Sixty-seven percent of Americans think religious influence is waning while just 27% say it is increasing. That perspective demonstrates a continuing downward trend, Gallup said.
But the 27% figure is still higher than the record low, set in a 1970 poll, when just 14% of Americans thought religion was increasing in influence.
Those who regularly attend worship services are more likely to say religion is losing its influence; three out of four weekly attenders (74 percent) said religious influence is falling, compared to 24% who thought its influence is on the rise.
At other times in American history, religion has been perceived by more Americans as having increasing significance. In 1957, 69% thought its influence was increasing, compared to 14% who thought it was declining. Likewise, in 2001, three months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, 71% saw an increasing religious influence, compared to 24% who said it was decreasing.
The latest poll also finds that the percentage of Americans believing that religion "can answer all or most of today's problems" has reached an all-time low. Slightly more than half of those surveyed - 53% - held that view, while 28% say it is "largely old-fashioned and out of date."
Sam Smith, False Faith Versus Lousy Works - We are, some theologians will tell you, in the midst of the fourth "Great Awakening" in this country's history, periods in which life becomes so complex and frightening that there is a rush to pristine promises in various guises. The conservative Ralph Reed gave a fair thumbnail on PBS a few years back: "The first great awakening gave rise to the revolutionary struggle. The second great awakening. . . some of the most uproarious revivals that have ever been seen in western civilization, led to the formation of the American anti-slavery society. Then, of course, the third Great Awakening of the 1890's leading to the social gospel movement and the progressivism of which are Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt, and today historian Robert Fogel has argued a fourth Great Awakening has begun with rising church attendance among baby boomers, and this shift to evangelicalism and fundamentalism of which the electronic church was such an important part."
The range of beliefs in such awakenings can be quite broad; in fact some scholars believe the latest Great Awakening began in the 1960s with the myriad spiritual adventures of the left. William G. McLoughlin, a history professor at Brown, wrote a book in 1978 that placed within the phenomenon the Beats, the popularity of Zen, and "experimental life-styles associated with drugs, the hippies, the practice of occultism, and rock concerts."
Wrote David Carlin (at the time both a philosophy professor and chair of his local Democratic Party), "The famous Woodstock concert of 1969 was a kind of sacramental event for the Fourth Awakening, analogous to the revivalistic camp meeting of earlier awakenings.". . .
While such periods are clearly a misery to go through, there is some light to be found at the end of the tunnel vision: these awakenings tend to be preludes to some big leap in American social and political change including the American Revolution, the abolition movement, and 20th century social democracy.
As Rhys H. Williams has put it: "Many have credited awakenings with helping to foster religious pluralism, advance ideas sympathetic to political democracy and social reform, and forge an American national identity. More contentious is the claim that awakenings are cyclical, representing a religious response to social and cultural change. They help believers come to terms with the stress that change produces and adjust the culture to new modes of societal organization."
And they are not unique to the American republic. Both the spread of totem poles in the Northwest, and the long nosed god icons that swept through Native American cultures that had little other contact, were in part reactions to stress created among American Indians by European terrorists unsecuring their homeland. And residents of Pacific islands disrupted by World War II and its aftermath engaged in what came to be known as "cargo cults" with salvation supposedly dropping from planes like the crates they had seen so often.