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Religion in Modern Day America

Updated: May 23, 2021

Two studies published this week highlight interesting trends in American spirituality.

The first, from Gallup, showed that for the first time in their recorded history, American membership in houses of worship fell below 50%. Highlights from the survey showed:

  • In 2020, 47% of U.S. adults belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque

  • Down more than 20 points from turn of the century

  • Change primarily due to rise in Americans with no religious preference

Based on this report, one might assume this long-term secular decline to continue.

However, and perhaps conversely, another report from the Pew Research Center states that almost 30% of Americans say that the pandemic has strengthened their faith.

Since this a Holy Week for many global citizens, I thought I might share something personal about myself.

I was born primarily of Russian and Polish Jewish stock, but also a portion Irish Catholic. My father's side of the family actually moved to the United States in the late 1800s, emigrating at Ellis Island in New York.

For most of my life, growing up in a predominantly White Anglo Saxon Christian neighborhood in Dallas, Texas, I was deeply ashamed of my Jewish heritage. I felt like an outsider; I just wanted to be like everyone else. Due to my personal shame, and at a very early age, I renounced not only Judaism, but also every other organized religion.

Kafka-esque, I morphed into a social Chameleon, just trying to fit in. I always knew this about myself deep down as I was growing up, but kept it at bay in my subconscious. As the years go by, I have finally begun to accept who I truly am.

Recently, as a direct result of the pandemic and the corresponding personal challenges I have experienced over the past 13 months, I have been trying to increasingly educate myself about all the wisdom I can gather from organized religion - Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, etc. Only now, do I realize that, in true Buddhist fashion, my craving to be accepted by others only led to inherent personal suffering. Not embracing my true heritage inhibited my spiritual growth throughout my childhood and well into my adult years.

This morning, I attended church services for the first time in 35 years at Christian Life Austin Church. I say church - it felt more like a concert.

It felt invigorating to witness so many people passionately express their hopeful and positive feelings about their (and our collective) existences. For many attendees, it was their first time back at church since the pandemic began, and that fact is certainly worth celebrating.

Honestly, and probably because I am more receptive to spirituality these days, today’s experience resonated even more powerfully with me than seeing the Pope, in person, address hundreds of thousands of worshippers at the Vatican in the summer of 2000.

According to Sigmund Freud, who I interviewed last week for this blog, religion is one of three ways for humanity to deal with the challenges we face. Escaping through arts and culture or through illicit substances are the other two palliative measures he espoused.

I am humble enough to know that I have no idea how to be happy in this life; however, as I have learned in mindfulness courses from Headspace, approaching life with a beginner's mind can help. With this foremost in my mind, I strive to approach every day anew.

Happy Easter and Passover Everyone!

Connect with me on social media:

Instagram: austinfromaustin1

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