The Shocking Decline of Religion in the U.S.

April 8, 2021 | Bryan Walsh
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An old East European Jewish proverb states that, if you’re riding in a wagon driven by a Gentile and he doesn’t cross himself when you pass by a church, you should get out. The message is that in a society where Jews are vulnerable, a lack of religious faith only makes them more so. While Jews are more secure in America than their European compatriots of yesteryear, perhaps they should be no less troubled by some recent poll data, which Bryan Walsh describes:

New surveys show Americans’ membership in communities of worship has declined sharply in recent years, with less than 50 percent of the country belonging to a church, synagogue, or mosque. The accelerating trend towards a more secular America represents a fundamental change in the national character, one that will have major ramifications for politics and even social cohesion.

The shift away from organized religion is a 21st-century phenomenon. U.S. religious membership was 73 percent when Gallup first measured it in 1937, and stayed above 70 percent for the next six decades. . . . The decline in membership is primarily driven by a sharp rise in the “nones”—Americans who express no religious preference. The percentage of Americans who do not identify with any religion rose from 8 percent between 1998 and 2000 to 21 percent over the past three years, while the percentage of nones who do not belong to a house of worship has risen as well.

The story of a more secular America is chiefly—though not entirely—one of generational change. Membership in houses of worship correlates with age, with the oldest Americans much more likely to be church members than younger adults. . . . Children who grow up without organized religion are less likely to join houses of worship when they become adults, so it stands to reason that the secularization trend will only continue in the future, barring major demographic or cultural changes.

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