During the 18 years since the rock band R.E.M. released one of its biggest singles, America has apparently been working to catch up. Now we’ve done it: we’re losing our religion.
A recent American Religious Identification Survey indicates there are far fewer Christians in the U.S. compared to 1990 (the year before R.E.M. released “Losing My Religion). And an increasing number of Americans are claiming no religion at all. In 1990, Christians made up 86 percent of the population – last year it was 76 percent. And about 8.2 percent of the country said in 1990 that they followed no religion – that number jumped to 15 percent last year. The survey was done by the Program on Public Values at Trinity College.
At a time when movies such as Bill Maher’s “Religulous” can become major films, it probably comes as little surprise that more Americans are losing religion, and there are fewer Christians. For better or worse, it’s apparently getting harder to believe in God.
Anyone who has stepped into a fair number of churches in the past few years has probably noticed that many believers are getting the hint there are fewer Christians around. Especially in protestant churches, pastors and youth ministers are attempting to woo younger parishioners by converting traditional services to have a more “contemporary” theme. That basically means bringing in a couple guys who can play guitar and drums to back up the apparently uncool traditional hymns. To be fair, some congregations have formed some pretty impressive musical groups, but it’s still hard to sound sincere yelling “Praise Jesus” over distorted guitar and crashing cymbals. A chunky riff just doesn’t sound right without a little Satanic angst. Regardless, the American Religious Identification Survey determined the number of mainline protestants dropped from 17 percent to 12.9 percent during the past seven years.
In the Roman Catholic Church, it’s been clear for years that young people are losing interest. According to the recent survey, the number of practicing Catholics dropped from 43 percent in 1990 to 36 percent last year. Many young Catholics know little about their religion, according to other studies, and fewer are interested in practicing their faith. The number of men seeking to join the priesthood has dropped to historically low levels, which is almost certainly part of what led some Catholic sects to begin seriously questioning age-old practices like refusing to ordain women and gay men.
So while this most recent American Religious Identification Survey is bound to cause some serious head-shaking among followers of Christ, the results should really come as no surprise. Christian churches seem to have taken note of a potential for decline some time ago. Plenty have blamed public schools for corrupting the youngsters with the science of evolution or the media for saturating their minds with sex and violence. No matter who is to blame – or who is right – it’s been coming for a while.
American Religious Survey Identification 2008
The Associated Press
The New York Times