How Religious is America?

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How Religious is America?

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A new poll out this week finds that a larger percentage of Americans believe in God than do those in Europe and this translates into greater political activism in the American electorate. The Associated Press reported it this way:

Religious devotion sets the United States apart from some of its closest allies. Americans profess unquestioning belief in God and are far more willing to mix faith and politics than people in other countries, AP-Ipsos polling found.

In Western Europe, where Pope Benedict XVI complains that growing secularism has left churches unfilled on Sundays, people are the least devout among the 10 countries surveyed for The Associated Press by Ipsos .

Similar polls always find Americans to be a professing religious people with high percentages saying they believe in God, and attend church on a regular basis. Attendance figures don't always match the numbers that percentage figures indicate. And a high percentage of people believing in God does not always translate into a moral society free of the problems. In December 2003 I wrote the following in a World News and Prophecy article.

If America is a religious nation, why has our society seen such overwhelming transformation of foundational institutions? For years many have chronicled the decline of morality in the popular culture. Politicians, clergy and business executives, to name only a few, have come under the withering satire and denigration of movies, music and television. Marriage and traditional gender roles have been redefined before the catatonic eyes of a public amused into a comatose state.

The past 40 years have seen great social changes take place in the country. In all of this, where were the churches? Why hasn't religion, with all its megachurches and modern marketing techniques, stirred the country to another "great awakening"? Could it be that they have been asleep and that they lack the true power of the Holy Spirit?

In the wake of the impeachment and sex scandals of President Bill Clinton in 1998, Paul Weyrich, a leader of the Christian political movement Moral Majority, wrote in the Washington Post that conservative Christians had "lost the culture wars." His words implied that religion does not exert a strong or life-changing influence on the national scene. This may seem contradictory in light of the public's perception of the influence of churches and religion.

Polls indicate 80 percent of Americans believe in God. Yet Gallup polling shows church attendance has actually declined since the 1960s and has remained level since 1980 with no appreciable growth. Two thirds of the population may claim membership in a church but that does not always translate into attendance, much less the practice of a faith.

Some evidence suggests that Americans tell pollsters they attend church when they really don't. A recent article in The Atlantic Monthly quoted John G. Stackhouse Jr., a teacher of theology and culture: "Beginning in the 1990s a series of sociological studies has shown that many more Americans tell pollsters that they attend church regularly than can be found in church when teams actually count" (May 2003, p. 34).

For another perspective on religion in America and its real influence you can read the entire article here.