Faith Accompanies Most Americans Through Life

by Linda Lyons, Education and Youth Editor

Majority says religion very important

"Religion is very important in my life. I believe in God and in the Bible," says Sheryl, a recent Gallup Poll respondent. "Since I've grown up, I understand more why my parents wanted to instill religion in me -- it helps in forming the kind of person you are; it helps when making decisions; it gives you respect for yourself and respect for others." This 29-year-old Florida woman's sentiment reflects that of the majority of Americans who say religion is "very important" in their lives, according to a May 2005 Gallup Poll*.

Since 1952, Gallup has asked Americans how important religion is in their lives. The most recent survey shows 55% say religion is "very important" to them and another 28% say "fairly important." Sixteen percent of Americans say religion is "not very important" to them.

Decades of Change

In 1952, three-fourths of Americans (75%) told Gallup religion was "very important" in their lives. But by 1978, only half of Americans (52%) said religion was very important to them. Since 1990, the percentage has ranged from 55% to 59%.

American Stories

The stories people tell about their faith journeys, or lack thereof, are many and varied. "I grew up believing in God and that you have to have God in your life," says Clifford, 47, a Gallup survey respondent from Texas. He explains religion is only "fairly important" to him because he has recently moved and is between churches right now, but says he has attended church regularly in the past.

Michael, a 52-year-old respondent from Illinois, also describes religion as fairly important to his life. "The reason I said 'fairly important' is because I don't follow any prescribed organized religious practices," he explains. "But I don't think you have to belong to an organized religion -- I think the way you conduct your life is more important than how many times you go to church." He continues: "I do believe in a spiritualness; I believe in God. And young kids need to have a basic foundation in religion -- they need to have a moral foundation so they know right from wrong."

Religion and Demographics

Gallup commonly finds that women, older Americans, nonwhites, low-income Americans, people with less education, Southerners, and Protestants are more likely than others to say religion is very important in their lives.

Jean, a 72-year-old black Protestant from Virginia with a high school education, epitomizes the most religious. "Religion is very important to me and has been since I was a very young child," she says. "My own father died when I was 18 months old and so I had to talk to my father in heaven and rely on him to guide me throughout my life." Jean feels sorry for those who don't think religion is important. "You need that higher power to help you when you have deaths in the family or your children get into trouble. If I didn't always have my father in heaven to talk to, I never would have made it through."

One respondent with a postgraduate degree has a different point of view from Jean's. Yvonne, a 40-year-old Ohio woman, says, "Religion was more important to me when I was younger." As she grew older and observed more of life, religion eventually came to be "not very important" to Yvonne. "It's frightening to see the kinds of things that are carried out in the name of religion -- in our current government with the religious right and in Iraq," she says. "Religious scholars find much in common in the texts of Christianity and Islam, but the terrible practices that are carried out in the name of faith and conviction -- well, I don't think anyone's God meant for these things to happen."

*Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,005 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted May 2-5, 2005. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

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