The latest polling shows a continued decline in how influential organized religion is viewed in America.
According to a Gallup Poll published in December 2010, “Seven in 10 Americans say religion is losing its influence on American life.” That is up 56 percent from when Gallup first asked in 1957.
Dell De Chant, an instructor and associate chairman of religious studies at the University of South Florida, is familiar with the trend.
“It’s nothing new,” said De Chant. “New institutions have replaced religion.”
In the 20th century, religion gave people an identity, an understanding of the nature of the world and of themselves.
But an associate professor of sociology specializing in religion, James Cavendish, says the decline of religion is not a clear-cut case.
“Some trends would suggest that religion is losing an influence, but you can’t just make a blanket statement that secularization is occurring,” said Cavendish.
Secularization refers to the belief that as society modernizes, religion will decline.
Cavendish wouldn’t say there is a decline in religion, but he doesn’t deny the fact that there is evidence showing a slow, long-term, downward trend in certain aspects of religious behavior. One example; fewer people today attend religious services on a weekly basis than in years past.
According to the same Gallup Poll, church and synagogue membership has declined over the years. In 1957, more than 70 percent surveyed answered yes when asked, “Do you happen to be a member of a church or synagogue?” Now, fewer than 61 percent answered yes to that same question.
Although weekly church attendance rates have gone down, according to Mark Chaves, professor of sociology, religion, and divinity at Duke Divinity School, the percentage of those who have never attended a religious service has increased by 9 percent since 1990.
Ben Moser, the president of USF’s Atheist Student Alliance said this trend is a good thing.
“Religion, as an institution, if you look at history, has done some very horrible things,” said Moser. “It’s a form of mass control, an invention of the mind.”
Moser didn’t grow up in a religious household, but as a child he attended church with his school friends. He has dabbled in many different religions over the years, from Catholicism to Judaism. Moser doesn’t consider himself religious or spiritual, but rather an intellect.
“Look at established religion,” said Moser. “They want you to believe that people die and can rise from the dead and that certain people can walk on water or heal the sick and do a whole list of miracles, but I don’t see any evidence of that,” said Moser.
In Moser’s opinion, the decline of religion is simply because America has become more educated.
“In general, the more educated a person is, the less likely they are to hold strong religious beliefs,” said Moser.