Over the years, the Gallup Poll has conducted a number of polls regarding religious trends in the US. One question they have asked annually for several decades is: “How important is religion in your own life?”
In 2007, an all-time low of only 56% of respondents stated religion is “very important”. While this is not a dramatic decrease from recent years (the percentage who gave this response has hovered in the upper 50s to lower 60s since the 1990’s), contrast it with the 1950s when those responding “very important” was consistently in the upper 70 percentages.
Another question polled annually has been: “At the present time, do you think religion as a whole is increasing its influence on American life, or losing its influence?”
Again, in a 2007 poll, those responding, “losing its influence” was 62%, the highest percentage since the early 1990s when this number reached 68%.
These are interesting numbers when considering a poll taken last month by Gallup found 78% of those polled said they believe in God and 15% said they believe in a universal spirit. Thus, those acknowledging a belief in the divine totaled 93% with only 6% responding they do not believe in either (1% had no opinion).
It would seem logical to think that with such a high percentage believing in God, or a universal spirit, those who believe religion is having a greater influence would be much more significant. However, the polls indicate that most Americans do not think the belief, or faith, of those who express a belief in God, or a universal spirit, is having a recognizable influence on society.
One factor contributing to this view might be that the belief in a universal spirit, as opposed to a personal God, is on the rise. In the last decade, there has been a decrease in those who believe in God (86% in 1999) while those who believe in a universal spirit (only 8% in 1999) has increased. This means there has been approximately a 9% decrease in the belief in God and an increase of almost 200% in the belief in a universal spirit during that same period.
This certainly might impact how Americans view the influence of religion, since those who believe the divine is a universal spirit, tend to separate “religion” from what they view to be the much more all-encompassing, “spirituality”; in fact, they tend to believe that “religion” should not be the focus at all since they think it tends to divide people and create problems.
Therefore, while they may not see religion as having an influence they would believe what they hold to as the higher “spirituality”, pervasive in this country, is making a difference. Thus, were the question framed as, “Is American spirituality increasing or losing its influence”, this segment of the populous might have a different response than that regarding religion.
What this poll is probably most indicative of is the diminishing role of the Church in American society. In a 2007 Gallup poll, Americans who indicated they were a member of a church or synagogue revealed an all-time low of only 61% (this was 70% in 1992). Without question, the Christian church is being seen as having less and less relevance in our society. Perhaps this can be mostly attributed to the church having lost its voice in the marketplace of ideas over the last 40-50 years.
As it was in the founding of this nation, the Church is an important part of our society. It is imperative that it again finds its voice and becomes the influencer that it is meant to be. Until that happens, the polls will continue to reflect that this “one nation under God” has lost its way.
That’s one person’s opinion, what’s yours?