The Inevitable Collapse of Organized Religion in America

Organized religion in America is on the decline. The Church—any church, all churches, the omniscient "Church" representing all organized religious institutions—holds less allure for a new generation of American adults. This is a fact, not a supposition. The Church, though far from gone, is an institution of the past.

A new report from the Pew Research Center makes clear two things: 1) America is still an overwhelmingly religious country, and 2) America is becoming a less religious country. Key findings:

  • "One-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling."
  • Atheists and agnostics make up almost 6% of Americans. Another 14% claim no specific religious affiliation.
  • The percentage of unaffiliated Americans has grown by almost a third in the past five years.
  • Two thirds of unaffiliated Americans say they believe in god. But when asked, "Are you looking for a religion that's right for you?" 88% of them say "no."
  • The younger an adult is, the less likely they are to claim a religious affiliation. Only 9% of those over 65 are unaffiliated, while 32% of those aged 18-29 are unaffiliated.
  • A strong majority of unaffiliated Americans tend to vote Democratic, and they are twice as likely to call themselves liberals as they are to call themselves conservatives.
What does it add up to? The simplest interpretation is that as time goes on, the ranks of organized religion will continue to shrink in America, rendering The Church less socially and politically powerful, and our society more liberal as a whole, relative to where it is today. Which is generally a description of the past 300 years of American history anyhow, so it should not come as a surprise. Eventually—in another two generations, perhaps—organized religion will wither down to a minority preference, a niche activity that boasts a rich historic tradition, but which is looked upon with mild embarrassment, like Civil War reenacting. What will replace it is anyone's guess. Aspiring gurus, get in on the ground floor.

Why does the un-religion-ing process appear to be happening so fast now? Eh... I'd say the internet, and Christopher Hitchens. Alternate interpretations go in the comments.

[The full report. Photo: mrbillt6/ Flickr]