What Happened to America's Spiritual Renaissance?
To cope with anxiety and 9/11 fallout, Americans seem to be choosing prescription drugs and alcohol over church.
In the weeks just after the September 11 attacks, churches, mosques, and synagogues across the country welcomed standing-room-only crowds.
According to a Gallup Poll taken 10 days after the attacks, 47 percent of adult Americans said they had attended church or synagogue the previous week--the highest church attendance since the 1950s.
Franklin Graham, head of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, believed Americans were committing themselves to God in an "enduring" way, and Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson heralded this time as "one of the greatest spiritual revivals in the history of America."
But, in fact, the Great Awakening has not materialized--and there is now some evidence that Americans are turning more to secular means to deal with the spiritual and emotional aftermath of 9/11.
November polls by both Gallup and Barna Research reported that church attendance had dropped back to "normal levels." And Barna specifically found that Bible reading, praying, participating in small groups like Christian fellowship remained the same as prior to the terrorist attacks. Participation in adult Sunday school was up slightly, but not enough to be statistically significant, and the number of church volunteers, which spiked after the attacks, has declined to the pre-9/11 level.
George Barna, who directed the study, even chided Christian churches for having missed an incredible opportunity "to instigate serious transformation in people this year."
While religious activity seems to be returning to normal, it's not because Americans have gotten over the trauma of the attacks.
Barna Research Group found that in August, 73 percent of Americans were "concerned about the future." In November, that number rose to 82 percent. Directly after 9/11, close to half of all Americans (44 percent), according to a Rand Corporation/University of California at Los Angeles study, experienced "substantial stress reactions" (feeling irritable, angry outbursts). They also experienced difficulty sleeping or did not feel rested when they woke up in the morning.
But there's evidence that in order to pull themselves out of their spiritual funk, Americans seem more inclined to turn to drugs, alcohol and other secular tools.