An extensive new survey by the Pew Research Center of more than 35,000 U.S. adults finds that the percentages who say they believe in God, pray daily and regularly go to church or other religious services all have declined modestly in recent years.
But while Americans, on the whole, are becoming less religious, the survey also finds “a great deal of stability in the U.S. religious landscape.” It shows that the recent decrease in a variety of traditional religious beliefs and practices is largely attributable to the growing minority (now 23 percent) of Americans who say they do not belong to any organized faith. Among the overwhelming majority (77 percent) of U.S. adults who do affiliate with a particular religion, there has been no discernible drop in most measures of religious commitment.
Indeed, by some measures, religiously affiliated Americans have become even more devout in recent years. For example, the percentages of Christian adults who say they regularly read the Bible, share their faith with others and participate in small prayer groups or scripture study groups all have risen since 2007, according to the Pew Research Center report.
“Is America becoming less religious? It depends on where you look,” said Gregory A. Smith, the principal researcher behind the study. “If you’re looking at the public as a whole, then the answer is yes—we find small but statistically significant declines, overall, in belief in God and several other conventional measures of religious commitment. But if you focus just on people who say they belong to a religion—and that’s the vast majority of Americans—they are, on balance, every bit as religious as they were in the recent past.”
The new report is the second major installment of the Pew Research Center’s 2014 U.S. Religious Landscape Study. An initial report, published in May, focused on the changing size and demographic characteristics of U.S. religious groups. It detailed the rapid growth in the number of Americans, particularly in the millennial generation, who do not identify with any religion—a group sometimes called the “nones.”
The latest report analyzes trends in religious beliefs and practices by comparing data from a 2014 nationwide telephone survey of more than 35,000 Americans with an equally extensive survey that asked many of the same questions about religion in 2007.
Both the 2014 and 2007 surveys show that not all “nones” are non-believers. In fact, the majority of Americans without a religious affiliation say they believe in God. But, on average, the “nones” are far less religiously observant than Americans who identify with a specific faith. And as the “nones” have grown from 16 percent of U.S. adults in the original Religious Landscape Study in 2007 to 23 percent in 2014, they have become even less religious, at least by many conventional measures. For example, the share of religiously unaffiliated Americans who say they believe in God dropped from 70 percent in 2007 to 61 percent in 2014, while the share who say they seldom or never pray rose from 56 percent to 62 percent over the same period.
“The ‘nones’ not only are growing in number, but also distancing themselves even further from traditional, institutional religion,” said Alan Cooperman, director of religion research at the Pew Research Center. “Their growth as a share of the population, coupled with a decline in their self-reported levels of religious observance, is a key factor behind the modest overall drop in the nation’s rates of religious belief and practice.”
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