America seems to be following the same trajectory as Western Europe, but forty years later.
Recently I reported on the shift in American attitudes to involvement of churches in political and social affairs. A majority of American voters now oppose such involvement. This is mainly due to a shift in attitudes among conservatives towards church involvement in political affairs.
Religious belief is also undergoing a long term decline in America. Matt Cherry of the Institute for Humanist Studies reports his analysis of two major polls by Pew Research and Harris, concluding that America seems to be following the same trajectory as Western Europe, but forty years later.
While a current snap shot of religious belief makes the two continents look very different, the long-term trend appears remarkably similar. Young people are growing up less religious and the most religious generations are dying out. At the same time, support for secular government and greater tolerance is rising with each new generation. Or to put it another way: the future looks bright for humanism.
In 1986, only 11 per cent of 18-25-year-olds reported their religious preferences as “no religion/atheist/agnostic”. In 2006, that figure had increased to 20 per cent. Among over-25s, the proportion has risen more modestly from 8 per cent to 11 per cent.
These findings seem to be broadly in line with those of the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), a government survey carried out in 1990 and 2001. Between 1991 and 2001, the survey found that the number of those describing themselves as Christians (of any denomination) fell from 88.4 per cent to 81.1 per cent, those reporting adherence to the views of other, non-Christian, religions rose from 3.5 per cent to 5.2 per cent, but those reporting no religious views, atheism or agnosticism rose from 8 per cent to 15 per cent.
- A portrait of Generation Next, Pew Research Center for People and the Press. Summary of findings.
- American Religious Identification Survey data archive, Instititute for Secularism in Society and Culture, Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut
- American Religious Identification Survey data spreadsheet (XLS format), US Census Bureau
- FT Harris poll