THE BLOG

Some Americans Are Increasingly Ambivalent About Religion

12/20/2013 11:04 pm ET | Updated Feb 19, 2014
  • Elwood D. Watson Professor of history, African-American studies and gender studies, East Tennessee State University

This is the time of year when many Americans deeply immerse themselves in the holiday spirit. Gift giving, receiving gifts, hymn singing, celebrating, helping those less fortunate (although some of us do this year round), drinking egg nog, eating all types of delicious food, attending movies, etc. -- the list goes on and on. That being said, while many of us do get into the Christmas spirit, it seems that for a growing number of Americans, there is a gradual erosion of commitment to religious observance.

According to a 2013 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, the houses of worship are seeing more and more empty pews. A study that was released by the center on July 2 conducted a poll of 4,000 adults between March 21 and April 8 of this year, using English and Spanish. While the poll is by no means totally scientific, the responses of its participants probably does mirror that of many Americans. The findings reveal that 20 percent of Americans do not identify with any religion. Moreover, one third of Americans stated that they did not consider themselves religious. While I cannot say that I was totally shocked by the findings, the fact is that I was indeed surprised by many of the poll's other findings:

· 55% of Americans feel that having a society that is less religious made no difference

· 24% saw such a less religious trend as good

· 19% saw such a trend as negative

It is important to note that the groups were broken down by race, religious affiliation and age. White evangelical Protestants (78%), black Protestants (64%) and white non-Hispanic Catholics (56%) were more inclined to see American society becoming less committed to religion as a negative thing. Other interesting findings were:

· 48% of Hispanic Catholics believe that such a trend does not matter

· 45% of White Protestants believe that such a trend is problematic

· 24% say that is actually a good thing that Americans are less religious

Men were slightly less likely than women to see less religion as a good thing -- 10% as opposed to women's 12%. Moreover, 40% of men and 38% of women said that it made no difference.

The findings for millennials (generation Y), those born between 1980 and 1998, were more paradoxical. While they were less likely than the silent generation (those born between 1925 and 1945), baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) and generation X (those born between 1965 and 1979) to be involved in any form of religious activity, they were not totally convinced that a less worshipping society was a good thing. Results were:

· 47% of millennials felt that having more non-religious people was bad for society

· 60% of baby boomers and the silent generation felt that more non-religious people was a negative thing for society

As someone who considers himself a religious person, I can only conclude that such statistics are a microcosm of our society and that a number of Americans are most likely experiencing a state of uncertainty. A world that is marred with economic uncertainty, ongoing crisis, social upheaval and other forms of unrest can cause any person to feel disillusion.

People of color, especially African Americans, have always been a religious and spiritual people. Indeed, it has been the primary vehicle that has sustained us through an often tormented history in a nation that has often treated us as outsiders. That being said, I have no doubt that occasional lapses in faith aside, a deep spiritual faith and commitment will continue to be a mainstay in the lives of many African Americans.