Value of Religion in Modern Society
Religions vary throughout the world, with some worshiping one god and others worshiping many. One thing all these religions have in common is the ability to bring people together.
The core framework of religions is to create moral benchmarks for believers that guide their footsteps. Religion also encourages believers to put words into action and go into the community to shower others with compassion, love and charity. Many religions address problems that can become negative epidemics in a society including drug use, divorce, alcoholism, adultery, murder and greed. The teachings on these topics encourage believers to avoid negative acts, such as murder and lying, with a framework of consequences in the spiritual world that many believers strive to avoid by maintaining good morals and values. Believers of religion will be charitable with time and money, hoping to relieve some of the burdens a society faces, such as hunger, clothing needs, housing needs and overall spiritual counseling. Without the religious frameworks that guide these actions, many people may not feel morally obligated to address societal problems, making religion important to society and its people.
Some people join a religion in order to feel included in a smaller subsection of a larger society. It's not uncommon for Buddhists, Muslims or Christians to create their own fellowships for believers. This sense of community helps society because it helps its people to have a sense of belonging and to make sense of things when worldly events become dramatic. Some of the rituals associated with a certain religion appeal to people and help them feel closer to their god while others avoid the dictated rituals and choose to identify as a member of a religion without observing much or any of the traditions.
Religion provides moral guidelines for marriage and family that religious believers credit to being able to sustain marriage and maintain the family. Most religions lay out ideals for marriage, including beliefs against divorce and adultery and responsibilities for the man and woman. Families are an integral part of a society, with families being an important part of reproduction, which helps to sustain specific cultures and races within a society. When families break down society as a whole feels the ramifications of broken families including the need for more social welfare programs to help single mothers and educational alternatives for children from lower-income households, often run by a single parent. Families who use their religion as a framework for how the family should function often contribute their religious beliefs to a solid marriage and family structure.
Religion and religious-based institutions help to shape the framework of society and helps to protect the right to religious freedom. Not all society's offer religious freedom, with some countries demanding the practice of one religion and others going to war to create a religious dominance. However, for American society and other societies that allow religious freedom, the ability to practice a religion when and where someone likes helps to protect other freedoms, such as speech and expression. If a society tries to limit freedom of religion, it will also likely try to limit other freedoms. That's why freedom of religion is so important to a society's governmental framework.
While religion remains important in the lives of most Americans, the 2014 Religious Landscape Study finds that Americans as a whole have become somewhat less religious in recent years by certain traditional measures of religious commitment. For instance, fewer U.S. adults now say religion is very important in their lives than did so seven years ago, when Pew Research Center conducted a similarly extensive religion survey. Fewer adults also express absolutely certain belief in God, say they believe in heaven or say their religion’s sacred text is the word of God.
The change in Americans’ religious beliefs coincides with the rising share of the U.S. public that is not affiliated with any religion. The unaffiliated not only make up a growing portion of the population, they also are growing increasingly secular, at least on some key measures of religious belief. For instance, fewer religious “nones” say religion is very important to them than was the case in 2007, and fewer say they believe in God or believe in heaven or hell,
Among people who do identify with a religion, however, there has been little, if any, change on many measures of religious belief. People who are affiliated with a religious tradition are as likely now as in the recent past to say religion is very important in their lives and to believe in heaven. They also are as likely to believe in God, although the share of religiously affiliated adults who believe in God with absolute certainty has declined somewhat.
When seeking guidance on questions of right and wrong, a plurality of Americans say they rely primarily on their common sense and personal experiences. But there has been a noticeable increase in the share of religiously affiliated adults who say they turn to their religious teachings for guidance.
This chapter takes a detailed look at the religious beliefs of U.S. adults – including members of a variety of religious groups – and compares the results of the current study with the 2007 Religious Landscape Study. The chapter also examines Americans’ views on religion and salvation, religion and modernity, and religion and morality.
Three-quarters of U.S. adults say religion is at least “somewhat” important in their lives, with more than half (53%) saying it is “very” important. Approximately one-in-five say religion is “not too” (11%) or “not at all” important in their lives (11%).
Although religion remains important to many Americans, its importance has slipped modestly in the last seven years. In 2007, Americans were more likely to say religion was very important (56%) or somewhat important (26%) to them than they are today. Only 16% of respondents in 2007 said religion was not too or not at all important to them.
The decline in the share of Americans who say religion is very important in their lives is closely tied to the growth of the religiously unaffiliated, whose share of the population has risen from 16% to 23% over the past seven years. Compared with those who are religiously affiliated, religious “nones” are far less likely to describe religion as a key part of their lives; just 13% say religion is very important to them. Furthermore, the share of the “nones” who say religion is not an important part of their lives has grown considerably in recent years. Today, two-thirds of the unaffiliated (65%) say religion is not too or not at all important to them, up from 57% in 2007.
For Americans who are religiously affiliated, the importance people attach to religion varies somewhat by religious tradition. Roughly eight-in-ten or more Jehovah’s Witnesses (90%), members of historically black Protestant churches (85%), Mormons (84%) and evangelical Protestants (79%) say religion is very important in their lives. These figures have stayed about the same in recent years.
Smaller majorities of most other religious groups say religion plays a very important role in their lives. This includes 64% of Muslims, 58% of Catholics and 53% of mainline Protestants. Roughly half of Orthodox Christians (52%) also say this. Fewer Jews, Buddhists and Hindus say religion is very important to them, but most members of those groups indicate that religion is at least somewhat important in their lives.
Nearly nine-in-ten Americans (89%) say they believe in “God or a universal spirit,” and most of them (63% of all adults) are absolutely certain in this belief. There has been a modest decline in the share of Americans who believe in God since the Religious Landscape Study was first conducted in 2007 (from 92% to 89%), and a bigger drop in the share of Americans who say they believe in God with absolute certainty (from 71% to 63%).
Majorities of adherents of most Christian traditions say they believe in God with absolute certainty. But this conviction has declined noticeably in recent years among several Christian groups. The largest drops have been among mainline Protestants (down from 73% in 2007 to 66% today), Catholics (from 72% to 64%) and Orthodox Christians (from 71% to 61%).
Among non-Christians, the pattern is mixed. Most Muslims (84%) are absolutely certain that God exists, but far fewer Hindus (41%), Jews (37%) or Buddhists (29%) are certain there is a God or universal spirit.
As was the case in 2007, most religiously unaffiliated people continue to express some level of belief in God or a universal spirit. However, the share of religious nones who believe in God has dropped substantially in recent years (from 70% in 2007 to 61% today). And religious nones who believe in God are far less certain about this belief compared with those who identify with a religion. In fact, most religiously unaffiliated believers say they are less than absolutely certain about God’s existence.
Nearly one-in-ten U.S. adults overall (9%) now say they do not believe in God, up from 5% in 2007. Roughly seven-in-ten Americans (72%) believe in “a heaven, where people who have led good lives are eternally rewarded.”
Belief in heaven is nearly universal among Mormons (95%) and members of the historically black Protestant tradition (93%). Belief in heaven also is widely held by evangelical Protestants (88%), Catholics (85%), Orthodox Christians (81%) and mainline Protestants (80%). The vast majority of Muslims (89%) also believe in heaven. About half of Hindus in the survey (48%) say they believe in heaven, as do 47% of Buddhists surveyed.
The only groups where significantly fewer than half say they believe in heaven are Jews (40%) and the unaffiliated (37%). While relatively few atheists or agnostics believe in heaven, a large share of those whose religion is “nothing in particular” and who also say religion is at least somewhat important in their lives do believe in heaven (72%).
The survey also finds that, overall, women are more likely than men to say they believe in heaven, and those with less than a college degree are more likely than those with a college degree to express this view. Slightly bigger shares of blacks and Hispanics than whites say they believe in heaven, and older Americans are slightly more likely than younger adults to hold this belief. In many cases, however, these demographic differences in belief in heaven are smaller within religious traditions than among the public as a whole. Among evangelical Protestants, for example, men are just as likely as women to believe in heaven, and young people are just as likely as older evangelicals to hold this belief.