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As a whole, I am less religious now than I was when I was a teenager. You wouldn’t know it, probably, by looking at me. I still go to church on a regular basis. My family prays before meals and we always pray with our kids before they go to bed. I write religious-themed books and write for religious magazines and every once in awhile I speak/preach at a church.
But that’s external stuff.
In terms of my interior life and outlook, however, an honest assessment would require admitting I’m less religiously inclined than I used to be. As I have become more educated, as my reading has expanded, as my doubts have increased, my internal religiosity has declined.
And whether you think that’s a good thing or a bad thing, the whole construct make sense to me. It works numerically: the numbers of young adults eventually dropping out of church or abandoning their faith have been widely documented. And it works anecdotally, too: As a kid, I didn’t know to ask a lot of the questions I ask now. As I’ve aged, and as those questions have come up — and not always with satisfactory answers — I’ve seen myself becoming less faithful, less spiritual, less religious.
So it seems to make sense, especially in an increasingly scientific and secular society, that people would become less religious as they age.
But then I keep seeing reports that conflict with that common sense, about how people tend to become more religious as they age. I read an article to that effect in a recent issue of my parents’ AARP magazine (I’m not a regular reader of AARP, but it was a Friday night at my parents and I found myself paging through it). I can’t find the specific article online, but it reported that a certain percentage of senior adults responded that their religious faith increased with age. A variety of polls, including this 2006 Gallup poll, have found that older Americans are more likely than younger Americans to say religion is “very important in their lives.”
Of course, there are lots of factors to consider. Older Americans tend to come from more religious generations to begin with. And could the elderly become more religious in response to life’s difficulties or impending mortality (of themselves or of their friends)? I totally think so. I’ve seen it with my own grandparents, who seem to go to funerals on a weekly basis. When you are outliving your friends and siblings, religion can be a great comfort.
But that’s them. What about us? What will it look like when our generation grows old? Will we follow the baby boomers in becoming more religious as we age? Or will we follow the newer trend of losing our religion?
What about you? As you’ve grown older, has your faith increased or diminished? If you have a story, this is the place to tell it.