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Religion, a guiding principle since the founding of America, is on the cusp of returning as a central influence in American culture. For many people who have witnessed the deterioration of the country’s moral fabric over the past few decades, this news is well overdue.
The economic success of the 80′s brought with it the rise of the “me generation,” a period perhaps best characterized by self-interest and material accumulation. In many ways, the pulling away from traditional cultural aspects such as family, community, and shared values likely contributed to the division of religion in public life. With the 90s came the rise of violence in the media landscape as violent movies became box office gold and popular rap records promoted disruption of social order.
This contradiction of traditional values came full circle in the 2000s as sex and promiscuity became seemingly acceptable and even encouraged aspects of everyday culture. For many, this regressive pattern may seem unending. Certainly recent examples of American moral decay can be found in Miley Cyrus’ sexually explicit gyrations on national television and the rise of the so-called “knockout game.” Increasingly, the public has become dissatisfied with the materialism and flash that currently dominates American culture. Certainly in a nation as big as ours there’s always been a place for that but now many seems to be yearning for simple, moral and constructive ways to spend time. There are many promising signs that America is experiencing a return to morality.
A recent Fox News story cited numerous examples of the resurgence of religion in popular culture including the success of The Bible as a television mini-series, the Hollywood production of the story of Noah, and the success of the best-seller Killing Jesus. Perhaps the influence on religion in modern media is best exhibiting by the success of the top-rated Duck Dynasty television series, which features Louisiana’s Robertson family with their faith as a central tenet and each episode closed with a prayer over a family dinner. Even A&E’s suspension of patriarch Phil Robertson over speaking about his religious convictions symbolizes the rising influence of religion as the network was forced to overturn its decision after large-scale protests in support of Robertson.
Pope Francis, who has made news for his positivity and modest habits, has been named “Person of the Year” by Time magazine, no small achievement considering how furiously liberal that publication tends to lean. For many, this was a good sign … a sign that America is returning to a place where people can speak of their beliefs without being condemned for them.
However, the return of religion in America is not simply limited to its presence in media. A 2007 study by the Pew Foundation found that nearly half of American adults who were raised without religion as children became strongly affiliated with a particular denomination as adults. Additionally, the Hartford Institute found that mega-churches have continued to experience significant growth, with an 8 percent annual growth in worshipers between 2007 and 2011. While the overall population of non-religious persons in America has also increased, this news may mark a turning point of a larger return to religious values; it appears religion is again reemerging as a way for communities and families to bond together, particularly during these unsure social and economic times.
Why is this? There are many possible reasons for the growth of religion in America. Perhaps most central is the desire for a return to a society of traditional American values where concepts such as safety, liberty, and freedom were protected. The reality of the economic recession likely contributes to this desire. With more and more Americans falling on hard times, it is natural to seek comfort and support in groups such as the church. Additionally, the rapid growth in technology may be a cause. High-technology has rapidly increased the powers of communication in recent years yet it has also led people to live fairly solitary lives, this may be leading to a sort of counter-reaction with people becoming more disconnected to one another, human nature requires us to seek out personal relationships such as those found in churches.
Most religious faiths continue to grow in number, as more and more people, tired of materialistic noise, negative, sensationalistic news, and political bickering, seek higher, spiritual aspects to complement and enrich their lives. Americans have increasingly grown tired of creeping atheism and have reasserted their rights to practice and celebrate their faiths, whether privately, as a community, or in media formats. Places of worship may be enjoying growth due to their ability to strengthen communal bonds and fellowship between people in a more personal way than social media can, with genuine, uninterrupted interaction and conversation. Whatever the reason, it is hard to argue that a push for renewed morality is afoot in America.
This is good news for religious and non-religious Americans alike. As the Hartford Institute found, a revival in religious participation strengthens communities. It found that nearly all churches provided cash assistance to the needy and financial counseling. Meanwhile, the majority of churches provided a food pantry, daycare or preschool, job training, elderly care, and tutoring. Through these services and their teachings, churches serve as beacons of hope that influence others through their teachings and actions. This revival of religion in America may be the catalyst needed to restore a fabric of morality, care, and ethics to the country. Hopefully, it’s a signal that Americans have decided to re-order their priorities, putting family, community and morals back in their rightful place on top. Perhaps down the road this return to positivity and basic human values will have a positive effect on other issues the nation faces… when people care for and value each other as religions teach good things always happen.