In their new book, “American Grace,” Robert D. Putman and David E. Campbell make two assertions about the decline of religious affiliation in the United States, which they summarize in their Oct. 17 Times Op-Ed article, “Walking away from the church.” They correctly observe that Americans, especially the youngest generations, are rapidly losing a lot of their faith. The nonreligious are far and away the fastest-growing group, with nonbelievers having tripled as a portion of the general population since the 1960s and nonreligious twentysomethings doubling in just two decades. The Pew Research Center calculates that America is half as religious as the most pious nations and that about half of the population absolutely believes in a personal god. Church attendance is declining along with Christianity as a whole, and even major conservative denominations are losing ground, as are Bible literalists.
Where Putman and Campbell go off track is in their second claim: that aversion among young Americans to the religious right is the primary secularizing force, and that skeptical youth may flock back to the churches if the latter embrace a less strident tone. This is almost certainly incorrect.