I recently ran across this article on fivethirtyeight.com which argues that millennials, especially Democrats, are abandoning religion, and that this trend threatens to “exacerbate the acrimonious rift between secular liberals and religious conservatives”.
As usual with this sort of article, I wonder if what is being described as a long term trend may be nothing more than the ebb and flow of fashion. After all, until someone dies an atheist or agnostic, one can never be sure he or she will not become religious. The history of this country is punctuated by periods of decline in religious fervor followed by "great awakenings" led by superstar preachers. The persistence of religion in the age of science suggests that it fills a need that is not easily satisfied otherwise.
Even if the perceived decline in religious observance is real, it is likely driven by economic and social conditions that are not permanent. There is really no way of predicting what the religious landscape of America might look like in ten or twenty years.
I sing in the choir at a local Episcopal church that was founded more than 200 years ago and still worships in the white wooden building it built in 1813. It is a challenge to get people to come to church, particularly as the Episcopal service is heavily centered on liturgy, and the national church has toyed with the liturgy over the past few decades, causing a lot of former churchgoers to leave, among them my late parents and my girlfriend, all of whom grew up in this denomination. If you haven’t grown up with the liturgy, and particularly if you’re looking for something more charismatic, this is probably not the church you’re looking for. That said, the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church have much to recommend them to religious liberals looking for a home.
New England, where I live, is probably the least religious region of the country, yet it has a broad spectrum of religious organizations. A former Methodist church building almost as old as ours, in the same town, was recently acquired by a Buddhist group. I daresay there isn’t a religion in the world that doesn’t have a place of worship hereabouts.
Time will, or course, tell if the predictions of permanent religious decline in America are right. But I tend to be skeptical of statisticians who claim clairvoyance.