Americans’ faith in God continues to decline

In the most recent Gallup poll, belief in the deity fell to 81%, down 6 percentage points from 2017 and the lowest since the organization first asked the question in 1944.

(Rachel Rydalch | The Salt Lake Tribune) A woman prays at Ash Wednesday Catholic Mass at St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church in West Jordan in March. A new poll shows belief in God continues to decline among Americans.

Belief in God has been one of the strongest and most reliable indicators of the durability of American religiosity over the years. But a new Gallup poll suggests that may be changing.

In the latest Gallup poll, belief in God fell to 81%, down 6 percentage points from 2017 and the lowest since Gallup first asked the question in 1944.

Even at 81%, Americans’ belief in God remains robust, at least compared to Europe, where just 26% said they believe in the God of the Bible and another 36% believe in a higher power, according to a 2018 Pew poll .

During the post-WWII era, an overwhelming 98% of US adults said they believed in God. That number began falling in 2011, when 92% of Americans said they believed in God, and fell back to 87% in 2013.

The recent drop may be part of the larger surge in the number of Americans who are unaffiliated or say they have no particular religion. About 29% of Americans are religious “nothings” — people who identify themselves as atheists, agnostics, or “nothing special” when asked about their religious identity.

“Faith is usually the last thing going,” said Ryan Burge, an assistant professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University. “They stop participating, they stop joining, and then they stop believing.”

Unsurprisingly, the Gallup poll showed that belief in God has declined the most among younger Americans. Only 68% of adults ages 18-29 said they believe in God (compared to 87% of Americans ages 65 and older).

The survey also found that belief in God is higher among married people (compared to the unmarried), women (compared to men), and those who haven’t gone to college (compared to college graduates).

Perhaps the most striking differences were in political ideology. Belief in God is more closely correlated with conservatism in the US, and opening this gap can contribute to growing polarization. The poll found that 72% of self-proclaimed Democrats said they believed in God, compared to 92% of Republicans (with 81% of independents in between).

In recent years there has been a rise in the number of Americans who profess to be Christian nationalists – those who believe that Christian and American identities should be fused.

“It could be that the increase in the number of atheists is a direct result of Christian nationalism,” said Ryan Cragun, a sociologist at the University of Tampa who studies nonreligious people. “They seem to dominate the rhetoric. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was legitimate backlash against it and people were like, ‘You know what? I’m an atheist.'” Americans’ faith in God continues to decline

Joel McCord

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