Zel is right. After taking my college mandated class “God is a fake 1666” I was forced into taking “religion as a crutch 1314” which is just a ridiculous waste of money. After those classes I’ll to take “Marxism 1024” and “America sucks 1450” before I can even start taking classes that I really need for my degree ugh

  14. Just curious, but what percentage of Americans do you believe are competent to hold forth on this question to begin with?

  15. Tlaloc says:

    how many are competent to tell if they find religion important to them? Um…all of them?