RELIGION IN THE UNITED STATES is in a slump. Since 1990, the share of Americans who reject any religious affiliation has climbed sharply, from 8 percent to more than 22 percent. Among younger Americans, the trend is especially pronounced. According to the Public Religion Research Institute, 38 percent of Americans under 30 describe themselves as having no religious identity.
If present trends continue, these "nones" will outnumber Catholics by 2020, and will be more numerous than Protestants by 2035.
Of course, present trends may not continue. There have been at least three "Great Awakenings" — periods of dramatic religious revival — in American history. Maybe another such awakening will materialize down the road. For now, however, there is no doubt that the United States is becoming less religious. As the Pew Research Center has documented, fewer Americans believe in God, pray regularly, or consider religion very important in their lives.
Many Americans aren't just turning from religion, but against religion. In 2016, Pew found that only 58 percent of US adults believed that "churches, synagogues, and other houses of worship" contribute at least in part to solving important social problems. Fully 39 percent said that they contribute little or nothing to alleviating social ills. Other surveys have found that Americans are evenly split on whether religion is part of the solution to what ails America — or part of the problem.
This shift in attitude should worry all Americans, believers and nonbelievers alike. Because religious faith and institutions, whatever else might be said about them, are the strongest drivers of philanthropic works in US society. If religion in this country is going down, charitable giving and volunteering are likely to go down too. . . .