According to a recent Gallup poll, 55% of those in the United States say religion can answer “most or all” of today’s problems. The number is lower than a decade ago, but higher than the 51% recorded in May 2015.
The statistic is higher than it should be: 0%. The notion that religion can resolve all or most of our issues, when those same issues have plagued us alongside religion for thousands of years, is frankly preposterous. For most of the ways religion helps some people, there are secular substitutes. And while religion can be a force for good, it also creates many problems of its own.
Religion is definitely not the answer. If religion were the key to morality, then mega-churches would act more like charities and less like billion-dollar businesses. If all we had to do was have faith, then society’s problems would have disappeared a long time ago. After all, the Gallup statistics themselves demonstrate Americans are a faithful people.
Gallup further says 71% of Republicans believe religion “can answer today’s problems” compared to 47% of Democrats. There are also differences along religious lines.
When broken down by Americans’ religious preferences, 71% of Protestants or other Christians believe that religion can answer most, if not all, problems, while 60% of Catholics believe the same. Not surprisingly, 9% of those with no religious preference believe religion can answer problems, but 81% say it is old-fashioned and out of date.
There are also substantial differences by party identification, as would be expected given the major existing differences in religiosity across partisan groups. In the latest survey, 71% of Republicans say that religion can solve all or most problems, compared with 50% of independents and 47% of Democrats.
The overall decrease in religion as the ultimate problem-solver is to be expected. It matches with what we know about the rising number of religiously unaffiliated individuals in the age of the internet, as well as the general trend away from religion among younger people.
What I find interesting, however, is that 4% more people believe in religion as the answer than just two years ago. This uptick may seem insignificant (it’s within the margin of error) but it goes against the overall downward trend over the years and could portend a long-term change (though it’s too early to tell).
I wonder if that’s linked to Americans’ perspective on the country itself. It’s common knowledge that some people turn to religion when their life is on the line and they have nothing and no one to turn to (this is how the “No atheists in foxholes” myth was created), so maybe that can be applied here. Maybe, just maybe, we are seeing some Americans turn towards religion out of desperation. Nothing else seems to be working right now.