Freethought Today · June / July 2016

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Importance of religion in U.S. drops

Only 53% of Americans now say religion is very important in their lives, according to a recent Pew Research Center report.

This figure has declined since 2007, when 56% said religion was very important in their lives. Americans are in the middle in terms of importance of religion when compared with people from other countries.

The share of Americans who say religion is very important is close to the global median of respondents who say this in a separate Pew survey.

U.S. residents place less importance on religion in their lives than do people in a many countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Almost all Ethiopians (98%), Senegalese (97%) and Indonesians (95%) say religion is very important, as do most Nigerians (88%), Filipinos (87%) and Indians (80%).

Meanwhile, religion is considerably more important to Americans than to residents of many other Western and European countries, as well as other advanced economy nations, such as Japan.

Metro areas less religious

Nearly 70% of Americans consider themselves Christians. But some of the nation's biggest metropolitan areas have a very different look.

Only about half of the residents in the Seattle (52%) and San Francisco (48%) areas identify as Christians, as well as less than 60% of those living in Boston (57%) and New York (59%).

The Pew Research Center's 2014 Religious Landscape Study looked at the religious affiliations of Americans overall as well as those in all 50 states and the 17 largest metropolitan areas in the country. While Christians make up between 65% and 75% of adults in most of those metro areas — and people with no religious affiliation generally make up roughly 20-25% of the population — some cities stand out.

Seattle, San Francisco and Boston are notable not only because they have relatively few Christians, but also for their considerable populations of religious "nones" (atheists, agnostics and those who say their religion is "nothing in particular"). A third or more of people in each of those metropolitan areas (37% in Seattle, 35% in San Francisco and 33% in Boston) are religious "nones."

How religious is your state?

Mississippi, Alabama and other Southern states are among the most highly religious states in the U.S., while New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine are among the least devout, according to Pew's Religious Landscape Study.

Pew used four common measures of religious observance: worship attendance, prayer frequency, belief in God and the self-described importance of religion in one's life.

What does it mean to be "highly religious"? In Pew's analysis, it includes any adult who reports at least two of those four highly observant behaviors, while also not reporting a low level of religious observance in any of these areas, such as seldom or never attending religious services, seldom or never praying, not believing in God and saying that religion is "not too" or "not at all" important in their life.

Islam vs. government

The Muslim world is sharply divided on what the relationship should be between the tenets of Islam and the laws of governments. Across 10 countries with significant Muslim populations surveyed by Pew Research Center in 2015, there is a striking difference in the extent to which people think the Quran should influence their nation's laws.

In Pakistan, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Malaysia and Senegal, roughly half or more of the full population says that laws in their country should strictly follow the teachings of the Quran. By contrast, in Burkina Faso, Turkey, Lebanon and Indonesia, less than a quarter agree. And in many of these countries where non-Muslims make up a significant portion of the population, there are strong disagreements between major religious groups on this issue.

For example, a 42% plurality of Nigerians think laws should not be influenced by the Quran, while 27% think laws should strictly follow the teachings of the Quran. However, among Nigerian Muslims, 52% say national laws should conform to Islamic law, compared with only 2% among Nigerian Christians.

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