A superficial look at statistics would lead to the conclusion that the church in America is thriving. As recently as 1991, almost half of the adults reached by telephone reported that they had attended a religious service within the last week. In surveys done between the late 1970s and the early 1990s, about 95% of adult Americans stated that they believe in God, about 90% claimed that they pray, about 80% agreed that Jesus was God or the Son of God, and about 70% accepted the Bible as the word of God. It would appear that Christianity still has a strong hold on American society. But the appearance is misleading. A deeper look at statistics reveals that the influence of Christianity is rapidly declining and in danger of disappearing altogether.

Fading influence of the Bible

Although Americans retain a token respect for the Bible, a diminishing minority regard it as a guidebook for life.

  1. The finding in the late 70s that about 70% endorsed the Bible as the word of God may seem like a sign of healthy fundamentalism. But the comparable measure after World War II was 86%.
  2. In 1963, an amazing 65% still believed that the Bible is literally true. Ten years later, the same measure had dropped to less than 40%, and has remained low ever since.
  3. In 1990, less than 40% defined sin as “going against God’s will,” going against the Bible,” or “violating the Ten Commandments”.
  4. In the same survey, only 13% stated that they believe in all Ten Commandments. (The unpopularity of the Sabbath law is the main reason for the surprisingly low figure.) Only 40% stated that they believe in at least five.

The many reasons for the Bible slipping to the margins of American consciousness include these:

  1. Bible ownership has drastically declined.
  2. The language is changing, making the traditional versions inaccessible to today’s reader.
  3. Literacy is declining, with the result that people read less and what they read is less challenging. For many, the Bible has become hard reading.
  4. The Bible has been banished from public schools, and is ignored or mocked in the mass media. Even to post the Ten Commandments in a public place has been forbidden.
  5. The Bible receives little attention in the home. As long ago as the late 70s, only 17% of American parents stated that they had read the Bible with their children during the last week. If false affirmatives could have been sifted out, the true percentage would have been much lower. The percentage today would be lower still.

Fading influence of the church

Despite the rosy statistic cited earlier—that half of the Americans interviewed in 1991 reported that they had gone to a religious service in the last week—a full picture of the evidence shows that church attendance is falling catastrophically.

  1. Researchers have determined that about half of those who say they went to a service are lying. Actual church attendance is about half the figure gleaned by telephone surveys.
  2. By 1996, the same kind of telephone survey found that only 37% of adults reported going to a service in the last week.
  3. With few exceptions, almost all denominations are losing members. Practically the only religious assemblies registering growth in recent years have been mega-churches.
  4. In confidential interviews, 27% say that they go to church regularly, but 58% say that they went regularly as a child. The drop is greatest among Jews (12% and 31%) and virtually the same for Catholics (41% and 78%) and Protestants (34% and 67%).

The proportion of the population saying that religion is important in their lives declined from 75% in 1952 to 70% in 1965 and then even more to 53% in 1978. No doubt the percentage has fallen further in the last thirty years.

Fading influence of the Christian world view

The weakening allegiance to a Christian world view is evident in many ways.

  1. As we have already shown, many bodies of organized Christianity have repudiated orthodox theology.
  2. Some statistics suggest that popular religious opinions are still fairly orthodox. But these statistics belie the truth.
    1. Although 90-95% of Americans say they believe in God, most of them have a faith that can only be described as extremely shallow.
      1. After World War II, 87% of those questioned said that they were absolutely certain of God’s existence . By 1964, the portion with no doubts had fallen to 77% of the population, and by 1981, to 62%.
      2. In 1990, six out of seven said that it is okay not to believe in God.
    2. The consensus that Jesus is God is also misleading. Many fewer now believe that it is necessary to accept Jesus in order to be saved. In 1964, a bare majority, 51%, still believed that Jesus is the only way. But the same measure slumped to 38% by 1981. Since then, the measure must have slumped further.
    3. Twenty years ago, 70% identified the Bible as the word of God, but about three sevenths of these also said that it contains mistakes .
    4. Belief in an afterlife remains prevalent. In 1990, 82% agreed that there is an afterlife including heaven and hell . But only 4% expected to go to hell, and 45% also believed in ghosts .
    5. Almost a fourth of the populace accepts the occult to some degree. A full 31% believe that some people have magical powers, 28% believe in witchcraft, 24% in black magic, 20% in voodoo .
  3. A survey in 1990 looked at opinions on leading public issues. On no issue did a majority feel that they needed religious guidance to the right answer. On almost all issues, a majority did not even know what position their religion took .
  4. Perhaps the most dramatic proof that America is forsaking its Christian heritage emerges from the history of how the law views Christianity. In 1892, the Supreme Court ruled that “our civilization and our institutions are emphatically Christian” . Today, the Supreme Court has gone so far in enforcing separation of church and state that, in the opinion of former Chief Justice Rehnquist, it has become antireligious. In a dissenting opinion, he said that “the tone of the Court’s opinion . . . bristles with hostility to all things religious in public life.