Saturday, July 16, 2011
Caplow et al., Recent Social Trends, p. 346, summarizing data from Harris Polls; Gallup surveys showed a decline from 68 percent in 1975 to 52 percent in 1989 for "great deal" and "quite a lot" of confidence in organized religion combined. Surprisingly, the public thought religion was becoming more important: whereas only 14 percent said so in a 1970 poll, 49 percent did so in 1985. Yet most of the data gleaned from opinion polls about personal religious commitment showed little evidence of an across-the-board revival. The percentage of those saying religion was very important in their lives, for instance, remained about the same each year, as did figures for belief in God. Although the evangelical movement gained public attention as a result of Carter's claim to have been "born again" and because of the political muscle of Falwell and Robertson, there was little evidence that evangelicalism was attracting a substantially greater share of the public. In 1976, 34 percent said they were ''born again"; a decade later, exactly the same percentage did so. Over the same period, no change occurred in the numbers who said they tried to convert their friends to Jesus. Nor was there any increase in numbers of Americans who took the Bible as literal truth. Caplow et al., Recent Social Trends, p. 379. Had Americans' quest for spiritual discipline in the 1980s been a serious one, many of these indicators of religious commitment would have risen. That they did not is, again, evidence that discipline was a matter more of style than of substance.