Betting against American religion has always proved to be a fool’s game. In 1880, Robert Ingersoll, the leading atheist of his day, claimed that “the churches are dying out all over the land.” In its Easter issue in 1966, Time asked “Is God Dead?” on its cover. East Coast intellectuals have repeatedly assumed that the European model of progress, where modernity equals secularization, would come to the U.S. They have always been wrong.
Look closer and the new poll numbers are not quite as simple as headlines suggest. For one thing, they show that America remains remarkably religious by the standards of other advanced countries — with three-quarters of the country still firmly Christian. And a significant number of Americans are becoming more godly, not less so: The increase in the number of atheists is going hand in hand with ever more conservative Christians and Pentecostals.