Growth of the Nonreligious: Many Say Trend is Bad for American Society

That’s the conclusion of a recent survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, and it’s not terribly surprising given the widespread antipathy towards non believers (especially self-declared atheists). Also unsurprising is the fact that White Evangelical Protestants had the least favorable views (78%), followed by Black Protestants (64%).

Conservative Protestant Christianity is one of the fastest-growing belief systems in the country, by some accounts growing as quickly as irreligion (which includes agnostics, atheists, and those who fuzzily identify as “None” when asked their religious preference). Both of these diametrically opposed groups are expanding at the expense of Mainline or Liberal Protestants, whose members end up joining one camp or the other. This trend is reflective of an overall trend in polarization in this country.

Indeed, Pews conclusion fits this pattern: while many Americans find the growth in nonreligion to be negative, it’s not the majority.

About half of Americans say the growing number of “people who are not religious” is bad for American society. But a similar share say either that this trend is good or that it does not make much difference, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center.

The exact percentages are 48% saying it’s a bad thing, 11% saying it’s good, and 39% being essentially neutral on the subject. I think such apathy in itself suggests that religion isn’t as strong a force for the majority of Americans as it once was, even though its influence and important nonetheless remains prominent for a good chunk of the nation.

Such an attitude coincides with polls suggesting that many religious believers are hardly as doctrinaire as their institutions: many Catholics are pro-birth control for example, while many Protestants — including typically-conservative Evangelicals — believe that non-Christians can be saved. A recent Gallup poll has similarly found that 77% of Americans believe that religion is losing its influence, the highest percentage since the question was first asked in 1957.

Yet still, according to the poll, 75% of Americans also said the country nevertheless would be better off if it were more religious. It’s a pretty complicated picture, and it reflects a similar sentiment among Americans, who seem torn between the perceived benefits of piety versus its faults. Or that’s my take away at least. What are your thoughts?

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