Poll: Americans’ belief in God is dropping

The utter lack of God in their lives leads people to commit mass killings or other depraved acts

By Deacon Bob Hunt

A couple of Gallup polls caught my eye recently. The first has gotten a bit of attention in the press and the second barely any at all.

The first poll reports that 81 percent of Americans say they believe in God. That sounds like a lot, but the headline is that 81 percent represents a 6 percent drop since 2017. When Gallup first started asking that question back in the 1940s, the number was consistently 98 percent. It started declining in the 2010s, and 81 percent represents the lowest percentage of Americans to answer in favor of God’s existence since polling on the question began.

More important than whether someone believes in God is whether someone believes that God is meaningful in their lives, whether He hears our prayers, can intervene with His grace, or hold us accountable for our sins. The poll found that nearly three-quarters of those who attend religious services weekly believe that God hears prayers and can intervene in our lives. Nearly three-quarters? Why isn’t that figure 100 percent? What’s the point of holding that God exists and of attending religious services if you don’t believe He cares about us? God as “intellectual exercise” has no appeal to me.

A second poll hasn’t received nearly as much attention in the press, though it also represents a record-setting result. Fully 50 percent of Americans, the highest ever recorded, think that the state of morals in America is “poor.” Another 37 percent rate the state of morals as only “fair,” while only 12 percent rate the state of morals as “good,” and a nearly non-existent 1 percent rate it as “excellent.” It seems that few people feel very positive or optimistic about the moral state of affairs in America right now.

It would be easy to make a connection between these two polls: the record high poor rating for the state of morals in America being linked to the record low belief in God’s existence. I don’t dismiss that connection at all, at least not as out-of-hand as I’m sure an atheist would. You don’t have to be an atheist to be a moral reprobate.

There have been plenty of religious people who have committed moral horrors. Indeed, the sins of believers over the centuries, and of Catholics in particular, have been so many and so heinous, it amazes me that people still feel the need to make things up! Even still, I think history justifies the conclusion that their sins don’t compare to the crimes of those who reject God and His influence in our lives.

What concerns me terribly is the number of people for whom God is of no consideration at all, where He is utterly absent. If you consider the backgrounds of those who have been shooting up schools or who have committed mass killings, very rarely do you find a perpetrator who reports a strong commitment to faith in God or involvement in a faith community. Usually, it’s just the opposite, those factors being absent in their lives.

The great majority of mass killers over the previous two decades or more appear to have little to no religious sentiments. They have not been committed Christians or committed believers of any stripe. They have not even been committed atheists, who at least consider the question of God.

This is the problem: not so much people who claim to be atheists (their numbers are no greater than Christians among mass killers), but the utter lack of God, the absence of God, or thinking of or mulling the question of God, that is common in the lives of the great majority of those who commit such horrible crimes. Put simply, if one is raised in an environment where the question of being held accountable for one’s actions by God is never considered, then that can negatively influence ideas of how to act toward others.

There is also the matter of hope. Those who are raised in the absence of God have little reason to hope or trust that God cares when life gets difficult and confusing. And it always does.

We live in an increasingly secular culture. By that, I don’t mean a culture that is hostile to God. That has its dangers, of course, especially if that hostility turns political. What I mean is that we have a culture that simply dismisses God, gives Him no consideration whatsoever. So many of our children are raised in homes and in neighborhoods and in surrounding environments where God is absent, and even the question of God’s existence and the role He plays in our lives is never brought up.

I can’t help but think that this is where so much moral depravity and violence is rooted. Until we create a culture where God permeates the atmosphere of every nook and cranny of our country, we will continue to have to deal with tragedies such as mass killings and school shootings. There may be policies we can adopt to help mitigate the carnage. But there is no other answer.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.


Deacon Bob Hunt is a husband, father, grandfather, and parishioner at All Saints Church in Knoxville.

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