Americans want more of where we are not going. That lesson seems to be the overarching theme behind recent Gallup survey results on religion. According to data released May 29, Gallup noted that 77% of Americans believe that religion is losing influence on American life. However, the same results noted that 75% agreed that it would be positive for American society to be “more religious.” Combined with results released the previous week stating that 72% of Americans believe that moral values are getting worse, the Gallup numbers suggest that Americans are not happy with the moral direction of the nation. While many will delve into the minutiae of these numbers, I believe the moral of this story is in the headline. Over three fourths of Americans are ready to have a conversation about the soul of America.
These numbers document the flip-flopping Americans generally exhibit on matters of morality. Americans notice the incessant onslaught of negative influences in popular culture (i.e., the mainstream influence of pornography, the glorification of selfishness, the body image issues relating to women’s magazines, the boundless violence promoted in most movies, hook-up culture, equating love with promiscuity, etc.) We also notice the consequences of pursuing our appetites to the fullest extent (ex. Single-parent homes mired in poverty, skyrocketing divorce rates, eating disorders in teenage girls, objectification of intimacy, etc.). What the 72% fails to notice is the fact that, without consistent support from some members of the American population who made up the Gallup numbers, corporations that contribute to this moral decline could not be household names. Like an addict looking in the mirror for the first time after a binge, we ignore the pale complexion and the needle tracks up our arm and look forward to the next high. While we know what is best for us, we also know what feels really good. Regardless, over three fourths of Americans have diagnosed the problem.
The numbers regarding religion in society are similarly complicated. Since religion is perceived as the preeminent arbiter of morality in a society, it follows that roughly the same number of individuals (77%) who are concerned about moral decay would also note the waning influence of religion. Virtually the same numbers of people (75%) view the cure to these ills as a society that is “more religious.” However, the meaning of “more religious” in this context is important to note. I would guess that 75% of respondents were not concerned that more individuals be able to articulate the differences in the doctrines of Free Will and Predestination. Instead, the notion of religion, in this context, simply connotes some objective standards of decency. Essentially, the term “religion” represents some alternative to the cocktail of hedonism and relativism that passes for politically correct modern standards of morality. Far from hoping to put the Pagans to the whip, these numbers suggest that 75% of Americans are simply hoping for something besides the personal whim of each individual to govern societal morality.
These statistics suggest that Americans are interested in every aspect of the future of the country; including the moral composition. We are a nation that celebrates individual freedom. However, we also know that we are capable of more than the absurd morass of debauchery and dysfunction into which we have sunken over the past few decades. These Gallup numbers represent a conversation about the soul of America that we are not having. That is a shame.