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Thomas Gallatin / Dec. 17, 2020

Americans Losing Religion to ‘Education’

As secularism increases via what kids learn, the government grows bigger.

“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” —Proverbs 22:6

A report released earlier this year by Lyman Stone of the American Enterprise Institute is getting new attention for this reason. Stone found that America’s declining religiosity can be tracked in large part to America’s public education. More specifically, what America’s secular public schools are (or aren’t) teaching children.

The report notes that religion has always played a significant role in America’s history and cultural identity. That religious history is of course the Judeo-Christian beliefs of the West, which profoundly impacted our nation’s founding by being the primary influence in shaping the country’s values.

However, many have observed a growing trend in recent decades of fewer and fewer Americans holding onto the religious beliefs of their parents. “By any measure, religiosity in America is declining,” Stone notes. “Since peaking in 1960, the share of American adults attending any religious service in a typical week has fallen from 50 percent to about 35 percent, while the share claimed as members by any religious body has fallen from over 75 percent to about 62 percent. Finally, the share of Americans who self-identify or report being affiliated with any religion has fallen from over 95 percent to about 75 percent.”

Stone says there are two major factors that can lead to a decline in religiosity. The first is sectarian governance that establishes a state religion and effectively eliminates competing religious beliefs. The second is a government that increasingly expands its “services” — “especially increasingly secularized government control of education.” This, Stone asserts, “can account for virtually the entire increase on secularization around the developed world.”

Obviously, it is the second one at play in America. Big government increasingly takes over the role religion once played in society. Government effectively takes the place of God, taking on the responsibility of providing everything for citizens — the welfare state, including education. It’s not necessarily that the state is intentional in usurping religion’s role, but secular governments by nature ignore God and take it upon themselves to solve problems.

This is especially true when it comes to public education. As National Review’s Cameron Hilditch writes, “So how do we explain this link between education policy and religious belief given that academic attainment itself isn’t a factor? It’s quite simple, really. Children learn more at school than reading, writing, and arithmetic. They imbibe a whole set of implied assumptions about what’s important in life. By excluding religious instruction from public schools, the government-run education system tacitly teaches students that religious commitments are not a first-order priority in life. Faith in God becomes a sort of optional weekend hobby akin to playing tennis or video games. Christ and Moses are treated by teachers and administrators like weapons or drugs — confiscated upon discovery.”

While secularists and atheists like to assert that education simply makes people more secular and less religious by disabusing them of mythical beliefs, the data and history belies that claim. Instead, the greatest factor is what children are being taught, not that they are being educated.

“The content of education matters,” Stone argues. “Evidence that education reduces religiosity is fairly weak: American religiosity rose considerably from 1800 until the 1970s, despite rapidly rising educational attainment. But the evidence that specifically secular education might reduce religiosity is more compelling. Indeed, statistically, most researchers who have explored long-run change in religiosity find that education-related variables, which I have argued are a proxy for secular education, can explain nearly the totality of change in religiosity.”

In short, American children are being taught secularism, and the predictable result is that they are becoming more secular and less religious.

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