America 2015: If religion declines, what about the future of democracy?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series America 2015
Pew polling on influence of religion in America

Click this Pew graphic to visit the Pew website and read the entire report.

Is religion losing its influence on American life? In 2014, more Americans than ever before—almost three quarters—said yes, according to Pew surveys. Only 22% said religion is increasing its influence. Do you think this trend is good, bad, or indifferent?

If you ask Clay Christensen, a Harvard Business School professor, it’s definitely a bad trend. He relates an experience he had with a Marxist economist from China who was in the U.S. on a fellowship.

Christensen asked if he had learned anything surprising or unexpected.

The Chinese economist’s immediate reaction was this: “I had no idea how critical religion is to the functioning of democracy.” He explained that democracy works not because the government closely monitors and controls people, but because “most people, most of the time, voluntarily choose to obey the law.”

Religion is the reason why people voluntarily choose to do so. People feel accountable to God, not just to society.

The declining influence of religion in America worried the Chinese economist, seeing that the moral bulwark of democracy might be eroding.

Christensen concluded, “If you take away religion, you can’t hire enough police.”

Perhaps this is why an increasing number of Americans say that religion should play a larger role in politics, according to Pew.

The results from the Pew survey show that we are starting 2015 with the perception (perhaps the reality) that the influence of religion is waning in America.

Do you believe that religion is losing its influence?

Is faith essential for the functioning of democracy?

Want to see Clay Christensen pose this argument? Click the video below …

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  1. Debra Darvick says

    I have watched and read about this issue for years and find it quite troubling. We only have to look at Europe to see where America might be headed. Tragic that churches are on the selling block.

    People say they, “Don’t need religion, they will just be good people.” Well, where do the teachings about being “good” come from but religious heritage, the Ten Commandments? The founding fathers, yes, fathers, if you have a problem with that term go take a walk, were deeply learned in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and understood the importance not only of religious tradition but of the necessity of keeping it out of the public/political sphere.

    People reject religion with the comment: “because it is the cause of so much bloodshed.” I’d offer that a misinterpretation of text is at the root of so much murder and mayhem. Haven’t read the Koran so won’t weigh in on Islamist misreading of texts to further their political aims. There was even more bloodshed before there were followers of the Big Ten (and I’m not talking football.)

    It already doesn’t bode well for America and for democracy that fewer and fewer people are aligned with a religious tradition. Sundays are no longer sacrosanct but are just another day for buying and gathering. The idea of respect to a higher power has fallen by the wayside and so there is so much less respect for parental authority, not only by the children but by parents who are befuddled that they should even have a role of authority in their child-rearing. As families crumble, more and more of the State takes over. Corporate rapaciousness, political and financial collusion (red AND blue) arise from a culture that looks only to the self and not to the effects of one’s communal actions.

    I am sure many will label me archaic, judgmental, and oh my gosh the worst label ever, conservative. But in the belly of the word conservative is the word “conserve.” There are crucial traditions and understandings that need to be conserved that are no longer treasured. It is to our continually unfolding peril.

  2. Dennis Crouch says

    I very much enjoyed Debra Darvick’s comments.I’ll have to place myself in the same court as Debra. In the words of John Adams, “Our Constitution was made for only a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.” In addition, Alex De Toqueville observed and wrote in his book Democracy in America, “Freedom sees in religion the companion of its struggles and its triumphs, the cradle of its infancy, the divine source of its rights. It considers religion as the safeguard of mores; and mores as the guarantee of laws and the pledge of its duration.”

    Our country’s moral balance has relied on religion before we became the United States. A belief in a supreme being and through that belief our people generally do what is right. As our country distances itself from our belief in a supreme being, we tend to rely on man to give us direction and to know what is right and wrong. Man is not consistent and we find that mores continue to change under his “leadership.” God presents to us moral absolutes. Those that don’t believe think they “know better” and reject God because He provides an obstacle to what they want to do. Our democracy cannot continue to exist without belief in a supreme being and our founding fathers knew that. No legislation can replace religion and moral behavior. Moral behavior cannot be legislated although legislation is being increasingly used today to establish norms that are already evident in our Bible (the Big 10). Without belief and faith in our living God, we will continue to deviate from moral behavior and our country as founded will continue to decay as founded. As the influence of God in our country is reduced, so does our freedom and democratic way of life.