George Gallup Jr. sees religion in US as `alive and well'
WHILE political, social, and technological forces have vastly reshaped America in the past half-century, belief in God, reliance on prayer, and acceptance of spiritual values have remained almost constant. So concludes George Gallup Jr. in a special report that looks at religion in the United States from 1935 to 1985.Skip to next paragraph
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The Gallup Organization, headquartered close to the Princeton University campus here, has tested public preferences in presidential elections since the days of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Less publicized have been its periodic reports on ``Religion in America.''
Noting the approaching holiday, Dr. Gallup said in an interview, ``I think that at Christmastime people put aside some of their more selfish motives . . . and move into an area of greater commitment [to spiritual values].''
But interest in religion and acknowledgment of the supremacy of God are on the upswing today and do not just manifest themselves in seasonal goodwill, says Gallup, who took over the polling group's reins after his well-known father passed on earlier this year.
Perhaps Gallup's most significant new finding is that more Americans today (48 percent) than in the past three decades believe that religion is having an increasing influence on American life (see chart). This is uniformly true for men and women, younger and older citizens, and Protestants and Roman Catholics. Only in the late 1950s was confidence in religious influence higher, the pollster says.
At the same time, 56 percent of those interviewed feel that religion is ``very important'' in their own lives. This has remained steady over a five-year period, and is up slightly from the late '70s. Sixty-one percent of the respondents said that ``religion can answer all or most of today's problems.'' This figure has remained fairly constant in the past decade.
Gallup cites other trends which bolster his conclusion that religion is ``alive and well'' in America. For example, his latest surveys show church membership remaining fairly high (68 percent), along with reliance on prayer (87 percent) and belief in God (95 percent).
But he stresses that this commitment does not translate into church attendance, nor is it always reflected in moral or ethical values. In fact, last year only 39 percent of Protestants and 51 percent of Catholics said they went to church.
Ironically, crime, sexual promiscuity, and fraudulent business practices have flourished in the US, Gallup says, while religious commitment has remained stable or even grown stronger.
``It's something of a paradox: Morality is losing ground, and religion is gaining ground,'' he adds. ``We have a high crime rate, a very high divorce rate, a high rate of cheating . . . [and] tax evasion.''
He explains this in terms of the difficulty of ``bridging the gap'' between one's beliefs and human actions -- ``the superficiality of faith . . . and what would appear to be a failure, in part, of organized religion to make a difference in society in terms of morality and ethics.''