According to Gallup’s latest poll, a whopping 77% of Americans believe that the influence of religion is declining in the U.S., representing the most negative evaluation of religion’s impact in America since 1970.
This, however, is not an entirely new trend in America. Over the years, Americans have been more likely than not to say that religion is losing its influence on society, with at least 60% of the population holding that belief in 1991-1994, in 1997, in 2003, and from 2007 to the present. On the other hand, the high point for Americans believing that religion was increasing its influence came in December 2001, with just over 70% of the population believing that religion was gaining influence in society.
Bear in mind, however, that the poll doesn’t measure the influence of religion on each respondent’s personal life, but rather, the perceived influence on political life. Overall, very religious Americans are not more or less likely than their less religious counterparts to say that religion is losing its influence. “There is, however, a modest relationship between Americans' ideology as well as partisanship and their views of the influence of religion,” the report points out, “with liberals and Democrats more likely than conservatives and Republicans to say religion's influence is increasing in American society.”
Oddly, despite the largely pessimistic view held by the majority of Americans on the influence of religion on society, 75% of Americans believe that it would be positive for American society if more Americans were religious. Though as Gallup further breaks down that question to correlate church attendance, a question that comes up is: By "more religious," do Americans just mean more Christian? Or are 77% of Americans okay with a larger Islamic influence? Or a Jewish influence?
Moreover, why is it that that Americans are both overwhelmingly positive about the influence of religion on society, but are largely negative regarding the direction the U.S. is headed in that regard? The fact that American politics are becoming increasingly defined by a religious fault-line may have something to do with it. While the conservative’s strategy is to gain support based on shared social and religious conservative views, liberals have made it almost a taboo to hold any religious views in the cultural and political arena at all. However, what is clear from the trends shown in the Gallup poll is that there is room for expression of faith in cultural and political matters. What we still lack, however, are leaders who can successfully combine faith with those two arenas and contribute positive engagement without alienating those who may not share the same beliefs.