New surveys show Americans’ membership in communities of worship has declined sharply in recent years, with less than 50% of the country belonging to a church, synagogue or mosque.
Why it matters: The accelerating trend towards a more secular America represents a fundamental change in the national character, one that will have major ramifications for politics and even social cohesion.
By the numbers: A Gallup poll released last week found just 47% of Americans reported belonging to a house of worship, down from 50% in 2018 and 70% as recently as 1999.
The big picture: The story of a more secular America is chiefly — though not entirely — one of generational change.
Yes, but: Generational replacement — the idea that society-wide changes in values between the young and the old can be attributed to their different circumstances growing up — doesn’t tell the entire story.
The catch: Just because conventional religious practice is on the decline doesn’t mean Americans will have no need to fill what the journalist Murtaza Hussain calls the country’s “God-shaped hole.”
What’s next: As religion decreasingly becomes something Americans practice, it may instead become another identity, subsumed into the ongoing culture wars.
- The trend may also shake up the electorate. The journalist Matt Yglesias noted that when a white person switches from being Christian to non-affiliated, they are more likely to become a Democrat, “but when a Black person makes the same switch, the correlation goes in the other direction.”
- That could help explain the fairly secular Donald Trump having partial success in increasing the GOP’s share of the non-white vote in 2020.