If you’ve been following statistics that track piety in this country over the last 5 years, you’ve noticed that America is becoming more and more religiously unaffiliated.
This may surprise those readers who believe we live in a Christian nation. Maybe it will only surprise those who supported Rick Santorum.
But from survey to survey, the statistics are the same. According to the 2008 Trinity College American Religious Identification Survey, 15 percent of Americans said they had no religious identification.
The General Social Survey for that same year reported 16.4 percent of Americans said they have no religious affiliation. The Baylor Religion Survey of 2007 found 15.2 percent of survey respondents said they had no religious identification.
Young people, the millennial generation, are even less religiously affiliated than older generations: the Pew Research Center reported that 26 percent of people born in 1981 or later held no religious affiliation, compared to 20 percent of the generation ahead of them.
Before you dismiss the last statistic by saying that young people are naturally less religious and they will go back to church when they are older, let me elaborate on the Pew data.
For each generation, the percent of people reporting no affiliation with a religion has been a mostly straight line over the last 40 years. According to the Pew data, people’s religious affiliation does not increase as they age.
After giving you all these statistics about America’s declining affiliation with religion, I should mention that the percent of people identifying as atheist, agnostic, or deist is not growing substantially.
And, while millennials identify as atheist and agnostic more than people over 30, young people have religious beliefs in life after death, heaven, hell, and miracles similar to those who are older. The data suggests that America is not less religious, but much less religiously affiliated.
Perhaps the most heart-warming statistic (to me, anyway) is a recent Pew survey that reported 38 percent of Americans thought politicians express their religious views too much. The same report says that, for the first time in 2007, more people than not thought churches should keep out of political matters.
Our nation is becoming more religiously independent and, while I wish more than 40 percent of my country didn’t reject one of science’s most supported theories (evolution by natural selection), the evolution of religious opinion in this country will have profound effects on public affairs.
If Santorum showed us anything, it is that religion is — to most people in this country — a private matter. If Americans wanted to be ruled by a theocrat, we would have accepted Osama bin Laden’s call to submission.
Perhaps even the religious among us are tired of hearing every Republican presidential candidate tell the American people that God told them to run for office. That a member of the Mormon church (which many Christians don’t consider a Christian church) won the primary is evidence that either God is bored or Americans don’t wish to be sold on the basis of their religious beliefs.
Mitt Romney has been effectively silent on his religion — a significant part of his life — and even Republicans responded overwhelmingly in his favor.
After a long enough wait, it finally seems that America is moving in the direction of a state completely separated from religion in which the Bible is not the foundational legal code and pundits can’t defend their positions with a verse drawn from a biblical spin wheel.
Thank God for that.
David Shaver is a sophomore journalism major from Canyon.