By avoiding political alignments, the church has been able to reach all classes.
The United States is the world’s most thoroughly modern, industrial, and technological society. Yet by many measurements, it also appears to be one of the world’s most religious nations. This is a surprise.
The odd combination of modernity and religion defies conventional wisdom about secularization, and differs strikingly from the situation in other Western industrial nations.
Studies show that two out of three adults in America still maintain fairly bedrock religious beliefs. In a recent Gallup Poll that asked how important religion should be in life, 41 percent of young Americans (ages 18–24) answered “very important.” In France, Germany, and Great Britain, less than 10 percent of young people gave the same response.
On any given Sunday morning, over 40 percent of the population in the United States attend church. In Canada and Australia, this number tails off to about 25 percent; in England, to about 10 percent; and in Scandinavia, to around 5 percent—despite the fact that 95 percent of the population are confirmed in the church.
How does one begin to explain the religious continuity and vitality found in America? In the 1830s, the French visitor to America Alexis de Tocqueville said it was because churches could not be identified closely with any given political persuasion. Religion in Europe, he said, “by allying itself with political power … increases its strength over some but forfeits the hope of reigning over all.… Unbelievers in Europe,” he continued, “attack Christians more as political than religious enemies; they hate the faith as the opinion of a party much more than ...1
Already a CT subscriber? Log in for full digital access.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 63+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more