In the mid 1700s the Age of Enlightenment was sweeping across Europe like an Oklahoma grass fire.

The European culture’s love affair with liberation theology or better yet, no theology at all was in full bloom. Its theme is akin to the modern day slogan, “If it feels good, do it!”

Some progressive thinkers and prognosticators suggest that America has reached a similar point where religion is no longer a vital part of the fabric in our culture, and its time has come and gone.

Some recent studies might offer some validity to that observation.

A recent Harris Interactive poll suggests a decline of belief in key religious concepts. In 2003, upwards of 90 percent of the post 9-11 populace expressed their belief in God, while five years later that number dropped by 10 percent.

Such decline begs the question: Is the American culture prone to foxhole religion, or is it simply human nature to turn to God more readily during hard times, while holding loosely to our religion during periods of prosperity?

Sounds a bit “Old Covenant like” doesn’t it?

The poll shows even more disturbing trends as Americans continue to discount their belief in heaven, down from 82 percent to 73 percent in that same five-year period. Believing the devil is more mythical than real, a 9 percent drop to 59 percent. Bringing up the bottom, pun intended, the view of hell being real dropped from 69 percent to 62 percent.

What does all this mean? Does it have any bearings on our culture today? And how does this affect you, the average John and Jane Doe of America? Little or much, it all depends on your perspective.

An extensive new survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life details statistics on religion in America and explores the shifts taking place in the U.S. religious landscape. Many of these new paradigms are the basis for greater spiritual interests.

Based on interviews with more than 35,000 Americans age 18 and older, the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey finds that religious affiliation in the U.S. is both very diverse and extremely fluid.

More than one-quarter of American adults, 28 percent, have left the faith in which they were raised in favor of another religion or no religion at all.

Just as it was during the Age of Enlightenment, a torrential uprising of spiritual fervor was sweeping across the European continent, so here in America there appears to be a sustaining devotion to all things spiritual in spite of the latest polls.

Simultaneous to Europe’s liberal utopia, America was experiencing the first Great Awakening. Department of Delaware historian Christine Heyrman writes of what historians call “the first Great Awakening” can best be described as a revitalization of religious piety that swept through the American colonies between the 1730s and the 1770s:

“That revival was part of a much broader movement, an evangelical upsurge taking place simultaneously on the other side of the Atlantic, most notably in England, Scotland, and Germany. In all these Protestant cultures during the middle decades of the eighteenth century, a new Age of Faith rose to counter the currents of the Age of Enlightenment, to reaffirm the view that being truly religious meant trusting the heart rather than the head, prizing feeling more than thinking, and relying on biblical revelation rather than human reason.”

Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists and Methodists alike experienced an increase in seekers in unprecedented numbers. In emotionally charged sermons, all the more powerful because they were often delivered extemporaneously, preachers such as Jonathan Edwards, famously known for “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” evoked dramatic, terrifying images of the utter corruption of human nature and the terrors awaiting the unrepentant in hell.

Although our nation has sunk into a recession, is fighting two wars, and humanism is alive and well — you might be surprised to know that church attendance is holding steady and is even on the rise in many parts of our country. An average of 42 percent of adults in America, say they attend worship services weekly.

Author Alan Wolfe of Boston College, a self-described nonbeliever but a believer-friendly public intellectual with a reputation for fair-mindedness, suggests that, “It is not easy to debunk the myth that religious believers in the U.S. constitute an alternative to dominant American culture. American religion is as American as it is religious.”

Patriotism and religion in America are about as American as baseball and hotdogs.

On the decline? Possibly, but American psyche has been so thoroughly “blood washed” for the last 300 years, I don’t think we are going away anytime soon!



Randy Sheridan of Burleson is a speaker, counselor and mediator. He can be reached at drsheridan@aol.com.

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