Two out of three Americans believe religion can answer all or most of today's problems, while one in seven doubts the relevance of religion.
In the latest Gallup Poll, 65 percent of the public say religion can provide answers for contemporary problems, 15 percent feel it is "largely old-fashioned and out of date, and 20 percent do not express an opinion. Thus, excluding this last group, the ratio of "believers" to "nonbelievers" is more than 4-to-1.
When the question was first asked in 1957, 81 percent of the public expressed faith in religion's ability to provide answers for contemporary problems, while 7 percent felt it was out of date. The proportion of believers dropped sharply in a 1974 survey, to 62 percent. Thus the current findings indicate that public opinion on the relevance of religion has, at a minimum, leveled out since 1974.
From the late 1950s to the mid-1970s, key indicators of religious behavior and attitudes declined. For example, the proportion of Americans describing themselves as members of a church or synagogue dropped from 73 percent in the late '50s to 68 percent in 1976. And the proportion describing themselves as attending church services regularly declined from 50 percent to around 40 percent.
In all Gallup surveys on the issue, women, persons with a high-school education or less and residents of the Midwest and South have been more apt to believe in religion's relevance.
The upturn in belief since 1974 has been more pronounced among Easterners (up 8 percentage points), non-whites (up 8 points), older persons (up 7 points) and Roman Catholics (up 6 points).