There is quite a debate brewing about whether or not religion and faith have been growing or declining in this country in recent years. Regular HillFaith readers will recall this post on Glenn Stanton’s case for optimism.
Now along comes Lyman Stone, an adjunct fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) with a deep-dive look at the data, combined with a well-informed and balanced historical perspective. If you work on Capitol Hill, you will benefit from Stone’s work, as it advances the debate in a healthy way. His basic conclusion is:
“By any measure, religiosity in America is declining. As this report will show, since peaking in 1960, the share of American adults attending any religious service in a typical week has fallen from 50 percent to about 35 percent, while the share claimed as members by any religious body has fallen from over 75 percent to about 62 percent …
“Finally, the share of Americans who self-identify or report being affiliated with any religion has fallen from over 95 percent to about 75 percent. All these statistics, and where they come from, will be explained in detail in this report.”
But don’t throw your hands up in despair and give up on America’s prospects for a Third Great Awakening because Stone provides a fascinating mountain of evidence, much of which cuts both ways on the issue.
“More than two-thirds of baby boys received religious names, and before 1800, virtually all babies born in America had church baptisms, dedications, or christenings.”
And there is this interesting observation about what Americans name their babies:
“But the perception of an increasingly secular society is not wrong. Even in past periods when religious attendance and membership were low, other forms of religious attachment were still robust:
“More than 85 or 90 percent of Americans most likely perceived themselves as religious in some form or fashion in all periods before 1960. They were hard-drinking, sometimes murderous, rapscallions, gamblers, and slavers, who did not go to church and were not part of any religious body.
“But, if you asked, the vast majority of Americans would most likely say they at least believed in God and quite likely would identify themselves as Christians. More than two-thirds of baby boys received religious names, and before 1800, virtually all babies born in America had church baptisms, dedications, or christenings.”
Think about it: Even today, how many “Matthews,””Marks,” “Lukes” and “Johns” do you know? Quite a few “Pauls,” James” and “Timothys,” too, right? Then there’s all those Old Testament names, like “Jeremiah,” “David” and “Daniel.”
And let’s not forget our “Marys,” “Ruths” and “Deborahs,” either. Legions of Americans continue to share the names of many, great and small, from the Old and New Testaments in the Christian Bible.
Names in and of themselves are just that, names, to be sure, but they are also symbols of political, religious and cultural inheritances that tell us a great deal about where America, and Americans, came from and where we may be headed.