George Gallup, America’s most highly respected pollster, has recently coauthored a book with Jim Castelli, The People’s Religion: American Faith in the 90s, published this month by Macmillan. Excerpts from an interview in Christianity Today reveal some interesting trends which will significantly affect our nation in the coming decade.
“Over the last 54 years of scientific polling, religion in America has been remarkably stable, both in terms of beliefs and practices. It is interesting that as the level of education has increased in this country, religious beliefs did not decline. Karl Marx’s prediction that more education would produce a weaker attachment to religion simply has not come about.
“The central problem today is that people are not solidly grounded in their faith, and therefore vulnerable to hedonism, materialism, and new spiritual movements which glorify self. We have in our country a geographic literacy problem. We have a scientific literacy problem. But more seriously, I feel, we have a faith literacy problem. That has to be faced,” said Gallup.
“On the plus side, religion has profoundly affected our society in terms of volunteerism. We did a big study for the independent sector and found that churches give more money than foundations or businesses do. The church is the biggest supporter of the volunteer effort, in terms of manpower and money, but also in terms of energizing society.
“In the 1990s, alcohol and drug abuse has to be very high on the list of priorities for the church because it affects the family and it affects everything. And it’s a crisis situation. The sex-related issues are going to be among the most important issues facing all churches in the foreseeable future. Abortion, AIDS, premarital sex, homosexuality, all those things are going to be at the vortex of the problems confronting all churches.
“Also, you could hardly find a more basic problem in our society than youth unemployment, which is very high among minority groups and in the major cities. That problem leads to low self-esteem, which contributes to alcohol and drug abuse, which leads to crime and lawlessness. Until as a society we meet the joblessness problem head-on, we’re just storing up a lot of problems for ourselves in the ’90s and beyond.
“But these are the kinds of things that don’t have to be left up to chance. I tend to be optimistic because I think there are a lot of obvious things that churches can and will do to make a profound difference in society in the years ahead. There is nothing mysterious about it. Also, as Christians, we often forget to pray for things. But God is accessible, and will help us in our efforts, whatever they are. “