Nation’s Woes Spur More Americans to Embrace Religion

A few weeks ago, I was baptized. The fact that I did not get baptized until my fourth decade of life may surprise some people. I have always considered myself a spiritual person but I cannot say I was the sort of person who attended church on a regular basis. However, I have been actively involved with a local church since October 2008.

Apparently my situation is not an aberration.  Read the following: 

  • A May 2010 Gallup poll revealed that 43.1 percent of Americans attend church on a weekly or almost weekly basis. 
  • The Christians Men’s group Promise Keepers, has made a number of efforts to dispel the controversial image it had during the 1990s and is experiencing a resurgence. 
  • Students groups at a number of colleges and universities are booking clergy to talk about their respective faiths.  
  • Books dealing with faith, spirituality and other religious oriented topics are selling faster than those of different topics. 
  • The number of Christian-oriented reading book clubs are soaring.

It would appear that a number of Americans are blanketing themselves in a spiritual revival that has not been seen in some time. Americans are flocking to houses of worship in record numbers. Religious revivals in America are hardly new. From the first great awakening with Jonathan Edwards in the early 18th century that resulted in a deep embracing of academic inquiry (particularly an embrace of philosophy) to the second one that occurred in the early 19th century that spawned anti-slavery and temperance movements.    

Depending upon which part of the country you resided in, America has always been a religious nation. This is certainly the case for the South. In fact, the area of the region where I reside has been referred to as the “Bible Belt.”  Most, if not all churches, sponsor multiple Sunday services. Wednesday night Bible study is a mainstay and a number of churches even provide Saturday evening and bilingual services for their congregations.

Speaking from personal experience, I grew up in a religious household. My late mother was a dedicated, God-fearing woman who adhered to strict religious principles. Attending church every Sunday was one such staple. Her behavior served as a model for my siblings to adopt. Although some of us fell short of her emulating her exemplary behavior in regard to attending regular Sunday services (talking about myself here), the lesson was not lost on any of us. 

Another important factor that the Gallup poll mentioned was that the resurgence in strong church attendance could be related possibly, although not definitively to the nation’s financial woes. There is probably some truth in the fact that as more and more Americans become more uncertain about their economic circumstances, that religion can often serve as a soothing tranquilizer. Indeed, in such trying times, the words “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord,”  “O happy day,”  “How great thou art,” and other religious sayings tend to emerge from the lips of more and more people. The same can be said for those of us who are fortunate enough to have some degree of economic stability in our lives. But for the grace of God, go us.

The fact is that in an age of economic uncertainty, high divorce rates, deadly sexually transmitted diseases and other vices, many Americans may have come to the realization that a deep spiritual faith and commitment will provide them with more satisfaction than most of secular forms of appeasement. It is notable that this religious renaissance has taken place during the tenure of our first Black president.

To this I say “Amen!”

Dr. Elwood Watson is a full professor of history and African-American studies at East Tennessee State University. He is the author of several award-winning academic articles, several anthologies and is the author of the book “Outsiders Within: Black Women in the Legal Academy After Brown v. Board” (Rowman and Littlefield Publisher, Spring 2008).