Spirituality in America–Only "Three Inches Deep"

In 1999, George Gallup Jr. and D. Michael Lindsay produced a book titled Surveying the Religious Landscape. The book was a compilation of religious polls taken from the last seven decades of American culture. In the 171 pages comprising the book, several interesting, encouraging, and somewhat surprising statistics appear. For instance, in surveying belief in God or some type of Higher Power, “a total of 95% of the public in 1947 said they believed in God; 96% hold this belief today” (1999, p. 2). An amazing 96 out of every 100 Americans believe in some type of God. Also, when asked about the importance of religion in their lives, 87% of the American people polled in 1998 said that religion was very important or fairly important (p. 10). In fact, after compiling several of the surveys, the authors concluded: “Americans outshine most other industrialized nations in religious fervor” (p. 119). On the heels of that statement, one survey done showed that 84% of the Americans questioned believed that Jesus Christ is God or the Son of God, while only 46% of those in Great Britain believed the same (p. 123). Furthermore, in 1998, 80% of Americans polled said that they believed the Bible was the actual or inspired Word of God. Such statistics show that Americans, by in large, at least mentally accept the importance of religion, God, and Jesus Christ.


When questions pertaining to ethical issues were posed, however, the results of Americans’ religious fervor did not necessarily match their professed beliefs. For instance, when young adults ages 18-29 were asked if they believed premarital sex to be wrong, only 1 in 4 said they considered it to be wrong (p. 98). That means, 75 out of every 100 young adults in the United States do not think that premarital sex is wrong! When this question was posed to the American population: “Do you think it is wrong for unmarried couples to bear children out of wedlock, or not?”, 50% of those polled said they did not think it was wrong (p. 127).

Here we come to the dissonance between Americans’ beliefs about God and the Bible, and their implementation of those beliefs into their lives. The Bible clearly and repeatedly states that premarital sex is wrong. Hebrews 13:4 states: “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10). The Bible further states that before children are born, a person should be properly married (1 Timothy 5:14). Sexual intercourse before, or outside of, a proper marriage relationship is condemned time and again (Matthew 19:9).

Why is it, then, that the majority of American people believe in God and the Bible, yet do not put the teachings of the Bible into their lives? Gallup and Lindsay had this to say:

Gallup research would indicate that the greatest chink in the bulwark of American religion is the lack of spiritual practices and disciplines actively exercised by religious adherents. Consider, for instance, the following statistic: 93% of Americans have a copy of the Bible or other Scriptures in their household, yet only 42% of the nation can name even five of the Ten Commandments. Spirituality in America may be three thousand miles wide, but it remains only three inches deep (p. 45, emp. added).

Oh, how haunting the words of Christ will be to many of those Americans who believe in God, believe the Bible is His Word, and believe that Jesus is His Son: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21, emp. added).


Gallup, George Jr. and D. Michael Lindsay (1999), Surveying the Religious Landscape: Trends in U.S. Beliefs (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing).


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