In today’s generation, religion no longer plays a big role in the lives of many Americans.
The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life concluded that more than one-quarter of the American adults (28 percent) have left the faith in which they were raised, in favor of another religion – or no religion at all.
Based on the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 14.3 million Americans in 1990 who self-described themselves as not religious. The number increased to 29.48 million in 2001, and by 2008, there were 34.16 million Americans who were self-described as not religious.
Given that the 2008 population of the United States is 304 million and U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s 2014 estimate is 318 million (CIA July 2014), roughly 11 percent of Americans do not practice a religion.
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“The secular groups may believe in God but they are not interested in the external (human) authority of the church. They do not accept controlled living, and they question the authority of the sacred text,” said Barry Kosmin, Ph.D.
Kosmin is a sociologist, and is the research professor at Trinity College. He was the principal investigator of the 2001, 2008, 2013 American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS). He wrote several books, including “The American Nones”, and he founded the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture.
The nones are now a part of the American political demographics. During the 2009 Inaugural Speech of President Barack Obama, Obama described the United States as a nation of “Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus–and nonbelievers.” It was the first time an American president had acknowledged the existence of this rapidly growing segment of the population in such a public forum.
“This growing number of atheists in [America] is a great thing,” said Phil Zuckerman, Ph.D. Zuckerman, a self-confessed Atheist/Agnostic, is a professor of Sociology and Secular Studies at Pitzer College. He studied Secularism extensively and has several publications on Secularity, Atheism and Apostasy.
“I disagree that America must have a god in order to have a good society. You can have a strong society without a religion,” said Zuckerman.
Zuckerman stated that religion is a product of human culture, human psychology, and human experience. He stressed that people need reason, and not faith or fantasy. “No gods will save us. We can only rely on ourselves.
“If you abandon Jesus and God, everything will fall not apart,” added Zuckerman.
According to Zuckerman, in his opinion, there are six reasons that may explain the changing religiosity of the American people, aside from the obvious reason of higher education and advancement in science.
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Kosmin, on the other hand, explained that:
“Secularism is interested in the progress of the here and now. Religion is interested in creation, salvation and heaven. It sees the world as a preparation for something else and secularism doesn’t think that way.”
This changing landscape of American religion is a far cry from the religiosity of the forefathers of the American Republic.
According to the document, “Religion and the Founding of the American Republic”, at the Library of Congress, the United States of America was formed because of religious purposes. The documents stated that the forefathers escaped the European persecutions and settled in America to practice their belief in God and their religious convictions freely as they believed what the Scriptures have commanded.
Their efforts proved that God’s plan for his churches could be realized successfully in the wilderness of America.
It was estimated that between 1700 and 1740, 75 percent to 80 percent of the population attended churches.
The faith of the forefathers remained strong when the government of the United States was created in the years after 1776.
Their conviction rested on the belief that there was one true religion and that it was the duty of the civil authorities to impose it, forcibly if necessary, in the interest of saving the souls of all citizens.
In 1922, a British observer named G.K. Chesterton, considered to be the greatest thinker and writer of the 20th century, wrote a book entitled “What I Saw in America” and he concluded that, “America is the only nation in the world founded on a creed…a nation with the soul of the church.”
“It does also…condemn atheism, since it clearly names the Creator as the ultimate authority,” Chesterton added,
Likewise, the aristocratic Frenchman, Alexis de Tocqueville, who was sent by the French government to the U.S. in 1831, to collect information about the American society, including its religious character, wrote in his book “Democracy in America”, that religion is a powerful force in American life.
“The religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention.
“The sovereign authority is religious…there is no country in the world where the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America.
“Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power,”said Tocqueville.
It is too early yet to tell what significant effects this changing religiosity has in store for America.
Zuckerman however, worries about the loss of community, which may mean the loss of social capital. “We need to find ways to fulfill this need,” said Zuckerman.
Kosmin acknowledged that at the moment the young Americans tend to be less religious, but the current religious people are more religious than they ever were before.
“This is polarizing, two extremes growing in the landscape of American religion,” said Kosmin.
Whatever the future brings, religion in America must remain focused to being good.
“America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great,” said Tocqueville.
© 2014 Joe Quintana