Religious faith in America fading over the past generation

Religious faith in America fading over the past generation

While the Catholic Church is losing members slower than Protestant churches, that’s only because so many immigrants are themselves Catholic already. That’s one of the conclusions of the “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey,” from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, as reported in the New York Times.

What’s sad is that self-identified former Catholics make up one of the largest religious groups in the US.

According to their research, over the past generation, 44 percent of Americans have switched religious affiliations, either to another religion or denomination or to nothing at all. Of Catholics it says:

To no one’s surprise, “unaffiliated” was the biggest gainer. That the United States is becoming ever more secular and/or hostile to religious faith is fairly evident to anyone living in or near a big city or on the coasts. But it’s a spreading phenomenon.

Of course, the surveyors see it in the context of politics and similar matters. Plus, I’m not sure whether they even understand the categories they’re studying.

The rise of the unaffiliated does not mean that Americans are becoming less religious, however. Contrary to assumptions that most of the unaffiliated are atheists or agnostics, most described their religion “as nothing in particular.”

Which is, you know, what agnostic means. According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, whose definition is as good as any, it means: “A person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God or of anything beyond material phenomena; a person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God.” That’s pretty much someone who believes in “nothing in particular.”

They also claim that people are abandoning large, impersonal churches for more personal, intimate venues. Supposedly, mega-churches succeed not because they are large but because “they have smaller ministries inside.” Or because they offer an experience that is not hostile to the experience that many people seek, which is a religion that doesn’t require too much counter-cultural changing of their lives.

Catholics coming in the front door and out the back

  • The good news is that these figures are the result of a trend that started in the 60s and is starting to reverse itself.  My mother left the Church around the time she entered college (my father was a lapsed Protestant) but a secular upbringing on the Left Coast didn’t prevent me from being called home.  My wife has a similar story.

    Immigration isn’t the only source of new Catholics, but speaking of immigration, I’ll take America’s immigration situation over Europe’s any day.

  • I think the heading there “Catholics coming in the front door and out the back” is the most telling of all.  In order to walk out the “back” of most churches you necessarily have to walk past the altar, past Christ in the Eucharist.  I think it is that one last thing they walk away from that will bring them back in time – this is where Pope Benedict’s continual reminders of the positives and hope and joy of Catholicism will eventually pay dividends.  In the end, Christ will lead them home.

  • I think Christ will either lead them home or will let them go.

    We can’t live together in a family where people don’t have Faith but doubt. We can’t continue together in a family where people say they believe in God but live as if He doesn’t exist.

    I don’t know about you but I could not even be in the same room with a person who promotes the killing of Jesus in the least of His brethren in human slaughterhouses.  I would rather they leave and we be left with Catholics willing to fight even to the last drop of their blood for our beautiful divine faith.

  • And yet Christ left the 99 sheep to find the one that was lost. Unfortunately, the Lord is quite clear to us that we have to swallow our distate or discomfort and seek out the lost and offer them His mercy and forgiveness and love.

  • Jesus let those who did not believe in Him go and invited even the Apostles to go as well. 

    These so called believers might do well to recall that faith is a gift and can be lost or taken away.

    Sometimes people are not lost but are freely seeking alternatives to God that will serve them in this world more easily.