American Confidence In Organized Religion Drops genre: Hip-Gnosis & Six Degrees of Speculation


Organized religion trails the military, the police, and small business in a new Gallup survey of the confidence Americans have in their major institutions. Religion leads banking by a small margin and it exceeds the presidency, congress, the criminal justice system, and television news by wide margins.

In the last year, those who expressed a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in organized religion dropped a full six percentage points from 52 percent to 46 percent. With almost every institution, confidence was lower in 2007 than in 2006.


Only 46 percent of respondents said they had either a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in the church, compared with 69 percent who said they trusted the military and 54 percent who trust police officers.

The figures are among the lowest for institutionalized religion in the three and a half decades that Gallup has conducted the poll. Peaking at 68 percent in May 1975, the numbers bottomed out at 45 percent in June of 2003.

But while confidence is waning for organized religion, the numbers are even bleaker for other American institutions. Just 25 percent expressed confidence in the presidency, while a mere 14 percent say they trust Congress.

Other findings suggest the nation is focused more on political issues than morality issues.

I find the data interesting because it reminds me of something my dad has talked about for a number of years. He points to the popularity of the NFL to make his argument that people generally approve of those institutions that have a clear set of rules that are straightforward and that are enforced with impartiality...or as he explains it, "People are looking for a level playing field" that is easily understood, consistent, and transparent.

If one looks at the military or the police, it has many of the same attributes as the NFL...people know what the rules are, they know that certain people are assigned to carry out those rules, and they have a degree of certainty as to what they can anticipate.

I would suggest that religion is frequently viewed as arbitrary and subject to changing rules offered by those in positions of authority...often handed down with little explanation beyond some assertion that it results from a revised interpretation of doctrine. One might call it the do as I say principle.

Looking at the institutions that scored the lowest...including congress, HMO's, big business, and the criminal justice system, it isn't difficult to understand the lack of confidence. By and large, people believe these institutions lack clarity and a set of defined rules. They believe that these institutions are vulnerable to being manipulated by money and/or power and that they also lack the transparency necessary to fully understand, trust, or appreciate them.

In many ways, the numbers are encouraging because they point out that people are generally law abiding citizens that simply seek a level of equal treatment and equal opportunity. The more American's view an institution to contain these traits, the greater confidence they are willing to demonstrate.

In the end, it may be safe to conclude that people like clarity and detest manipulation...they want to know what they can expect and in return for being afforded that consideration, they won't hesitate to show their loyalty.

In the near term, I would suggest that those politicians hoping to win the favor of a majority of voters in 2008 heed this very simple message and give American's a much needed reason to reevaluate their cynical view of our all too tarnished political system. In the longer term, I anticipate that religious institutions are going to face the very same challenge.

Daniel DiRito | June 26, 2007 | 12:31 PM
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