Are Americans Experiencing a Crisis in Faith?

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This is the time of year when many Americans immerse themselves in the holiday spirit with gift giving, receiving gifts, hymn singing, helping those less fortunate (although some of us do this year round),drinking egg nog, eating all types of delicious food, etc. Although many of us do get into the Christmas spirit, it seems that for a growing number of Americans, there is a gradual erosion of commitment to religious observance.

According to a recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, the houses of worship are seeing more and more empty pews. A study that was released by the center on July 2 utilized a poll of 4,000 adults between March 21 and April 8 using English and Spanish. While the polls by no means are totally scientific, the response of its participants probably does mirror that of many Americans. The findings reveal that 20 percent of Americans do not identify with any religion. Moreover, one-third of Americans stated that they did not consider themselves religious. While I was not shocked by those findings, I was indeed surprised by many of the poll’s other findings:

  • 55% of Americans feel that having a society that is less religious made no difference
  • 24% saw such a less religious trend as good
  • 19% saw such a trend as negative

It is important to note that the groups were broken down by race, religious affiliation and age. Seventy-eight percent of White evangelical Protestants, 64 percent of Black Protestants 56 percent of White non-Hispanic Catholics were more inclined to see American society becoming less committed to religion as a negative thing. Other interesting findings were:

  • 48% of Hispanic Catholics believe that such a trend does not matter
  • 45% of White Protestants believe that such a trend is problematic
  • 24% say that is actually a good thing that Americans are less religious

Ten percent of men were slightly less more likely than 12 percent of women to see less religion as a good thing. Moreover, 40 percent of men and 38 percent of women said that it made no difference.

The findings for millennials (born between 1980 and 1998), were more paradoxical. While they were less likely than the silent generation (1925-1945), baby boomers (1946-1964) or generation X (1965-1979) to be involved in any form of religious activity, they were not totally convinced that a less worshipping society was a good thing. Results were:

  • 47% of millennials felt that having more non-religious people was bad for society
  • 60% of Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation felt that more non-religious people was a negative thing  for society

As someone who considers himself a religious person, I can only conclude that such statistics are a microcosm of our society and that a number of Americans are most likely experiencing a state of uncertainty. A world that is marred with economic uncertainty, ongoing crisis, social upheaval and other forms of unrest can cause any person to feel disillusion.

People of color, especially African Americans, have always been a religious and spiritual people. Indeed, it has been the primary vehicle that has sustained us through an often tormented history by a nation that has often treated us as outsiders. That being said, aside from the occasional lapses in faith, I have no doubt that a deep spiritual faith and commitment will continue to be a mainstay in the lives of many African-Americans.

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