Survey: Religious Americans keep faith amid secularization

4 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Number of Americans ‘certain’ about God falls to 63%.

Declining levels of religious belief and practice among the generation of Americans born in the last two decades of the 20th century is shifting the US towards becoming a less devout nation, a major new survey has found.NEW YORK, United States — The proportion of Americans who say they are “absolutely certain” God exists has dropped sharply from 71 percent to less than two thirds, the Pew Research Center said Tuesday.

Pew’s new report—which surveyed 35,071 people in 2014, and encompasses the second half of findings released in May—can be juxtaposed with the group’s similarly sized 2007 study on the same topic. At the time, the results no doubt confirmed what some might have expected: A minority of Christians believed that society should accept homosexuality. Some 847 of the 35,000 Americans in the Pew telephone survey between June and September 2014 identified themselves as Jews by religion — far fewer than the 3,475 Jews interviewed for Pew’s landmark 2013 survey of US Jewry. (Unlike the new survey, the ’13 study also counted as Jews those of “no religion” who identified themselves as Jewish by ethnicity, parentage or feeling).

A year later, California — that beacon of left coast liberalism — famously passed Proposition 8, enshrining in the state constitution a definition of marriage as between a man and a woman. But three out of four Americans still have some religious faith, mainly Protestant denominations, Catholics, Jews, Mormons, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus. Religiously unaffiliated people now make up 23% of the adult population, compared to 16%; even among the pious, regular service attendance is faltering. Compared with the last time Pew surveyed Americans about religion, in 2007, the percentage of Jews who said religion is very important to them grew from 31 percent to 35 percent. And 89 per cent of US adults say they believe in God – including a significant proportion of “nones” – making America more religiously inclined than other advanced industrial nation.

A series of legal challenges slowly secured more and more rights for gay Americans, granting them the right to marry and protecting them from discrimination. The chart above, embedded in Pew’s update on that extensive survey, shows just how much most Christian Americans have changed when it comes to their attitudes toward their gay peers.

However, it’s important to note that most of those increases are within the survey’s margin of error for Jewish respondents, which is 4.2 percentage points. One in four millennials attend religious services on a weekly basis, compared with more than half of those adults born before or during the second world war. The survey also showed that nearly all major religious groups have become significantly more accepting of homosexuality in recent years — even evangelicals and Mormons who traditionally have expressed strong opposition to same-sex relationships.

Catholics, Mormons and historically black Protestants were close behind, each seeing support for broad societal acceptance of homosexuality rise by 12 points. “Changing attitudes about homosexuality are linked to the same generational forces helping to reshape religious identity and practice in the United States, with millennials expressing far more acceptance of homosexuality than older adults do,” they write. The religiously unaffiliated are growing less quickly within the Republican party, where they are outnumbered by evangelicals, Catholics and mainstream Protestants, Pew said. The wide difference in generational religious interest is explained in part by people’s tendency to care more about religion as they age—a caveat Pew has carefully noted. Jews think about the meaning and purpose of life less than American Christians or Muslims — 45 percent of Jews compared to 64 percent of Muslims, 61 percent of Protestants, 52 percent of Catholics and 59 percent of Buddhists. But even so, the research group finds that younger people nowadays aren’t showing the same increase in religious fervor when they get older as past generations did. “As older cohorts of adults … pass away, they are being replaced by a new cohort of young adults who display far lower levels of attachment to organized religion than their parents’ and grandparents’ generations did when they were the same age,” wrote the authors of the report.

Earlier this year, researchers at San Diego State University examined long-term trends from as early as 1966 and came to a similar conclusion. “Our [study] is able to show that millennials’ lower religious involvement is due to cultural change, not to millennials being young and unsettled,” said lead author Jean Twenge. The changes are reflected in support for the two main political parties, with “nones” now forming the largest single religious group among Democrats, while evangelical Protestants make up the largest religious bloc among Republicans. Compared to other religious groups in America, Jews have the lowest proportion of adherents who believe God wrote the Bible (except for Buddhists, who don’t believe in the Bible). Among them are social cynicism, disorganization within churches and other institutions, increasing political polarization, and the rise of the internet—though no one has definitively tracked the effects of these factors.

Twenge tells Quartz that “our increasingly individualistic culture, which emphasizes the self over social rules” is also an influence on the change. But one thing is for certain: Once people shun religion, their children are likely to also be faithless. “Instead of luring back those who were once part of a religious community, [faiths] now face the prospect of trying to attract those with no formative religious experiences to draw on,” said Daniel Cox, research director of the Public Religion Research Institute. In Western Europe, where morality is less linked to faith and many religions have a much longer and bloodier history, only one in five people say religious faith is an important part of life. Most Jewish survey respondents — 53 percent — said they belong to a local house of worship (the survey did not break down results by religious denomination).

Acceptance of “homosexuality in society” grew among all Americans between 2007 and 2014, from 50 percent to 62 percent, and among Jews from 79 percent to 81 percent.

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