Religion in the Time of Covid

Steven Malanga in City Journal:

Throughout much of human history, famine, pestilence, and war have sent people seeking the comforts of religion. From the religious processions of Europe during the fourteenth-century Black Plague to the sharp uptick in churchgoing in America during World War II, it’s often been the case that the more terrifying times are, the more prayerful communities become.

Covid-19 has turned that historical precedent on its head. The percentage of Americans joining the ranks of the religiously unaffiliated has increased during the pandemic, according to a new survey by Pew, thanks largely to a drop in those identifying as Christian. Nearly three in ten Americans now report no religious affiliation, up from 26 percent in 2019 and nearly double the number in a Pew survey in 2007. The share of Americans who say religion is very important in their lives has declined to 41 percent today, from 56 percent in 2007.

Absent Covid, those numbers might fit into the long-term pattern of secularization in Western societies. In countries like Canada, Germany, France, and even Israel, surveys show that religious belief continues to decline and plays even less of a role today than it does in the U.S. But even in the modern age, tragedy and crisis have been the exceptions to secularization. Recent studies show that people still turn back to religion amid catastrophe—even if only temporarily. After 9/11, Gallup surveys reported a sharp uptick in the number of Americans saying that religion was an important influence—71 percent in months after the terrorist attacks, up from less than 40 percent before 9/11. Today, that number stands at a mere 16 percent. While a core of ardent religious believers, amounting to about 28 percent of Americans, said in a survey earlier this year that the pandemic had boosted their faith, some 14 percent said that it had done the opposite.

More here.