First up from the God Machine this week is a national study showing amazing generational differences when it comes to Americans' religiosity.
Six months ago, we talked about the Pew Research Center's report on the U.S. religious landscape, noting, among other things, the sudden increase over the last decade in the number of religiously unaffiliated Americans -- including atheists, agnostics, and people who simply identify spiritually as "nothing at all." This week, the researchers published the second half of their findings, and what jumped out at me were the generational differences.
Who are the largely nonreligious adults whose ranks are growing, thus reducing the percentage of Americans who exhibit strong religious commitment? They are mainly young people just entering adulthood. Older Americans -- those in the Silent generation, Baby Boomers and even Generation Xers -- are, by and large, about as religious today as when the Religious Landscape Study was first conducted in 2007.
But these three generational cohorts constitute a shrinking share of the total U.S. population, and, as their numbers begin to dwindle, they are being replaced by a new cohort of young adults (Millennials) who are, in many ways, far less religious than their parents' and grandparents' generations.
Pew Research found, for example, that two-thirds of Americans in the "Silent" generation (Americans born between 1928 and 1945) say religion is very important in their lives. For older Millennials (those born in the 1980s), the total is less than half. For younger Millennials (those born between 1990 and 1996), it's not even 4 out of 10.
According to the study, every younger generation is progressively less religious -- Baby Boomers are less religious than the "Silent" Generation; members of Generation X are less religious than Boomers, Millennials are less religious than Generation X, and so on.
A U.S. News report on the findings noted that only 11% in the oldest generation of American adults are religiously unaffiliated. For the youngest generation of American adults, that total increases to 38%.
There's room for a conversation about whether younger, unaffiliated Americans may grow more religious as they get older, but as things currently stand, these are the kind of results that may very well have a dramatic impact on the national religious landscape -- and perhaps even the broader culture -- in the coming years. At least since the advent of modern polling, the percentage of the U.S. population moving away from religious beliefs and institutions has never been higher.
What will the impact be on the country? Stay tuned.
Also from the God Machine this week: