Decline in religion continues as America becomes increasingly secular: columnist

Decline in religion continues as America becomes increasingly secular: columnist

During a late March commentary on HBO's "Real Time," host Bill Maher argued that if the United States is truly committed to DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion), it's time to give atheists more respect. Atheists, as Maher sees it, are discriminated against even though "we're approaching a third of the population now."

Polls and surveys have been showing that the United States on the whole is less religious than it was in the past, Americans are somewhat more favorable than unfavorable to organized religion. A Pew Research survey conducted in September 2022 found that Judaism fares the best in terms of public opinion, with 35 percent of respondents having a "very/somewhat favorable" view of Jews, 6 percent having a "very/somewhat unfavorable" view and 58 percent saying "neither/don't know enough to say."

Pew found that 34 percent of respondents had a "very/somewhat favorable" view of Catholics compared to 30 percent for Mainline Protestants and 28 percent for evangelicals. Overall, Pew found Americans to have a neutral view of organized religion.

READ MORE: How white fundamentalist evangelicals keep moving far-right as the US grows increasingly 'secular': author

New York Times opinion writer Jessica Grose discusses the United States' complex relationship with religion in her April 19 column. The U.S., Grose argues, is more secular than it was in the past but still isn't as secular as Europe.

"It's not just the frequency of churchgoing or temple membership that’s declining in our country," Grose observes. "Last month, The Wall Street Journal and NORC at the University of Chicago surveyed around 1000 American adults about the importance of different values to Americans, including the importance of religion. In 2023, only 39 percent of respondents said religion was very important to them, compared to 62 percent who said that in 1998."

The columnist continues, "When you look at the full results, the picture becomes a bit more complicated. Sixty percent of respondents said that religion was either somewhat or very important to them, and only 19 percent said religion was not important to them at all. The United States is still a more religiously observant country than our peer nations in Western Europe — according to Pew Research in 2018, for example, we are more likely to believe in God or some kind of higher power and more likely to pray daily."

Pew's data on religion and public opinion is in line with a comment Maher has made. Although the "Real Time" host has often been a scathing critic of religious fundamentalists and argues in favor of atheists' rights, he has described Judaism as the "coolest" of the organized western religions. And Wall Street Journal/NORC polling bears out Maher's argument that atheists are now "approaching a third of the population" in the U.S.

READ MORE: Donald Trump's griping about evangelical 'disloyalty' was an order to get in line

Grose notes, "According to NORC data, atheists only made up about 2 percent to 3 percent of the population from 1988 to 2012. By 2021, atheists were 7 percent of the population. In 1988, 17 percent of Americans said they never attended religious services. In 2021, that number was 31 percent."

The NY Times columnist also points out that there are many people who identify with a particular religion but aren't especially observant — including Grose, who is Jewish, and her Episcopalian husband.

"My mother and I both said we would identify as Jewish," Grose writes. "My father — who has two Jewish parents and was bar mitzvahed — said he'd identify as 'nothing' and instead likes to joke about erecting a statue of Athena in his yard. My husband, who was baptized Episcopalian but didn't always go to church regularly growing up, said he would identify as Christian. My 10-year-old said she didn't know what she would say."

READ MORE: The public now views the US Supreme Court as 'fundamentally partisan': report

Read Jessica Grose's full New York Times opinion column at this link (subscription required).

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