Religion increasing AND decreasing?By
According to research (chart below and here), the U.S. is increasing in spirituality while religion wanes. This study and others like it are not consistent with the views of several contemporary atheists such as Harvard chaplain Greg Epstein. A USA Today article–Atheism 3.0 finds a little more room for religion–shares this trend.
How are we to reconcile that religion is increasing while religion is decreasing? While there are several possible explanations, I will offer one that I feel is plausible–besides the possibility that this iteration of an atheist view is just starting to be published and may have impact in future numbers. (The following is a hypothesis based on anecdotal experience, not research.)
Spirituality involving thoughts and ideas associated with God are increasing. This is evident in the increase in the number of “spiritual” shows and movies as well as research results. Also increasing are acts of kindness commonly referred to as social action, but this does not appear to be included in research. An increase in social action is evident by the increase in socially active organizations and ideas ranging from clean water for third-world countries, human trafficking awareness, micro loans, etc. When researchers ask most U.S. respondents about religion, I suspect that respondents are expressing their opinion or experience on consistent religious activities whether it be a Protestant, Catholic, Mormon, Islam, or other expression of ritualized church attendance. When this is an expression of anything–be it faith or process–that does not include action–making a positive difference in people’s lives–it is rejected as hollow by a growing number of people. The religion atheists are embracing according to the article is that of doing good and being good citizens. Epstein states that: “When our goal [as atheists] is erasing religion, rather than embracing human beings, we all lose.”
I would propose that future research include questions about belief in God or someone higher than ourselves; the importance of doing good for others; and frequency attending a religious ceremony. Both the research and the article point to a post-Christian reality. Both also point to the need for followers of Christ to incarnationally live out their faith in deeds.