By Brian Grim, Ph.D., and Melissa Grim, J.D.
Study: Decline in religious affiliation in the U.S. is not only a concern for religious organizations but constitutes a national health concern
A new projection by the Pew Research Center suggests that if recent trends in religious switching continue, Christians could make up less than half of the U.S. population within a few decades. Under one scenario that Pew models, the religiously unaffiliated population could be in the majority by 2070.
While this is not good news for organized religion, the findings should concern all Americans because the decline in religious affiliation in the U.S. is not only a concern for religious organizations but constitutes a national health concern, based on our study of the connection between religion and health.
The study, Belief, Behavior, and Belonging: How Faith is Indispensable in Preventing and Recovering from Substance Abuse, reviews the voluminous empirical evidence on faith’s contribution to preventing people from falling victim to substance abuse and helping them recover from it. We find that 73% of addiction treatment programs in the USA include a spirituality-based element, as embodied in the 12-step programs and fellowships initially popularized by Alcoholics Anonymous, the vast majority of which emphasize reliance on God or a Higher Power to stay sober.
In the study, we introduce and flesh out a typology of faith-based substance abuse treatment facilities, recovery programs, and support groups. This typology provides important background as we then move on to make an economic valuation of nearly 130,000 congregation-based substance abuse recovery support programs in the USA. We find that these faith-based volunteer support groups contribute up to $316.6 billion in savings to the US economy every year at no cost to tax payers.
While negative experiences with religion (e.g., clergy sex abuse and other horrendous examples) have been a contributory factor to substance abuse among some victims, given that more than 84% of scientific studies show that faith is a positive factor in addiction prevention or recovery and a risk in less than 2% of the studies reviewed, we conclude that the value of faith-oriented approaches to substance abuse prevention and recovery is indisputable. And, by extension, we also conclude that the decline in religious affiliation in the USA is not only a concern for religious organizations but constitutes a national health concern.