The most recent Gallup poll finds that a near-record percentage of Americans see religion losing influence in America.
According to Gallup:
* Seven in 10 Americans say religion is losing its influence on American life — one of the highest such responses in Gallup’s 53-year history of asking this question and significantly higher than in the first half of the past decade. (The last time the figure was higher was in 1970, during the height of the sexual revolution, when the figure was 75 percent.)
* Fifty-four percent of Americans in 2010 say religion is “very important” in their lives. This is down slightly from the past two decades, but roughly equal with levels measured in the 1980s. Americans were much more positive about the effect of religion on their own lives in the 1950s and 1960s, including the historic high of 75 percent who said religion was very important in 1952.
* Self-reported church or synagogue membership has drifted slowly downward over the past 70 years. The current 61 percent of Americans who report church or synagogue membership is tied with 2007 and 2008 as the lowest in Gallup’s history and down significantly from a high of 76 percent in 1947.
One would need to explore the data with great care before drawing conclusions that were definitive or sweeping. It’s certainly not clear to me what all, or even most of, the factors are that are driving these numbers. But whatever they are, there is no question that the last half-decade has seen a sharp rise in the percentage of Americans who see religion losing influence in America and a sharp drop (to 25 percent) of those who believe religion is increasing its influence in America. Presumably these findings will delight Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris. Many of the rest of us are a good deal less encouraged by them.