Religion’s influence

More people are saying religion is losing its influence on American life. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

A bad thing, according to a survey from Pew released today.

What’s odd about the survey is those groups that seem to be gaining political influence are the ones who say their religion has less influence than 2006.

Today, an overwhelming 82% of Republicans say religion is losing influence in American life; 61% said this four years ago. Independents are also more likely to say religion is losing influence in American life (65% now; 56% in 2006), while Democrats are less likely to say so, though, a majority still agrees (58% now; 60% in 2006). Majorities of Protestants (70%), Catholics (71%) and the religiously unaffiliated (62%) all agree that religion is losing influence on American life, with white evangelical Protestants (79%) the most likely to agree with the statement.

These things tend to shift. Shortly after 9/11, 78% of those surveyed said religion’s influence on American life was increasing. But six months after the attacks, only 52% thought that.

  • Curt C.

    Christians love their persecution complex (they even have and they would never give it up just because some pesky facts got in the way. The American Taliban could overthrow the government and replace it with a complete theocracy and they’d still say they were losing influence.

  • matt

    I agree that religon has lost it’s influence in the US. As I consider some of the chief social functions of the churches – education, welfare, moral development – the government has taken these roles on. Has the country suffered due to the change of ownership? Don’t ask a home schooled kid, down on his luck Mormon or parochial school kid. Religon may have caused plenty of problems along the way but I doubt very much that we have found a suitable replacement at the societal level.

  • vjacobsen

    In our college Humanities class, we studied Dorothy Day, and the focus was the role of the church in society versus the role of the government. Then, as now, I think it’s far more important to have the safety net society-wide, rather than merely based on faith groups. Additionally, I think having social programs is just the right think to do, not something that same to come from a faith-based mandate (a mandate that plenty of those people who are religious don’t give a rip about anyway).

    And, even though I was raised Catholic, I still fear we are way too close to being a Theocracy in the United States. Under no circumstances do I want “Christian” ideals and “morals” to become the law of the land. I don’t want ANY specific set of religious teachings to guide laws. Church is Church and State is State, and there needs to be a better dividing line. Despite what the poll says, I highly doubt we are really moving that far away from religion.

  • Ken Paulman

    Religion is losing influence on American life?

    So that means an avowed atheist (or even a non-Christian) should have no trouble getting elected President, right?

  • Noelle

    Likewise, I would argue that religion still maintains a strong hold on US citizens – particularly when it comes to how we vote. We will very likely see a Jewish president before we see an (openly) atheist or agnostic president, or other political leader

    It’s interesting that our country was founded on secular values, yet freedom of religion is hard to come by, and freedom FROM religion is even more difficult.

  • JackU

    I would side with the likes of Madison, Washington and Franklin (you can throw in Jefferson and Adams if you want but they weren’t part of the Constitutional Convention.) What ever role religion played in their lives they were careful to leave it out of government and the Constitution.

    I often wonder if polls like this border on the “unconstitutional” as they imply that political leaders should be subject to religious influences and that begs the question of “religious tests”. I also found it interesting that no “minority religions” are listed in the breakout. We have protestant, catholic and unaffiliated. I would assume unaffiliated in this context is an unaffiliated Christian. As most Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, etc. would probably consider themselves affiliated in some sense. And wouldn’t they be better referred to as “Other” or “Non Christian” in this context anyway?

  • There’s nothing like Christians acting like warmongering thugs and bedroom-regulating theocrats to bring out the contrarian streak in Americans.

    The notion that the U.S. is a Christian nation does not date back to our founding. Mark Twain’s America was a fiercely agnostic place but somewhere along the line the history books got changed because it was decided that Christianity was our best defense against Communism.

    Twain’s multi-volume autobiography is coming out soon. I look forward to seeing his reputation splattered by mudslinging Christians after they learn that America’s greatest author was a godless skeptic who routinely ridiculed the religions of his day.

  • Bob Collins

    Historically, I think it varies from region to region. I can’t explain the South, but I know in New England, the Congregational Church WAS the government until 1639. Religious communism — small “C” — was the foundation of the colony.

    And yet, as the nation matured, there was a strong DISassociation in New England — still is — between religion and government other than things such as Sunday blue laws and — until the ’70s — zoning laws which gave any church in an area the authority to veto any zoning exemption..

  • Al

    I wish religion were losing its influence on American life. I’ve grown tired of the teachings of the ‘Prince of Peace’ and the ‘God of Love’ being used to hurt people. I’m also tired of Christian religion forcing its way into our laws despite the separation of church and state. Freedom of religion doesn’t mean that your religion is free to make the laws for the rest of us.

  • Matt

    It always strikes me as odd that forced morality is okay as long as God is not behind it, or that war is okay as long as God is not behind it for so many people. I can understand not preferring Christianity, Judaism or whatever but it seems much more conflicting to decry the yoke of religion but embrace the yoke of government determined morality. And of course the government sanctioned morality is imposed in full on each and every citizen while religious based morality is largely based in choice. I guess it is some of that Orwellian freedom that you seek.

  • Noelle

    Matt, your response demonstrates exactly what I mentioned above:

    “…government sanctioned morality is imposed in full on each and every citizen while religious based morality is largely based on choice.”

    Religion is based on choice, but when our government leaders make legislative choices based on their religious beliefs – the gay marriage debate, for one – it winds up imposing religion based morality on all of us, in this case at the expense of a minority group’s civil rights.

  • Matt

    Hi Noelle,

    I don’t disagree with you on same sex marriage or any other blue laws. But we still have a moral framework established by the government – drug laws, compulsory schooling, certifications for certain occupations that are somehow deemed to be legitimate moral boundaries because they are “godless”.

  • “Godless”?

    A government that does not favor one religion over another is hardly godless. It’s no coincidence that our laws governing morality overlaps 100% with traditional Judeo-Christian tenets.

  • matt

    Hi Mark,

    All moral frameworks overlap, theological, utilitarian, hedonistic, etc. – I would guestimate that the level of overlap is close to 90%. A utilitarians actions very closely mimic that of a Catholic or Buddhist, it is only the motivation that is different. There is no biblical proscription against smoking marijuana but yet we have a criminal law against it – clearly someone decided this is wrong because it violates a moral law. Adopting a law based on utilitarian principles and imposing them on everyone is just as wrong as applying a law based on Judeo-Christian philosophy.

  • The belief that marijuana is illegal because of morality is very nearly the perfect example of faith over facts.

    Marijuana is illegal because it was opposed by the liquor industry and Harry Anslinger, a paranoid racist. They were backed in their efforts by countless religious leaders (most of whom were still high on Prohibition which clearly occurred SOLELY because of religious efforts).

    It’s an odd sort of morality that values boozers and racists over jazz musicians and entertainers.

    The law should serve the common good. Any law that arbitrarily makes lawbreakers of otherwise community-minded citizens is an immoral law. I would argue that immoral laws are, more times than not, pushed by overtly religious lawmakers. The key is “overtly.” Reasonable people, imho, don’t tend to parade their religious values, and the truly religious let their actions speak for them (no speeches necessary).

    What secular purpose is served by blue laws? Why are soft drugs regulated? Where is the evidence that atheists have ever influenced our lawmaking?

    This is a Christian country. That distresses me less than the fact that Christians refuse to acknowledge how completely they control our government and lawmaking processes. The only reason abortion is legal is that not all Christians agree about abortion. Ditto the death penalty.

    I cannot think of one single federal or state or municipal law that is in direct disagreement with Judeo-Christian beliefs. Not one.