Statistics Show Religion Is Strong and Getting Stronger

Do you want to be on the right side of history? Then reject secularism and embrace religion.

I normally don’t like talk about “the right side of history” vs. “wrong side of history.” But several prominent figures have been using those phrases lately: Bernie Sanders says Trump is on the wrong side of history while Vice President Mike Pence says Russia is. Kellyanne Conway accuses the Democrats of it, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez accuses the Republicans of it.

But I was always struck by former communist Whittaker Chambers’ comment that he was convinced he was joining the losing side of history by becoming Christian. Today, people say Billy Graham’s spectacular career of evangelization was on the wrong side of history because he preached Christ instead of global warming.

But the fact is, human choices make history, not the other way around — and however strong secularism feels right now, the choices human beings are making assure that religion, not the rejection of religion, owns the future.

A new Pew Research study is the latest piece of evidence that religion is stronger than secularism.

Pew researcher Conrad Hackett said his organization started the study when a colleague asked why “anyone should care if people identify with a religion.” He decided to try to determine if religion matters, particularly to important signs of human flourishing such as health, happiness, voting, and volunteering.

He found that it does. In a major way.

Pew undertook a massive study of 35 countries — including a focus on the United States — and the results were astounding. Among the findings:

  • Actively religious people are far more likely than nonreligious to say they are “very happy.” In America, 36 percent of the actively religious describe themselves as “very happy” while only 25 percent of the nonreligious do. They are also more likely to avoid unhealthy lifestyle choices.
  • Religious people are not just more active in churches — they are more active in nonreligious community organizations. In America, 58 percent of religious people serve their communities while only 39 percent of the unaffiliated do. This matches earlier findings that religious people are more generous to nonreligious organizations like the American Cancer Society than nonreligious people.
  • Religious people are also more likely to vote. In America, that means 69 percent of religious people say they vote, vs. 48 percent of the unaffiliated.

If religion is such a positive force, why are so many Americans abandoning religion? The fact is, they aren’t.

While it is true that the United States experienced a post-World War II peak in religious fervor that has cooled since then, 2017 research published by scholars at Harvard University and Indiana University-Bloomington challenged the “secularization thesis,” that sees the United States as abandoning religion.

They found that, contrary to the popular narrative, religious faith is experiencing “persistent and exceptional intensity” in America.

The research of Rodney Stark at Baylor University fleshes out the story of faith’s ascendance. Citing the May 2015 Pew Research Center survey showing the decline of religion in America, he points out that “the overwhelming majority of Americans who say they have no religious affiliation pray and believe in angels.”

Stark cites “surveys of more than a million people living in 163 nations,” which show that:

  • Islam is not overtaking Christianity.
  • Four out of five people worldwide now belong to an organized religion.
  • 50 percent report that they have attended a place of worship or religious service in the past seven days.

Philip Jenkins, in his book The Next Christendom, reported that adherents to the four major religious included 67 percent of the world’s population in 1900 to 73 percent in 2005 and will grow to 80 percent of the world’s population by 2050 if current trends hold.

The future of the world — and of America — belongs to the religious, for demographic reasons, also.

As the University of London’s Eric Kaufmann explains in his book Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?: “The secular West and East Asia are aging and their share of the world population declining. This means the world is getting more religious even as people in the rich world shed their faith.”

Research by Pew’s Conrad Hackett found the same thing: Religious people are having babies; the nonreligious aren’t. That means the future is ours.

So when you hear that one position or another is on the “right side of history” or the “wrong side of history,” take it with a grain of salt.

The future belongs to those positions that align with religious belief: Religious liberty, the right to life, stewardship of the environment, service to the poor, and respect for marriage and family.

The nonreligious look strong now, but don’t be fooled. Religious people are more happy, more healthy, more community-spirited, and more generous — and they are having children who will carry their legacy forward.

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II and The Fatima Family Handbook, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas and hosts The Extraordinary Story podcast about the life of Christ. His book What Pope Francis Really Said is now available on Audible. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, Hoopes served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia.org and the Register. He and his wife, April, have nine children and live in Atchison, Kansas.