Does Religion Cause More Problems Than It Solves?
And, did Americans shift their view on that question between 2008 and 2019?
American society is abandoning religion at an unbelievable pace. Anyone who takes a cursory look at the statistics can tell you that’s the case. The non-religious are now ~30% of American adults. Among Generation Z, it’s probably closer to 45%.
Today, only a quarter of Americans attend religious services. The synagogues, mosques, and churches are emptying out.
But here’s the thing - not everyone is leaving religion because they hate religion. That’s actually one of the key points of a new book that I worked on with Michael Graham and Jim Davis, called The Great Dechurching. Oftentimes people who leave religion do it for very practical reasons - they moved, they got married, they took a new job. In fact, lots of dechurched people still hold very orthodox views of Jesus and the Bible.
I wanted to build on that point just a bit in a post today about how people feel about religion. It’s easy to read about the massive spike in the nones and think that Americans have turned their back on faith. That’s not even close to the case. In fact, I am pretty shocked by how positive the average American feels about religion, even in a time of increased secularization.
I’ve got two datasets here that presented the following statement to respondents, “Religion causes more problems in society than it solves.” Response options ranged from completely agree to completely disagree.
Pew first asked this question in their Religious Landscape Survey in 2008.
Then, PRRI asked that same question again in 2019.
Which means we can track the changes over a pretty consequential period of time when Americans were leaving religion behind in droves.
And guess what the data says? Opinion on this question did not move in any substantive way between 2008 and 2019. Yeah, not at all what I would have expected. In 2008, 35% agreed that religion caused more problems than it solved. In 2019, it was still 35%. What’s even more surprising is that the share who completely agreed actually dropped by four percentage points.
Here’s what is cool about this finding. In December of 2021, AEI asked the exact same question. Guess what they found? 35% of Americans think that religion causes more problems that it solved. Again, the exact same percentage. Pretty hard to argue with that, honestly. About a third of Americans have a net negative view of religion.
But let’s get into the weeds on this. If the topline stayed the same, there has to be some type of movement below the surface, right? I will begin by looking at political partisanship.
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