RALEIGH – Religion and faith have played an important role in America since our founding fathers. Deprived of religious liberty in England, they sought to protect their liberty with the First Amendment to the US Constitution. President Dwight Eisenhower urged Congress to add the words “under God” to the pledge of allegiance in 1954, due to the threat of communism at the time.
Times have certainly changed since then. Gone are the days of full pews in church, even before the pandemic occurs. Secularism is on the rise in the United States, according to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center. Religious non-affiliates or “nuns” are up 10% from ten years ago. Over 60% identify as Christians, while 29% are atheists, agnostics or others. The remaining 8% did not identify with a belief at all.
Protestants make up 40% of the US population, down 10 points in 10 years, while 21% identify as Catholic, identical to 2014 figures.
The change is not just in Christianity. In a separate June poll, 88% of senior Jewish people still consider themselves Jewish today, but there has been a shift from conservative Judaism, 15%, to Reform Judaism, 33%, as opposed to the way they were raised, with 25% as conservative to 28% for the reformed. Among those surveyed, 29% have no branch of Judaism.
While it is evident that secularism is growing in popularity, polls are only a snapshot.
“Without Christianity, Americans no longer have a common culture to fall back on,” author Shadi Hamid wrote in “America Without God,” an April article in The Atlantic.
“Faith plays a huge role in our lives,” said Representative Phil Shepard, R-Onslow, who has also pastored Lighthouse Baptist Church in Jacksonville since 1997. “The stronger your faith in Jesus Christ, the stronger your faith in Jesus Christ is. person that you will be will be strong. be, especially when you are going through difficult times.
He said the faith of the people had helped them through difficult times in our country, such as the Great Depression and now the pandemic.
“I believe that God allows us to go through circumstances and situations,” he added. “He promises us that he will never leave us or forsake us.”
Shepard has her own personal history of faith. He’s a kidney transplant survivor, as he calls it. His kidney function had fallen to 3%. Surprisingly, before the transplant, he never had dialysis and continued to perform normal functions, such as his role as representative to the General Assembly.
“God got me through these circumstances,” he said. “I can’t attribute it to anyone else. It is a gift from God. It is God who works in my life.
Shepard said he has seen changes in his church since the pandemic. While he saw some not returning, there were others who found his church as a new place of worship.
A Pew Research Center survey conducted in the summer of 2020 found that 28% of Americans polled said their personal faith had strengthened as a result of the pandemic, and believed that Americans’ religious faith had in fact strengthened. . That’s more than any of the 14 other economically developed countries studied.
When the government closed places of worship at the start of the pandemic, it may have led people to examine their faith and question their government, but it also forced them to be creative.
A report from BBC.com showed that online services made it easier for people to participate in church services, opening up a new world to those who may never have attended or dropped out of worship in person.
“What is tangible is that people are watching,” said Bishop David Brockman of Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral in Raleigh. “Some may say they’re not really ‘there’, but I don’t agree. I’m talking to the people following, and it’s clear they were there watching. I don’t think it is. insignificant.
There are about 1,200 to 1,400 converts to Catholicism in the Diocese of Raleigh each year, according to Brockman, who converted to the faith in his twenties before discerning a vocation to the priesthood.
While technology may have opened some doors, attending Mass in person was something many people, whether converts or “Cradle Catholics”, missed during the early stages of the pandemic and looked forward to it. to come back to it.
“A lot of times I would give Holy Communion to someone and they would burst into tears because they had not received our Lord,” said Brockman. “For us Catholics, this is what Jesus communicates in the Gospel: This is my body, this is my blood. People need this. “
Beth Meyer Synagogue in Raleigh also switched to online services when the pandemic hit, but Rabbi Eric Solomon said not being able to pray together in person was detrimental to the congregation. He said now people are slowly returning to Shabbat on a weekly basis.
“Isolation is deadly like COVID,” Solomon said. “It has a profound effect on the mental and spiritual health of all Americans.”
He said the pandemic has made people really look at their lives and ask themselves what is important, including having higher power to give them strength in their most difficult times and help them understand their lives. and its meaning.
“Contentment and meaning are not about how much money you have in your bank account… and having beautiful things,” said Salomon, “It’s about a way of looking at your life. that serves you beyond yourself. It understands that you are made in the image of God.
According to Solomon, a community of faith serves as a bond for people who will walk together, even when it is difficult.
“In the Christian context, you have this encounter with the Lord on a very intimate level, God coming as a baby,” Brockman said. “It is not a mystery of faith in any other great religion in the world. This feeling of hope, this feeling of closeness of God with us and not of God with me but of God with us reaches a very personal level which they need. We discovered this during the pandemic, this sense of community living together. This aspect of brotherhood. God also comes in the middle of it.