Great Decline in religion graph

Religiosity index shows the changes in religious activity in the United States. Religion News Service


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An update through 2013 is now available here.

Religiosity in the United States is in the midst of what might be called ‘The Great Decline.’ Previous declines in religion pale in comparison. Over the past fifteen years, the drop in religiosity has been twice as great as the decline of the 1960s and 1970s.

How do we track this massive change in American religion? We start with information from rigorous, scientific surveys on worship service attendance, membership in congregations, prayer, and feelings toward religion. We then use a computer algorithm to track over 400 survey results over the past 60 years. The result is one measure that charts changes to religiosity through the years. (You can see all the details here).

The graph of this index tells the story of the rise and fall of religious activity. During the post-war, baby-booming 1950s, there was a revival of religion. Indeed, some at the time considered it a third great awakening. Then came the societal changes of the 1960s, which included a questioning of religious institutions. The resulting decline in religion stopped by the end of the 1970s, when religiosity remained steady. Over the past fifteen years, however, religion has once again declined. But this decline is much sharper than the decline of 1960s and 1970s. Church attendance and prayer is less frequent. The number of people with no religion is growing. Fewer people say that religion is an important part of their lives. All measures point to the same drop in religion: If the 1950s were another Great Awakening, this is the Great Decline. 

Geek note: Because the index is a combination of different measures with different scales, the index produced by the algorithm does not have a specific scale. In this graph, the average level for the time period is indicated. The top of the graph is two standard deviations above the average; the bottom is three standard deviations below the mean. Differences between two points can be compared with differences between two other points, e.g., the difference between the 1960s and 1980s is a decline of about 1.5 standard deviations, but the difference between the late 1990s and 2012 is nearly three standard deviations.

Categories: Beliefs

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Tobin Grant

Tobin Grant

@TobinGrant blogs for Religion News Service at Corner of Church and State, a data-driven conversation on religion and politics. He is a political science professor at Southern Illinois University and associate editor of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.

109 Comments

  1. Michael Glass

    Why would religion be declining? Think clerical sex abuse scandals and 9/11. The wonder is not why religion is declining, but why it’s still doing so well.

    • You missed the part of the article where the title tracks the 60 years decline. This all began with the woodstock era. The sex abuse began simultaneously when radical leftists hijacked the Catholic Church. They decimated nearly everything that provided greater self restraint, self discipline, and spiritual growth. They reduced days of fasting in Lent from 40 to . . . . 2. They reduced holy days of obligation consolidating them to Sundays for . . . we’re still trying to figure that out. They changed all the prayers of the mass, replaced the music for the mass from Palestrina, Mozart, Byrd, Tallis, and Bach to dimestore ditties that are so dumbed down, you’d think you were sitting in at the daycare nap room. They made priests pray less, and took away from them obligatory masses giving them a lot more time for the tele and for getting into trouble. The 60 years of decline can be tracked to what was substantially changed by the Church. This article just did that.

      • Michael Glass

        You’re quite right that the events of the last 20 years can’t explain the decline of faith in the 1960s and 1970s. However, the most recent decline is likely to have something to do with the scandals in the churches and evidence of religious fanaticism from around the world.

      • Religiosity has been declining in Western civilization since the Enlightenment (late 1600s) and with it the advent of the scientific method and a stronger reliance on rational thought as opposed to magical thinking in all aspects of human life. The rate of decline is exponential and has reached critical mass in most of the industrialized/democratic societies where now the religious are in the minority. America is an exception but its time has also obviously come… by the turn of this century at the latest the religious will be in the minority.

        Religious institutions have always been abusive as long as they have power. What has happened recently is that they have lost the power to conceal, not without a fight, their abuses from the public.

        The next step is to release the taxpayers from the burden of supporting religious institutions in America. There should be no exception from qualifying for nonprofit tax exemption simply by stating you are a religious institution. We lose over $80 billion a year…

        You sound like a grumpy old man who lost the ability to appreciate all the wonderful things humans keep creating. Is there a historical period you would prefer to live in assuming you are not able to chose your social/economic position?

  2. Jaakko Kinnunen

    This is great news! Hopefully we can finally start to see this progress in the States as well! In northern Europe we are almost completely free from religion!

    • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

      Looking at the demographics Jaakko is so ecstatic about one should consider that the demise of one religion is not usually followed by atheism but by another religion. Which is exactly what is more and more happening in what used to be Western Christendom. Nature abhors a vacuum and most people seem to have an inborn, natural desire for some form of religion.
      Thus Islam is rapidly replacing Christianity in many Western central cities.
      I hope Jaakko’s daughters and granddaughters are getting their chadors ready.

      • @ Deacon

        Can you give a source for your assertions that religions aren’t replaced by Atheism or that people have some kind of inborn mutation towards religion? Islam is growing, but at less than 1% of the US population, the “growth” in Islam in the United states obviously can’t significantly account for a 10 to 15% drop in Christianity.

        • The decline in organized religion in America is well documented. The growth in the bucket “alternative spirituality” is also well documented. Atheism is not as appealing to most people as eastern mysticism. Yoga, meditation, Oprah, and much of the “self – help” world have shaped and defined the smushy spiritual worldview that is loosely held by many in my millennial generation.

      • Moving away from religion means moving away from all religions. Not just yours. If people were adopting Islam rapidly, it would not be a decline in religion. Are you trying to infer that Christianity is the only religion anyone pays attention to?

        As for Islam “replacing Christianity” and “Jakko’s daughters wearing chadors”, Way to sell unfounded notions, fear mongering and sectarian bigotry!

        • Deacon John Bresnahan

          I live in an area where there are a lot of Islamic immigrants. And it is an
          obvious fact that many Islamic women here are wearing various types of bodily or head coverings. They have every right to. Just as others have every right to say they don’t want our culture to go in that direction. To simply brush such issues off as bigotry and oppose debate on such issues is to embrace ignorance and to abdicate one’s own cultural rights.

          • @John-

            Thanks for the reply.
            I have to point out that your personal story of seeing more Islamic immigrants is what is known as “anecdotal evidence”, and really doesn’t tell us much, since your area is only one small part of the country. Similarly, someone in a small town in North Dakota may report that manufacturing job are booming there, so manufacturing must be taking off across America (simply false). The numbers don’t lie – 0.8% Muslims in American can’t be significant to a drop of around 15% in Christianity. http://www.adherents.com/rel_USA.html This refusal by Christians to make arguments based on reality may be part of the reason why fewer and fewer people every year are seeing Christianity as an accurate lens through which to view the world.

          • You still missed the point that moving away from religion means moving away from all religions. Chicken Littlesque “encroaching Islam” would not be a reasonable explanation.

            Your remark to Jakko smacked of sectarian fear-mongering. You said essentially, you don’t want your culture going in the direction of recognizing religious beliefs and expressions besides yours. To ignore the obvious bigotry of such statements is to take such things too lightly.

            You assume there is something reasonable being debated. I do not. Religious freedom is religious freedom. Some people understand what it means, some do not.

          • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

            Jon: I am about as skeptical of numbers data as you are of “anecdotal evidence.” Isn’t there an old saying that “statistics lie while liars use statistics” (I don’t mean this personally, but to make a point about how statistics are not infallible).
            I am not in North Dakota but right outside the Boston-Cambridge area and every time I bring visitors to, for example, Harvard Square they ask when we became Iraq on the Charles. (An Islamic Center also just opened down the street from my home).
            My daughter-in-law was running in the Boston Marathon and had just reached Boylston Street to turn for the finish line when the bombs went off. Luckily she was far enough back to not get the effects of the bombs.
            She is courageously determined to run again this year and isn’t going to let a bunch of terrorists terrorize her (the rest of the family is scared enough for her.) Also, I am proud of her.
            But the minute anyone says they want to defend our Western Culture and values or states a critical view of another culture’s– out comes the bigotry card. I sometimes wonder if our culture has a Death Wish in that so many in it don’t even seem to want to defend it. How much room for the rights of atheism promoters are there in Islamic countries???

        • Deacon John Bresnahan

          As for one religion–not atheism– replacing another religion–try reading some history. When one religion loses its ability to attract devoted followers- over time- a new religion usually arises. The classic example given in most history books is Islam replacing a weakened Christianity in the Middle East and in the Mediterranean Basin. “Nature” and human beings seem to abhor a spiritual vacuum

          • Yes, historically, religion replaced religion. But that was before the scientific revolution. In the past, religion was used to explain all unknown natural things, and if it left, another explanation moved right in.

            Now, with detailed understanding of the Big Bang, weather, evolution, life and death of cells and organisms… Well, we used to pray for sick people, now we send them to doctors. Prayer does nothing, but doctors can heal you. Science and a naturalistic view of the world is winning.

        • YEs but just because a person moves away from religion does not mean he moves away from his belief in Christ as Savior. I love the Lord but I have not experienced anything that remotely resembles in actions within a church in many years so my wife and I left the church. We also chose at that time to move away from all religions but we happen to have a more active Christian life today than ever as a result. We meet with other Christians at two separate Bibles Studies which we attend plus the Christian Men’s Group weekly.
          The biggest change is in tithing, we simply give to people in need directly rather than via the church.
          Moving away from religion does not mean moving away from Christianity in my experience.

          • — Brother I want to encourage you to consider that the New Testament never divides believers into “churched and unchurched”. This simply is not a biblical model. All believers are part of the Body of Christ which is a group of local believers. Paul started small communities of believers and they formed into churches. Please allow me to humbly encourage you to read about your gifts (1 Cor. 12, 1 Peter 4:10. Also consider the mutual ministry (Thes 4:18, 5;11) and lastly our accountability in spiritual watch care and welfare. We are to watch over and guard one another not abandon the bride. The church is under serious attack from those that don’t know and can’t receive because of hardness. I perceive that you have been hurt. I beseech you to return and make at stand in a local CHURCH. Bring your friend and live out your faith in passion and in community vs. an experience. I go and speak in peace.

      • Pratt Millner

        And that is why it has Deacon before your real name. Trying to sell twisted logic as reality. There is no vacuum or such nonsense. but there is baptism, religious schools, stories told to children too young to reason and more which is not called vacuum but brainwashing.

        • Geert ter Horst

          The point is that atheistic secularism itself is a religion, i.e. an all-encompassing worldview, based not on science or revelation, but often on scientism, which is a religious veneration of science — or any other basic phenomenon within this world.

          Atheism is irrational, since the idea of something making rational sense is bound to the idea of purpose. Why should beings have rational capacities without purpose? This is unintellible and the unintellible is without reason and thus irrational.

          In an atheist’s world there is no ultimate purpose, and thus no purpose at all, since a purpose which isn’t oriented toward an ultimate purpose is itself senseless. The atheist thus lives in a world which ultimately doesn’t make sense at all, not even rational sense.

          In a similar way, the concept of “being” or “existence” must be completely irrational to the atheist. For if the atheist’s worldview were true the most rational thing would be if there didn’t exist anything at all. But this is not the case. Only if there didn’t exist anything at all, no problems concerning the meaning of anything could arise since all such problems would have been solved from the outset.

          • Atheism is no more a religion than bald is a hair color.

            You attribute a worldview and philosophy to it which is largely projection. Atheism simply is that there is no belief in religion or God(s). It is not replacing one irrational religious belief system with another irrational religious belief. It is simply not choosing any irrational belief system.

            There is no rational argument for religion. There is no credible objective evidence for God.

            As for “lacking purpose”, that is your projection than actual atheist belief. More insulting fiction than anything else. Atheists find purpose in life and even have moral codes completely without ever having to invoke divine authority. Its called humanism. You are just far too lazy and self-involved to find out or care. You also confuse atheists with nihlists.

            Instead of spouting off about atheists in an ignorant self-serving fashion, my suggestion is that you actually bother to read about atheism and what they believe and do.

          • As an 88year old man who left Xianity while in WW2,I must say that I still feel the joy of disbelief that I got from reading the bible because our ship was low on books
            & there was a bible, & I’m a bookworm.

          • Larry–Read “The Last Superstition” by Edward Feser. Not only are there very powerful rational arguments for religion, but the materialism/naturalism that atheism rests on is demonstrably incoherent.

          • What you are saying is that belief in the supernatural is rational and that physical observations are irrational.

            You should read different books.

          • Geert ter Hors: “religion, i.e. an all-encompassing worldview, based not on science or revelation, but often on scientism, which is a religious veneration of science — or any other basic phenomenon within this world”

            Atheists may accord theories like the Big Bang Theory with a higher level of probability than that of a sky God who sent part of himself down to us to die *inhale* so that the rest of him could forgive us for being descended from an apple eater whose wife talks to snakes…. but that doesn’t take faith. Faith is either trust based on real-life knowledge & experience of physical processes, or it’s pretending to know things you don’t know. I think you’re using the latter description to describe Atheists, when their worldview is based on eradicating such poor epistemology.

            The rest of your post is a statement of opinion, based on your own fear of emptiness & futility should the promises of your chosen religion be proved vacuous.

            Atheists are in fact very motivated people with a strong sense of morality, a morality they take personal responsibility for. They don’t have the luxury of blaming their poor decisions on God.

          • @Bip

            I am familiar with the book. Actually Feser merely hurls criticism at “new atheists” rather than come up with credible rational arguments for belief.

            There are many arguments for belief, none of them rational or supportable. Claims without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

            Attacks on materialism/naturalism never amount to more than “you have to have believe in my mythology despite lacking any evidence you can possibly observe or trust objectively”. Once people start going into attacks on objective forms of observation and analysis as implied with invoking “materialism/naturalism” they give the game away as an admission they have no rational arguments to support.

          • — Geert ter Horst. I commend you on your astute comment. Atheism is absolutely a religion (defined as: a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature and purpose of the universe, especially when considering supernatural powers, ceremonies and worship). I agree that this would include the atheistic worldview. They just refuse to admit that they have made “themselves” god. Romans states simply, ” The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

        • Is that not also true to teach children that there is no God is brainwashing them into your personal belief? Please do not be ignorant in your response, my question is asked sincerely and not as a arguement

          • Shawn, is it not better to teach children about the universal truths: morality, then let them make up their own minds in their own time? As children, they don’t have the logical faculties to filter bad ideas.

            On the other hand, I remember being taught at church as a child & thinking what a load of BS I was being fed. Unfortunately I was then forced to accept through social pressure until later in life.

      • Islamic people in developed countries (like the USA, Europe) will follow the christians and become more and more secular. I see it happening already here in Europe. Sure they are behind, and way more traditional but that is because their parents, the immigrants come from a background that is centuries behind the West (the Middle East)
        Their kids, they go to schools, they have internet. They watch and learn and stop going to the mosque. It might take another generation or more, but the process is irreversible. You can’t put the Djinn back into the bottle.

        • For the most part it is already the norm in the areas in the US which are major Muslim enclaves such as Dearborne MI, Downtown Brooklyn and Los Angeles. Places where you see people at least 1-2 generations away from immigration or conversion.

        • Do not get excited that quickly, Islam is fastest growing belief. By 2030 it will the biggest religion or belief in the world, hahahaha poor athiest.

          Also ironically the youth are even more religious then their parents, thats because coming in contact with athiest and christians and bad experiences with them.

          I realised the more religious muslims are more kinder and less likely speak behind your back. I see athiests and christianity openly gossiping and backbitting without any guilt. I proud of Islam. Peace

      • michelliberty

        Islam is not converting as many people as you may think , but Islam is becoming strong not because of conversion but because of population growth
        Muslim woman are having 4 and 5 baby’s as opposed to other religion who are having 1 baby per family, and that how Islam will become a threat.

        PS on the subject of Islam they are not great in numbers yet , but they have a loud voice and scream racism at the drop of a hat , so the western civilization bleeding hearts want to appease them at all cost so they bend the laws in they’re favor every-time , the threat is real and is coming to canada and the USA, just look at the UK and you will see the horror that is RADICAL Islam .

    • But you’ve still got a State Church in Denmark, England, Finland (actually 2-Orthodox and Lutheran), and Iceland. They still get tax dollars automatically, which is completely un-Progressive.
      The Kirchensteuer system in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria is also corrupt and provides tax funds(and Billions of Euros worth of them) to churches that have to do nothing to get people to go to church but can simply sit back and wait for the state to pay their salaries.

    • Jaakko, you shouldn’t get so hung up on the figures. Christianity will be around long after Europe and Finland have ceased to be be viable entities. We in the Catholic Church tend to bury our undertakers. Good luck!

  3. A decline in religiosity has a few positive factors … but as someone who comments on these things, and as a researcher into methods of making disciples, I’d love a little more information on the various inputs into the graph and what exactly is being measured. Spirituality is morphing … so there’s some question as to whether then and now isn’t comparing apples to oranges.

    A prediction of a decline much worse is here, if you are interested…
    http://www.disciplewalk.com/Barna_Revolution.html

    And a winsome example of spirituality morphing:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aQbmaKuT0Oo

    • Good information. Inspiring and not a condemnation on the local church as expressed by the culture as the “organized” church. What do people want” Is is disorganized – non mission focus? Let’s not back down!

  4. Pastor Marvin Jonasen

    Not surprising, but sad, as it is something the church has brought up itself. Consider the following title as part of the reason why:
    https://m.barnesandnoble.com/w/why-have-all-the-people-gone-rev-marvin-r-jonasen/1019608154?ean=9781448991815

      • Tobin Grant

        It’s not meaningless. It’s just relative. I’m going to go into detail on how it’s measured in another post, but the quick version:

        The measure is standardized. It uses a bunch of measures to track how they all measure the up’s and down’s of religion. The result is a measure that is good at measuring changes over time, but it doesn’t give you a measure like ___ % are religious.

        It’s just like an IQ test. You give a bunch of people the test and then can compare who is more or less “intelligent” based on their responses to a bunch of questions. But you don’t say that a person is 50% intelligent; you say that they’re average or above average etc. Same basic idea here. We use a bunch of measures (prayer, church attendance, importance of religion in people’s lives, membership, etc.) and then see which years are more or less religious.

        So, in the graph, we mark the average for the time period. Above the line marks how far (in standard deviations) a year is above this average. Below the line is below average.

        • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

          Trying to graph intelligence and/or morality on surveys and charts strikes me as- overall- an exercise that frequently proves very little.
          What is one to make of the survey that probed the intelligence levels of Nazi leaders just before the Nuremberg Trials??? The 22 were examined by a team of psychologists and psychiatrists using tests and interviews. All the Nazis measured above average in intelligence. (see “Hans and Rudolf” the true story of how the Kommandant of Auschwitz was caught.)
          I find that interesting because, so often, anti-religious commenters like to insult the intelligence level of religious believers and claim that people of “superior intelligence” are more likely to be right when it comes to moral issues. But does this Nuremberg survey also prove that people of above average intelligence are more likely to become supporters of the type war crimes and murders the Nazis perpetrated???

          • Church or religion or beliefs based on faith and not fact is not an indication of morality or non-morality. Altruism does not require superstition and myths.

          • you can not use one point of reference and use that as a basis for measuring this study. Day one science class CORRELATION does not EQUAL CAUSATION. Just because you found a case that may support your theory does not mean every study is faulty as I can google hundreds of cases or surveys to argue the exact opposite.

          • Mr. Bresnahan

            you asked – “But does this Nuremberg survey also prove that people of above average intelligence are more likely to become supporters of the type war crimes and murders the Nazis perpetrated???”

            answer: no. it only shows that even very intelligent people can become deluded. as an example – Sir Isaac Newton was xian.

            it’s important to note that most good german national socialists in the 1930’s and 40’s identified as xian.

          • The Nazi leaders were not a random sample. Likely even among evil-doers the most intelligent will rise to leadership positions.

        • You can’t say that a person is 50% intelligent, you can say he is more intelligent than 50% of the population. Or 30% or 70%.
          So it is nothing like an IQ test. Meaningful IQ graphs have vertical axis unit measures. Your graph does not, and it tells us if the results are statistically significant.

          • Tobin Grant

            IQ graphs have arbitrary scales, just like this one. The middle line is the average year’s religiosity for the time period, the upper one is one standard deviation above average year. If you want, you could call the middle line “100”, the one above “116”, and the one below “84” — that would give it the same arbitrary scale as most IQ scores.

        • Another question is on the y axis average..What is the average even mean and when was this average measured. 60′ ,70′ etc. This graph could have been greatly improved as it seems powerful from the deviation but with no points of reference means nothing

    • I agree…Just having the word average gives no delineation of what is being measured or compared against. There is no number basis just a point graph with years. The Y axis definitely needs to have some sort of value assigned whether or not you are using multiple soucrces or information. If you are going to use multiple tools to assign value then you need a graph for each otherwise this seems very haphazard.

  5. There is a correlation with a decrease in violent crime in the US during that time period as well. It has been safer to live in the US now more than it has been in more than 2 generations.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/24/us/24crime.html?_r=0

  6. @ Larry – Wow, I never thought of that. That’s clearly something a lot of people need to think about before they asset that religion helps society.

    To those who criticized the graph/data – please read the article before criticizing. I’m sure there are things to rightfully criticize, but some things (Iike the lack of values on the y axis) are explained in the article.

      • The new Pew research poll might agree. The new poll showed that we are now probably at the least violent time in recorded history, except guess where? In the category of religion. Religious based violence has increased.

        • It’s only less violent now if we don’t count abortion. If we do count abortion, the USA is in its MOST VIOLENT time ever. If we add estimates of rape, it really goes off the charts. When Sayyid Qutb, professor from University of Northern Colorado, claimed that members of the Muslim Brotherhood were, on average, less violent than the Americans, he made this same point. In debate with radical Muslims (most of whom don’t really care about debate), it’s hard to sweep this under the carpet.

  7. Can you add the data range of the y axis in the graph? Without it we cannot tell if this is a trend or insignificant noise. My high school science professor would throw a tantrum if she sees it. ;-)

  8. Mark Obenauer

    I don’t feel secularization is necessarily a good trend I am a religious conservative and I feel traditional values are under attack even in the traditionally conservative evangelical stronghold where I reside. Families are falling apart. Traditional values of kindness and hospitality are being lost as people only think of themselves. People are less likely to know their neighbors or assist acquaintances and strangers who need help. I realize this country was never a Christian nation, but Judeo-Christian values once had more of an imprint on people’s lives and when people did wrong they were more likely to feel ashamed. I may feel more marginalized, but the silver lining is I feel more committed to what I believe, and more likely to throw a life raft out to those who are victims of an increasingly impersonal, survival of the fittest secular society.

    • I take issue with the phrase “traditional values” as the values of the Christian Church have evolved a lot over the centuries. Many Christians bat that phrase around apparently believing that the values the bible suggests really are what they use, but I think they kid themselves.
      Moreover to say that we live in a “survival of the fittest secular” society is viewing society through bible glasses (to quote ken Ham). Society may well be more impersonal than it was in the past, but I attribute that more to the increase in population and the tendency for more people to move multiple times during their lives. Living in a more rural area where families are more likely to stay in place for much of their lives makes for a much more bonded group, likely to help each other out. Even in a city this bonding can occur if significant portions of the population tend to stay in the same neighborhood for decades.

      I’ve lived in Fairbanks for 55 years and I’ve found people at every job I’ve had have largely welcomed me and done what they could to help the new guy out. I’ve had the same house for 27 years and have maybe locked the door one or two hundred times in those years. I’ve not regretted it yet. Then again I’ve been lucky, but I’ve also known my neighbor next door for 11 years, the next neighbor for 30 years and the next guy down since I was 20.

      Rats are social animals, but if you keep adding more and more of them to one nest, they become nastier and meaner to each other.

      • “Rats are social animals, but if you keep adding more and more of them to one nest, they become nastier and meaner to each other.”

        While the above is undoubtedly true you should note that the Dutch live in a far more crowded country than the US but are a lot nicer to each other than you might expect despite this.

    • When one rails against secularization, what they are saying is that they support sectarian discrimination by government. A feeling of loss for self-styled entitlement and privilege which was never legitimately gained in the first place. Separation of church and state protects both from each other. Secularism is how one implements such protection.

      “Traditional values” have always been under attack for as long as people used the phrase. Every generation has their own version of what that means. Of course the problem with tradition is that unless you can cough up a rational and legitimate reason for one, there is no need to keep one.

      “Judeo-Christian values” is a nonsense phrase to mean whatever a conservative Christian wants it to be. For whatever they want to take credit for. Usually it involves describing things which have nothing inherently to do with Judaism or Christianity.

      Yet our nation has never been safer from violent crime! The world has become safer in general. Wars of aggression, mass murder and genocide are no longer as prevalent in the world as it was generations ago. There is no threat of annihilation from global scale warfare.

    • There has never been anything like traditional “Judeo/Christian” values practiced at any point in Western civilization after it became the state religion in the late 300s. Since than, as the most powerful institution in in all “Christian” nations in Europe it is the co sponsor of all the evil that befell the people of these countries. Sure some argument can be made for some of Christianity’s achievements in academic in administrative areas but throughout its history as an organized religion it has been responsible for way more grief than good. Your personal experience is probably based on a relatively comfortable life in a privileged nook of the world and in a privileged segment of society and of course the very Christian ability to turn a blind eye to the suffering of others.

      If you really feel the world is going down hill without “Judeo/Christian values” what other period of history would you prefer to live in if you can’t choose social/economic status?

  9. This article did not discuss the whys, but the reasons for the decline should be clear to anyone who uses his/her brain. The godless public schools, the god-mocking and immoral TV shows and movies, and the immoral music industry. People who grow up being feed vomit are not going to be religious.

    • Actually many atheists and agnostics are raised by religious parents.

      Many cite obnoxious, hateful, self-righteous behavior by religious people to be a major driving force away from religiosity.

    • Actually the decline in religiosity is linked to our non-rational side. Religion thrives where existential anxiety is high. Once people start feeling prosperous and safe religiosity declines. We might like to think we are more rational than this but it ain’t necessarily so.

      This explanation also explains the difference between religiosity in the US and other Western European style countries. Most Western European style countries have a comprehensive social safety net and high quality health care irrespective of the ability to pay. This reduces existential anxiety and therefore religiosity even for the poorest. This change has occurred to a much lesser extent in the US because the political system is such that the poor are poorly represented.

    • Since the Renaissance, when the rise of what we call Western civilization began, it has been a steady rejection of the Middle Eastern value system of Abrahamic religion. The rediscovery of the humanistic, pagan values of the Greeks and Romans fueled the Renaissance, lead to the Reformation which in turn lead to the Enlightenment and with it the Scientific Method and the establishment of the first overtly secular nation — USA.

      At one point we will be free of the authoritarian Middle Eastern, Bronze Age, magical, superstitious way of thinking…

  10. Very interesting chart, but it doesn’t seem to jive with the increase in the number of people that don’t believe in evolution. Not that it would have to, but it does make me go “hhhmmmmm”.

    • @Eric – Not sure what data you are basing this on. Data I’ve see has shown the % accepting the reality of evolution to be mostly holding steady. http://www.pewforum.org/2013/12/30/publics-views-on-human-evolution/
      http://www.gallup.com/poll/21814/Evolution-Creationism-Intelligent-Design.aspx

    • Because there is no increase the number of believers in Creationist nonsense. Just a greater degree of willingness to discuss such ideas in public.

      The internet has made it easy for people express views which previously used to subject them to social ridicule.

  11. Tobin, I am unable to read the Sep 2008 article through my library’s EBSCO. They don’t have the full text. Is it available somewhere without having to purchase?

    Also the chart you posted goes to 2012 but the article linked is Sep 2008, so is there an updated version of the article available?

    Thanks.

  12. What a sharp decline, puts it all into perspective. What would a CEO do if this was a business showing declining sales. The Church is fast running out of emerging countries with which to grow. It’s going to need to look closely at itself.

  13. If you are a priest or pastor, you are probably a wonderful person who means well and loves people.

    Most preachers do love people and want to help others. The joy they feel is very real I’m sure.

    But it is time to get help. This religion thing is dying off and you need to talk to someone. If you know the time has come please contact caring individuals who will do everything they can to help you leave the priesthood and find your feet:

    Look at…. ClergyProject.org

    Just because I’m an Atheist doesn’t mean I don’t care about Clergy. Most of you are too wonderful to waste. Get help!

  14. This graph just highlights why we are having such a problem in this country with lawlessness and immorality. A nation without God is a nation devoid of a conscience. One only needs to look to Communist Russia and China to see the end result of a nation without God. I sigh and cry for the inhabitants of this country. Science is not lost on christians. Every major scientific discipline was started and explored by God-fearers. It’s a straw man argument to suggest that someone who believes in God doesn’t believe in science.

  15. I think data on the, say, fifty years preceding the 1950 start date of your graph would be provocative. The numbers I have seen suggest that there was a change from a level (low) about the same as today’s. But in the years leading up to the 1950’s, religious engagement increased to that high point. Might it be that religious engagement is now back to a “normal” level. That would suggest that the causes of this peaking of religious engagement would be just as interesting as of the decline to today’s level.

  16. You need to be clearer about the data sources. Church attendance based on self-reported surveys (asking “How many times in the last (month, year, etc.) did you go to church”) gives numbers about twice as big as churches report as showing up.

  17. michelliberty

    The reason religion is on the decline is that people are more intelligent now, they have no need for a crutch like the church , people realize that magic does not exist and by proxy they realize invisible being in the sky are just delusions of frighten children , its time we shed our chains and live life to its fullest without the persecution of religious manipulators , the world is to beautiful to waste on our knees praying for magic that will never come.

  18. It’s amazing how many times the “atheists” (there really is no such thing) are quick to subtly attack creationists with words describing belief in a god of any kind as “nonsense” and “people needing help” or even “just plain stupid.” The question is, if you don’t believe in a god, what do you care if other people do? Let them worry about their souls in the afterlife and you can go on not believe that you do not have one. If there is no god, then why do we even have laws? If there is no reason to have morals, why bother following any if you don’t need to pay for your sins when you die? Abortion, for example, is a big moral issue for a lot of people. Traditionally, the view is that even an unborn baby is still a baby and killing it is murder (and of course the 6th Commandment is Thou Shalt Not Kill). The baby did not choose to be created. If it is not wrong to kill a baby human, why is it illegal to kill an adult human? But to many people of our society now, it’s a throw away society. Don’t want it? Just toss it in the garbage. “Truth” is subjective. An atheist could look at the Earth within the galaxy and say how coincidental it is that everything is in the perfect place for us to evolve. A creationist believer will look at it and say how the percentage of possibility for everything to be where it is, is far too tiny for random chance to occur. Unfortunately, atheists will always continue to belittle their fellow creationist humans and probably vice versa. It will be very hard to coexist from now on, with issues like homosexual marriage and abortion being in the limelight. And in the end, what’s wrong with being nice to each other?

  19. Michael Glass

    It should be noted that religious belief is declining in the United States and many other Western countries. In fact, the US stands out for its religiosity.

  20. I think the reasons are simple. Religion has been declining as communication has increased. Religion thrives on sequestered congregations. As soon as people become more connected, they get more information outside their circles, and religion starts declining. Note how the graph levels off in the middle, then dives again as the Internet takes off.

  1. […] So Alternet released another screed about how Americans are getting dumber.  It is flattering the liberal conscience, I suppose, to believe that everyone around them is a fundamentalist moron.   Does Alternet have new numbers?  No, its numbers are from 2008 and 2010 when the trends of secularization actually started changing and showing up, and an acceleration of secularization started to be visible.  […]

  2. […] Re: the new congress "The Protestant work ethic was important at one time in America but this is not that." I agree. It's departure began in the late 60s, coinciding with our new found fascination with Marxism. The Great Decline: 60 years of religion in one graph – Corner of Church and State […]

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