Interesting series this week on NPR about religion in the United States. Today’s broadcast was about the increased number of Americans who don’t identify with any religion. The data is based on a Pew Research Center study released in October, 2012. The study indicates that about 20% of Americans have no religious affiliation, a percentage that has been on the rise in recent years. The percentage of those under the age of 30 is higher, about 1/3. Harvard Professor Robert Putnam was interviewed for the report. His explanation of the drop among young people: rebellion – based on disillusionment of a generation coming of age during the “culture wars” in the U.S., which created a toxic mix of religion and politics. He associates the lack of interest in organized religion with the lack of participation by young Americans in civic organizations. I would offer a different perspective – I assume that under 30’s have simply re-directed from conventional social institutions to online social media. Maybe the Church of the Internet has replaced the brick and mortar versions.
Putnam points out that even with the drop indicated by the survey, the U.S. stats in terms of religion are high: “Even with these recent changes the American religious commitments are incredibly stronger than in most other advanced countries in the world…The average American is slightly more religious than the average Iranian, so we are a very religious country even today.” What has been very striking to me is the radical drop in religious affiliation in Germany. The wonderful medieval cathedrals throughout Germany are virtually empty on Sundays. More and more Germans are leaving the Catholic and protestant churches. Part of the reason may be financial: if you are a (Christian) church member, you have to pay a church tax.