America is indeed losing faith, and there are three principle reasons:
1. Extremism. The rigidity of some spurs an equal and opposite reaction in others. When we are told that we must believe a certain way, something inside of the resilient soul opposes such certitude. There would be less atheism if there was a bit less imperiousness.
2. Science. The conviction that only what one can see, or measure, is real has led many from faith. As Emerson wrote “The first and last lesson of religion, the things that are seen are temporal; the things that are unseen are eternal.” Given the tremendous power of science to manipulate the visible, many have jumped to the conclusion that only the visible is real. Emerson’s words recur in our lives when we recognize that the explanations of the laboratory are limited. The essential questions of life cannot be quantified, and the greatest truths are unmeasurable.
3. Social Science. As we learn about the history and variety of religion, it is harder to believe in the single truth of one’s own. This is one reason that some turn to fanaticism, which is the intellectual equivalent of plugging one’s ears when another is saying something disagreeable. But what it should teach us is that God is bigger than religion. Faith does not depend on the path to God but on the reality of God. There are many ways, and no one person’s footsteps are the sole path in the wilderness.
Is faith fading? The signs of it are apparent in our lives. The ebbing of religious belief in Europe finds some parallel in America. But there is also a robust and thriving religious culture in this land which was always wise enough not to declare an official church. The signs of revival are at least as real as the signs of trouble; faith in America has historically taken new shapes and reinvented itself. We can expect the same will happen in this new, technologically driven age. While God may be unchanging, we are not.