Losing Our Religion?

February 9, 2007

Posted by Jay Livingston

I have been assuming that the Bush years have been good for religion. His “faith-based initiatives” have sent billions of government dollars to churches and other religious organizations. And when religion-based policies have conflicted with scientific findings, guess which carried the day, at least in the federal government.

Thomas Jefferson wrote famously of the “wall of separation between church and state.” George W. Bush seems to have heard a voice telling him to tear down that wall. More than any other president in modern times, or perhaps since the founding of the republic, Bush has tried make religion a part of government and politics.

Bush’s policy success in tearing down Mr. Jefferson’s wall does not seem to have won over more of the public. Here are the results of two Gallup polls, one taken just as Bush was coming into office, the other just last month.

The question was: "Next, I'm going to read some aspects of life in America today. For each one, please say whether you are very satisfied, somewhat satisfied, somewhat dissatisfied, or very dissatisfied. How about the influence of organized religion?"

Americans are still satisfied with the role of religion (56% vs. 39%) , but dissatisfaction has grown during the Bush years. Do people want to see the Bush trend continue?

The proportion of Americans saying they want religion to have less influence has increased by 45% (from 22% in 2001 to 32% in 2007).

It's hard to know what to make of the change. Thirty-two percent wanting less religious influence (maybe only a little less), is still a clear minority, and America is still far more religious than other advanced industrialized countries. Executive, legislative, and judicial branches have greatly favored religion.

The puzzling irony is that despite its dominance, the Christian majority feels threatened. Nearly sixty percent of Americans agreed that "Christianity is under attack in the US today." OK, this does come from a Fox News poll, and maybe people have just been listening to Bill O'Reilly. But it's possible they see these Bush-era trends as omens for the future.

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