The standard narrative of American religious decline goes something like this: A few hundred years ago, European and American intellectuals began doubting the validity of God as an 1 mechanism for natural life. 2 science became a more widely accepted method for 3 and understanding the physical world, religion became a less 4 way of thinking—not just about medicine and mechanics, 5 also culture and politics and economics and every other sphere of public life. As the United States became more secular, people slowly began 6 from faith.
Of course, this tale is not just reductive—it’s arguably 7 , in that it seems to capture neither the reasons nor the reality behind contemporary American belief. For one thing, the U.S. is still 8 religious, despite years of 9 about religion’s demise. A significant number of people who don’t identify with any particular faith group still say they believe in God, and 10 40 percent pray daily or weekly. 11 there have been changes in this kind of private belief and practice, the most significant 12 has been in the way people publicly practice their faith: Americans, and 13 young Americans, are less likely to attend services or 14 with a religious group than they have at any time in recent memory.
If most people haven’t just logicked their way out of 15 God, what’s behind this shift in public religious practice, and what does the shift look like in detail? That’s a big question, one less in 16 of a straightforward answer than a series of data points and arguments constellated over time. Here’s one: Pew has a new survey out about the way people choose their 17 and attend services. While Americans on the whole are still going to church and other 18 services less than they 19 to, many people are actually going more—and those who are 20 out aren’t necessarily doing it for reasons of belief.