Friday, 12 August 2011

Is America becoming less religious?

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I've just been reading an interesting piece on AlterNet about religious belief in the United States. The common perception is that the US is a far more religious nation than Britain or other Western European countries and, with the religious right seemingly growing in influence (you need only to look at the popularity of Republicans such as Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachmann), many would no doubt expect it to remain so for the foreseeable future.

However, demographic surveys suggest that religious belief is declining in the United States. In fact, it was in decline throughout the twentieth century, and it is declining more rapidly with every generation:
"Americans are becoming less religious, with rates of atheism and secularism increasing in each new generation. This demographic transformation has been in progress ever since World War II, but in recent years it's begun to seriously pick up steam. In the generation born since 1982, variously referred to as Generation Y, the Millennials, or Generation Next, one in five people identify as nonreligious, atheist, or agnostic. In the youngest cohort, the trend is even more dramatic: as many as 30% of those born since 1990 are nonbelievers. Another study, this one by a Christian polling firm, found that people are leaving Christianity at four times the rate that new members are joining."
I recommend reading the full piece, as the author Adam Lee goes on to offer an interesting explanation for why this is happening, suggesting that young Americans are turning away from religion because, as they become increasingly liberal in their views on issues such as sex, women's rights and gay marriage, the major denominations are becoming more reactionary.

The secularisation thesis may be unfashionable in the present day but, as this piece shows, perhaps it shouldn't be written off just yet.
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