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Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Implications of the Decline in American Religiosity

Gallop recently released polling research which suggests the median proportion of residents worldwide who said religion is important in their daily lives is 82%. Not surprisingly, America's average was 65%, well below the worldwide average.

Of course, Gallop goes on to point out that there is a correlation between a belief in god and quality of life, saying, "...8 of the 11 countries in which almost all residents (at least 98%) say religion is important in their daily lives are poorer nations in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the 10 least religious countries studied include several with the world's highest living standards..."

Does this surprise anyone? As more secular options are available, faith gets replaced by material possessions. That's what secularism is. It would hardly be possible for an impoverished nation to worship worldly possessions when there's very little available for them to possess. Of course, the liberal interpretation of this commonsensical fact is that more education within a country equals less religion. In reality, more education within a country most directly parallels a nation's wealth; which again speaks to the correlation of wealth and secularism.

Of course, these worldwide religiosity averages don't speak to specific type of religion; but rather just to the polled individuals' relative evaluation of their religion.

While America falls well below the average religiosity line, it doesn't quite take home the gold for the most secular country in the world. Below are Gallop's top 11 most religious countries and 11 least religious countries:

America lands somewhere in the middle of the two religious extremes. Of course, even America's 65% religiosity average is deceiving because, within the country, there is much variation amongst different states:

As shown above, the Northeast and Northwest are the least religious regions of America, and the Southeast and Midwest are the most religious.

This was, of course, reflected in the voting patterns during the 2008 Presidential Election:

Even within the U.S. there is a correlation between poverty levels and religiosity. Compare the above two maps to the following poverty map from the U.S. Census:

While there are mixed levels of poverty amongst the less religious states, we can clearly see that the most religious states also have the highest poverty rates.

So the question remains: Does a culture become more religious because it is less educated (and therefore poorer); or does a culture become less religious because it has more wordy possessions and opportunities? It's a chicken and egg question, I suppose. But here are some statistics for you to consider regarding religiosity and quality of life:

If you look at the U.S. poverty rate over time:

And then compare it with the religiosity of the US over time:

The American poverty rate is about the same as it was in 1960, yet the percentage of people who do not have a religion has climbed by about 15%. So, at least within the U.S., there may not be a direct correlation between poverty and religiosity. What has increased in America since 1960 is its secularism. While 90% of Americans still say they believe in the existence of God as compared to 60 percent of Britons, French, and Germans (The Atlantic), America is wealthier than each of them. So, to what can Americans attribute the decline of U.S. religiosity?

It's difficult to say. Any number of things could be attributed as the source of the decline: spread of MSM access, increase of national wealth, increase of secular ideals within MSM, etc. What's more interesting, I think, is to look at the aspects of American life which have directly correlated to the decline in American religiosity.

Such as the rise in birth rate for un-wed girls:

The decline in Average SAT Scores:

The Increase in Violent Crime:

STDs Amongst American youth:

And the suicide rate amongst teenagers and males:

In fact, the crime rate for every major offense (violent crime, property crime, murder, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, larceny theft and vehicular theft) is up since 1960, despite improved technology and methodology to combat criminal activity (The Disaster Center).

So, while there is a direct correlation between national wealth and secularism, there is also a direct correlation between secularism and moral erosion and, therefore, social corrosion. There's no evidence to suggest that religiosity leads to a less prosperous population, but there is evidence which suggests that less religiosity causes more social problems. To what conclusion this leads you is relative to your own value system; but what is not subject to debate is the facts as stated above.

Profitability can expand irrespective of religiosity, but measurable social corruption expands in direct correlation to religious recession. While America may be the wealthiest nation on the planet by virtue of its free market capitalism, its social problems are the direct results of a belief system which increasingly values material possessions above moral responsibility.
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