Why is organized religion on the decline?
Emeritus Professor of Psychology Steven Reiss wrote about a decline in the prevalence of organized religion in Ohio State Alumni digital magazine’s January–February issue, and several readers weighed in on the topic. To add your voice to the discussion, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll print a selection in a future digital magazine.
The article regarding the decline in organized religion by Steven Reiss in the most recent edition (January–February digital magazine) was both interesting and thoughtful. Each of his four shifts offered insights into the religious changes in America.
However, I propose that a fifth factor has contributed to the decline: the rise of spectator sports. For many fans, sports offer the fulfillment of several of Reiss’ 16 basic desires. For example, acceptance, honor, idealism, social contact and status can all be related to team identification.
The soaring fees for broadcast rights to sporting events are just one illustration of the drastically increasing cultural prominence of spectator sports. For better or for worse, Super Bowl Sunday is practically a religious holiday in America.
Joe Cobbs ’00 MA
Education is a lifelong learning process. However, when that education is stunted in its growth at an early age, the opportunity to view the full spectrum of what life has to offer is usually inhibited.
Every child, every student, every individual has a right to open books. Parents, teachers, pastors, clergymen/women who deny this right by the implanting of their religious beliefs are depriving their children, their students and those individuals of their right to seek the answers that suit them best and to choose their own beliefs. Imposing parental religious beliefs on a child is the same as brainwashing and indoctrination. Few, if any, can overcome this bias. Thus, the learning process has been severely stunted, and this is a disservice to the child generally for the rest of his or her life.
As children we are taught to trust our parents. But parents don’t have all of the answers. Parents receive “hand-me-downs” from their parents and from previous generations. These hand-me-downs are most prevalent in our religious beliefs, from which few can escape and choose their own path. How many of us would choose the same faith as our parents and ancestors if the beliefs were not implanted at an early age?
By restricting a child’s education along a particular faith, they are being deprived of the opportunity to gain wisdom, knowledge, experience and understanding. Knowledge can be obtained in many ways, but primarily through observation, books and scholars. Observation is the true source of knowledge about our world. Abstract knowledge, such as beliefs in lords, gods and mystical entities, does not exist outside of our heads and imagination. Regardless, every person should have the opportunity to seek world knowledge without being inhibited by their parents or their caregivers.
Everyone should apply the aspects of “critical thinking” to all issues, including religious beliefs. Children should be taught the basics of critical thinking. By doing so, children will be far wiser and better decision makers. Critical thinking should be applied to religious beliefs that are passed down and embedded into children. Not doing so is depriving them of a lifelong learning experience.
Faith and trust are not interchangeable. Faith involves holding onto a belief without reason. Justifying faith involves circular reasoning with a total lack of evidence to support the belief. Trust is the belief in following through on promises made by reasoning, rational justification. Children should be taught the differences. Children should be taught to question everything. Instead, they are generally taught the virtue of their parents’ faith. Wrong!
Faith is very dangerous to society (as we have seen in the Middle Eastern societies and in the interfaith violence between Protestants and Catholics) and to the growth of an individual who has been indoctrinated in a particular sect. Accepting faith without question is very dangerous, and to impose it on an innocent child is cruel, wrong, mentally abusive and a violation of childhood freedom and exploration.
Every child has the right to an open book.
Everett Ray Johnson ’65 (LM)
One trend in religion in America that was not mentioned is that even though the number of people in mainline denominations has been decreasing, the number of Americans who call themselves “Bible believing Christians” has increased.
I think the reason is that in the past many people just participated in mainline churches because it was the cultural thing to do, even when there was not any real belief or faith. Now people don’t see a reason to go to church if they don’t really believe in God or the Bible. But the number of people who are actually believing in the Bible has been shown to be on the rise in America.
Thanks for listening. Blessings to you.
Charles Burwell ’75
I agree with the majority of the article, with the exception that I would include safety/security/protection in the basic desires. While tranquility is related to this, I don’t feel tranquility adequately represents the significance of the basic desire for safety/security/protection.
While our family and our local first responders help meet this desire, and on a larger scale, our military and our governments do an excellent job of helping provide this as well, I would argue that organized religion is the ultimate safety net, security blanket and eternal protection from all harm. It is the only source of certainty that good will prevail over evil, and thus ensures that the desire, and even the need, for safety/security/protection will be attained.
As was well written, “Religion rises and falls in popularity depending on how well it satisfies our needs versus the secular alternatives.” I regret that I believe religion will not regain its popularity until evil “hits closer to home” and the connection is made to the safety/security/protection basic need through the most valuable resource, organized religion.
Peggy Horlick Roberts ’92 (LM)
Virginia Beach, Virginia
This is a disturbing trend in my view. The William Oxley Thompson statue facing east on our beloved Oval would also be disturbed were it to become alive!
As my husband, a law school grad of Ohio State, once remarked, “The downfall of our republic began in 1960 ... slowly gathering momentum, affecting religious beliefs and the value of home and family.”
Since then, for better or worse, we have a technological snowball gaining speed as it becomes the fabric of our culture. And like a snowball, given the right temperature, it will not melt. Just when this so-called “climate change” will affect our nonreligious and disappearing moral codes is anyone’s guess. But many folks’ conjecture is that when it does come, it will be a ball of fire.
Charlotte Brokaw Thomas ’56 (LM)
Fort Myers Beach, Florida
This was a very good article. I am 71 years old and have always believed in God. I pray every night.
When I was younger I did attend church for many reasons, but mainly to worship the Lord. And a lot of the appeal was the sermon by the pastor.
But when I moved to my present location, I had trouble finding that same appeal. The churches I went to all wore name tags and seemed to be about business instead of religion.
So my relationship with God has remained, but is now personal. It is not with a group, but I have never needed one. I just need to believe, as I always have and always will.
Religion is about relationship with your faith, not about business, politics, etc.
John McCarroll ’66, ’70 MD (LM)