Rather than driving Americans to turn to God in their distress, the coronavirus seems to be causing a decline in organized religious activity, argues Steven Malanga:
Throughout much of human history, famine, pestilence, and war have sent people seeking the comforts of religion. From the religious processions of Europe during the 14th-century Black Plague to the sharp uptick in churchgoing in America during World War II, it’s often been the case that the more terrifying times are, the more prayerful communities become.
COVID-19 has turned that historical precedent on its head. The percentage of Americans joining the ranks of the religiously unaffiliated has increased during the pandemic, according to a new survey by Pew, thanks largely to a drop in those identifying as Christian. Nearly three in ten Americans now report no religious affiliation, up from 26 percent in 2019 and nearly double the number in a Pew survey in 2007. The share of Americans who say religion is very important in their lives has declined to 41 percent today, from 56 percent in 2007.
Cultural trends exacerbated by COVID-19 will likely contribute to the problem. America’s declining birthrate fell further during the pandemic, as economic uncertainty and the persistent nature of the virus took their toll on decisions by couples to bear children. That may pose a big problem for religious institutions, too—because around the world, religious observance correlates with fertility and family formation. Secularization is increasing in places where childbearing and marriage are declining. Religious observance, meantime, is holding steady and even growing in places where couples are having children at greater rates than in the West.