March 11March 11 Editorial: Religion’s declining impact in society and the courage to share our faith (May 26, 2023)

May 26, 2023


Religion’s declining impact in society and the courage to share our faith

Two recent stories about faith in the United States piqued our interest, and we felt it important as we near Pentecost to reflect on them. 

The first, an analysis of several Pew Research Center surveys, found that parents are more likely to prioritize passing on their religious views to their children rather than their political views. 

The second, in a new report from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), shares a concern about faith in America because only 16% of those who responded to PRRI said that religion is the most important thing in their lives. 

In an article recently published by OSV News, one survey by the Pew Research Center found that 35% of U.S. parents said it was “extremely or very important” that their children share their religious views, while fewer than half as many—16%—said the same of their political views.

However, the survey found that parents ranked passing on both religious and political views as less important than passing along other values, “such as being honest and ethical, hardworking, and ambitious.”

We are taught that parents and family members are the primary educators of faith for their children, so the statistics shared in the Pew survey about religion are a bit surprising. But it may be even more surprising for some that religious views are not as important as being honest, ethical, hardworking and ambitious.

Still, there is potential here for the Church, because these values, to varying degrees, are part of the Catholic moral vision and certainly can be strengthened and purified through faith.

Titled “Religion and Congregations in a Time of Social and Political Upheaval,” the PRRI report—which was also highlighted in an article by OSV News—stated those with no religious affiliation represented 27% of the population. Likewise, a majority of Americans either seldom (28%) or never (29%) attend religious services; and more than one-third (37%) of those who exited a religion identified themselves as having previously practiced the Catholic faith. 

That more than one-third of the respondents were inactive Catholics should come as no surprise. Most, if not all of us, have family members who have left the faith, and the reasons they cite—a bad experience in a parish, a disagreement with Church teaching, the priest-abuse scandal and other things—could fill this space. 

“One of the meta trends in the American religious landscape over the last 20—even 30—years has been the precipitous decline in religious affiliation and a decline in other indications of religiosity,” said David Campbell, the Packey J. Dee Professor of American Democracy at the University of Notre Dame in northern Indiana. While there is some debate about underlying reasons, “research that I and others have done has demonstrated that America does seem to be secularizing in a way that it had not previously,” Campbell explained. 

For context, Campbell said almost since “the beginning of public opinion polling—going back many, many decades up until roughly 1990—no more than 5% of Americans ever said they had no religious affiliation. And then in the last 30 or so years, you’ve seen this dramatic rise in religious non-affiliation that’s now been accompanied by other indications that people are less and less religious.” 

We share these findings as we approach Pentecost this weekend, known as the birthday of the Church. It commemorates the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles, which marked the start of the Church’s mission on Earth.

The feast reminds us that the Holy Spirit, known as the advocate of truth, is available to stir within each of us a great desire for God. Like the Apostles and saints of our time, we need to remember we are lifelong learners and must allow God to work through us in our call as missionary disciples. 

We must have the courage to share our faith with others—family, friends, strangers, those who have fallen away from the faith, and those who have no faith—in our mission of evangelization.

That might mean, in some cases, that we help individuals see that values they hold dear and try to pass on to others are rooted in the Gospel, and that the Church can help them deepen those values in their lives.

As we celebrate Pentecost and continue on our journey of faith, let us rededicate our lives to Jesus. And may we plant seeds, let our Creator water them, and let God gather the fruit.

—Mike Krokos

Local site Links: