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8/27/2017 12:29:00 PM
Pew Research Center study: Belief in God declining among Hoosiers
A crucifix that was carried through the streets of East Chicago last Good Friday waits for the stations of the cross to begin. (Jim Karczewski / Post-Tribune)
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A crucifix that was carried through the streets of East Chicago last Good Friday waits for the stations of the cross to begin. (Jim Karczewski / Post-Tribune)

Javonte Anderson, Post-Tribune

Hoosiers not only are staying away from churches and organized religion, but increasing numbers don't believe in God, a new study shows.

According to Pew Research Center, interest in traditional organized religions has declined nationwide, with 70.6 percent of people identifying as a member of a Christian religion compared to 78.4 percent in 2007.

"There has been a clear pattern that people increasingly are not attached to any local congregation or broader religion tradition," said Brian Steensland, director of social science research at the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

The waning belief in God is evident in Indiana where only 63 percent of Hoosiers said they were "absolutely certain" they believed in God in 2014, compared to 76 percent in 2007, the study showed. 

Arthur Farnsley, Associate Director for the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at IUPUI, said the movement away from organized religion could be attributed to several factors.

"One possibility is that as individual freedom has continued to grow that the sort of identity or membership people felt for being in religion isn't as important to them," he said.

"I really do think that it used to be to be thought of as a decent person in society, kind of a normal person, you had to show some sort of church membership. I don't think that's as critical as it once was."

Ten percent of Hoosiers said they don't believe in God, an increase of 7 percent from 2007. 

Steensland said the growing apathy towards religion could be partly accredited to millennials.

"Young people are increasingly raised in families without a firm grounding in a faith tradition and even if the parents are religious the parents prioritize kids' freedom to make their own decisions," he said.

"So even kids who are raised in religious households are being socialized differently than even kids in past generations."

Sixteen percent of American between the ages 18–29 don't believe in God, according to Pew.

Curtis Whittaker, pastor of the Community Progressive Church in Gary, agreed with Steensland adding that his church created programs to cater to the youth and young adults including broadcasting each Sunday church service on Facebook live.

"The older generations were all about religion where they made church a priority and now you have folks in the millennial age who never been to church before," he said.

"So we have to adapt to the changing times we're in. We do Facebook live because that's what millennials do. Social media is the way they operate."

The study also revealed that more people are now accepting of homosexuality.

Following the national trend, 54 percent of Hoosiers believe homosexuality should be accepted, eight percentage points more than in 2007.

"There is a very strong age effect to that increase," Steensland said. "As the older generation has passed away the approval of same-sex relationships are going to increase because younger people are more accepting of homosexual relationships."

Despite a dwindling interest in religion across the country, Steensland said, religious participation in the United States is in a better place than many other countries around the world.

"If you compare religiosity in the U.S. to other parts of the world like Western Europe we are a much more religious place," he said. "So in the global context we're still quite a religious nation but there does seem to be this trend in the last 20 years or so toward a weakening hold of religion."

There is some evidence that indicates the declining interest in religion could be leveling off, he said, adding that there aren't any studies that suggest that religious participation will increase again.

"I can't think of a single study that shows traditional religion on the rebound."

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