On one of my recent automobile excursions I found myself listening to the radio call-in program of Dr. Dean Edell. (I know, I know, he's a anti-religion liberal, but I'm a sucker for talk radio, and this being a weekend rather than weeknight evening, the pickings were slim.)
On this particular program, Dr. Edell was (as he is wont to do) straying from purely medical topics into more political arenas as he shared the results of a recent Pew Research Center study on Americans' attitudes toward religion. Dr. Edell, a secular humanist, was celebrating the poll results as reflecting a positive movement in the American psyche from a reliance on the irrational--namely, faith in God--to the rational--namely, faith in human reason. As I listened to the statistics from the study, I became increasingly discouraged. Here's why :
"In Pew surveys since the beginning of 2006, 12% identified themselves as unaffiliated with a religious tradition. That compares with 8% in the Pew values survey in 1987. This change appears to be generational in nature, with each new generation displaying lower levels of religious commitment than the preceding one. . . . In addition, political differences in levels of religious commitment are larger now than in years past. Republicans are at least as religious as they were 10 or 20 years ago, based on the numbers expressing belief in God, citing prayer as important, and other measures. By contrast, Democrats express lower levels of commitment than in the late 1980s and 1990s."
Interestingly, although Edell was equating the erosion of religious faith with greater reliance on human endeavor, the study reflects a younger generation that is increasingly skeptical about the future in general as well as about government's ability to solve problems. Those same young people are also less likely to be politically informed and to exercise their right to vote. Hmmm, maybe lack of faith leads to cynicism?
Other trends noted by the poll include increasing acceptance of homosexuality; rising support for affirmative action; declining numbers of people describing themselves as subscribing to "old-fashioned values"; rising support for government welfare, even if it means increasing debt; and a declining percentage of people who describe prayer as an "important part" of their daily lives or who say they never question the existence of God. All of the above trends are particularly pronounced among younger voters. (And once again, it is ironic that people who express cynicism about government are simultaneously looking to government to play the leading role in solving societal ills.)
I think it is that aspect of the study--not the trends themselves but the fact that most of them are manifested to the greatest extent among younger voters--that I was most struck by. The responses of each generation (pre-Boomer, Boomer, and Generation X) have remained fairly constant over time. But in each successive generation the percentage of people describing themselves as atheist, agnostic, or religiously unaffiliated has risen, culminating with almost 20% in the youngest respondents (Generation Y).
What does this all mean? To me it is crystal clear. Our largely secular, liberal public school system is succeeding in its indoctrination of America's youth, assisted by an equally secular, liberal popular culture. Considering that the average American child is probably awake no more than 16 hours per day, and that half of those hours are spent in school and another 3 or 4 hours are spent watching programming and listening to music that celebrates immorality in the name of tolerance and freedom, the results of the Pew study are no wonder at all.
Listening to the radio and reading this study, I felt myself becoming extremely discouraged at what sounds like a significant shift in American opinion. For the last generation we have seemed to be moving towards embracing more traditional, "family" values. But this poll suggests a major turnaround.
But I take comfort in the knowledge that notwithstanding the results of this poll, I see all around me increasing numbers of parents who are deeply concerned about the values their children are receiving at school and as a result are pulling those children out of school and taking them home, where their parents can have a greater influence on the worldview that they are being taught.
I also take comfort in the knowledge that because of their embracing of life and family and faith, many of these same parents are expressing their hope for the future by having children at greater than the "replacement" rate, building a generation to which they may impart their values and which in another 20 years may spearhead another sea change.
Click below to read either a summary of the study or the full report.