Record Lows in American Faith

Thomas Griffin 11/16/22

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Contemporary America has never been less faithful. 

In the 1940s, 50s, and 60s nearly 98% of Americans said they believed in God (according to Gallup). Between 1967 and 2011 the rate went from 98% to 92%. From 2011 to 2022 the rate plummeted from 92% to 81%. 

Statistically, those who believe in God are still the majority, by a long shot. No one here is sounding an alarm that others are not aware of – the news here is not new. Less people believe and less people practice their faith than ever before. The concern is the rate in which the nation is declining in belief as well as the impact that unbelief has on the culture at large.  

From 2017 to 2022, faith in God decreased by six percentage points. That is the same decrease over the 44 year span between 1967 and 2011. That means that general faith in our country is decreasing almost nine times the rate of the past. Naturally, it would be mathematically incorrect to assume that the country will continue to decrease at this rate every five years.

Nonetheless, it is clear that something has gone very wrong. The United States was founded with an assumption for and inclination towards a living faith. Belief in God and the practice of one’s faith used to be a huge part of our identity. That was the soil from which we claimed to be independent.

Americans have “the  separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them.” We further know “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” 

Human beings are made for freedom and independence because we are made by God and for God. The further we drift from these lines in the Declaration of Independence the more we deny our God-given rights and our very own happiness. Viewing the very practical consequences of rising unbelief is not difficult.

Even before COVID-19, America was experiencing its highest rates on record of depression, anxiety and suicide. There are countless other factors (addiction, technology, broken families, etc.), but it is interesting to note that as faith numbers rapidly decrease, the numbers connected to unfulfillment rapidly increase. 

What we are seeing is the destruction of one cultural imaginative vision for another. A recent must-read for how the faithful interact with the modern world mentions this. From Christendom to Apostolic Mission references the imaginative vision of a culture as the societal mindset. This is the fabric of a culture that contains the worldview of a given people. These are assumptions that are taken for granted by almost every member of a society. 

America’s prior cultural imaginative vision included faith, communal prayer and sacrificing one’s own desires for the greater good. These are slowly but surely being switched out for unbelief, mockery of prayer, and the principle of unhindered liberty (I can do what I want, when I want, with whoever I want). The imaginative vision is here and that is why Gallup saw such a decrease in faith.

So, how do we respond and how do we live in a country that no longer accepts and borderline attacks Christian values? We are called to be the leaven and the light. Do we raise up the circumstances around us or do we deflate conversations with our negativity (even if it is warranted)? Do we further darken situations that are already a wreck because it is easy to gossip?

The way of the empty tomb is different. It is the way of leaven and light. We can serve the truth and call out what is wrong while still building and restoring rather than defaming and being prone to depression. Having deep seeded anxiety and pessimism towards the culture will not transform it. The only way, the absolute only way, to not be defeated during storms is to rely on a Presence. 

To weather hurricanes people protect their homes against the wind and the surge. We must do the same by being realistic about the future and being reliant on the ever-present God. So we must, at a minimum, be committed to daily, consistent, and substantial prayer along with attending Sunday Mass every Sunday. 

It sounds like nothing but that will become the fabric of our soul and family. Then that fabric can bleed into our schools and jobs so that the culture can see the worth of a life of faith. To turn the tide we must be committed to ongoing, personal conversion. That is the one thing in our complete control. From there we can build a community that shows the culture and our country that God’s presence will flip the record lows. 

Thomas Griffin is the chairperson of the religion department at a Catholic high school on Long Island where he lives with his wife and son. He has a masters degree in theology and is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Empty Tomb Project: The Magazine. He writes for several media outlets.

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