Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.
By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN
When it comes to doubt, sometimes a little skepticism is in order.
As CNN's Dan Merica reported earlier this week, a recent Pew Research Center survey sees doubt rising sharply inside the millennial generation. Between 2007 and 2012, this survey says, the portion of young Americans (those 30 and uner) who say they never doubt the existence of God dropped sharply between 2007 and 2012, from 83% to 68%.
This report has stirred up a chatstorm in the blogosphere, with 2600 comments and counting on Merica's Belief Blog post alone. But does this data really say what many atheists want it to say? Is American religion really heading for a fall?
Look carefully at the survey question. What this data is tracking is the percentage of young people for whom doubt has never creeped into their faith. I don’t know about you, but most of the religious people I know experience both doubt and faith over the course of their spiritual lives. So the fact that more than two-thirds of young people say they have never doubted God’s existence seems to me evidence of America's extraordinary religiosity, not its disbelief.
That suspicion is supported by the fact that this same Pew survey found that millennials who identify with a religion is not declining. Moreover, according to Pew's U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, only 3% of millennials are atheists.
The takeaway, it seems to me, is not that religion is declining in America but that it is changing. Or, to paraphrase my Boston University colleague and sociologist of religion Peter Berger, what is shifting here is the how of religion. In short, doubt is a part of the spiritual lives of more young people than it has been in the past.
I have been spending way too much time lately with Google’s Ngram Viewer. This website allows you to see how prominent certain key words are in books published in various languages from 1800 forward. It’s also possible to see how these key words match up against one another over time.
I searched the Ngram database for the words “faith” and “doubt” in American English from 1800 to 2008. Here’s what I found:
For much of the nineteenth century, “faith” won out over “doubt.” But as Biblical criticism, evolutionary theory, and comparative religions started to chip away at traditional understandings of Christianity, “doubt” ran past faith in the late 1880s. For roughly the next century, the two terms tracked rather closely. During the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s, however, faith bypassed doubt.
What matters here is not the horse race. More significant is the fact that, since the late Victorian period, doubt has become part of the landscape of faith in America. To see doubt as a denial of faith is to misunderstand how most Americans live their religious lives.
The fact that doubt is now a part of faith for a significant minority of American believers strikes me at least as a sign of faith’s maturity, not its demise. Perhaps, like the millennials themselves, American religion is growing up.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.
Bob, what is wrong with you??? You just blinded by Satan–he is using you!!!! Satan always use weak people to do his dirty work!!!!
"...for I KNOW whom I have believed, and AM persuaded that he IS able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day." 2 Tim. 1:12
"...as it is written, The just shall LIVE BY FAITH." Romans 1:14
What I've never understood is why people are so adamant in trying to prove to others that God DOESN'T exist. If you don't believe, then that's perfectly fine. I believe in God but I never go around trying to force someone to believe what I believe but every time I come on here I see someone bashing people for their own personal beliefs? Are Christians perfect? Of course not. A lot of them are hippocritical, lying, conniving and sometimes evil and murderous people. However, so are non-religious people. As a Christian, I have never in my life bashed any agnostic or athiest people, some of my best friends are athiests as a matter of fact. I love everyone and I wish that all Christians could do the same. Christianity is a choice, if you didn't make that choice, that's ok, you'll recieve no judgements from me. However, let's not attack those who did make that choice either.
there have always been people throughout history who have doubted, most of it is sincere doubt when you look at the evil in the world and wonder where God is.....I stronly believe the reason for some people who do doubt is the hope there is no God so they can maintain a lifestyle they know is morally wrong, and yet somehow, if they are wrong and there truly is a God who judges one's life, they hope to say to HIM, "hey, I didnt know" so go easy on me......
roman, you can't prove something doesn't exist, you can only demonstrate that logic requires skepticism concerning unproved claims. The claimant (person saying god exists) has the responsibility to prove their claim; god believers can't prove god exists, so the logical response is disbelief/atheism. The question is, which do you value more, the rules of reasoning, or the traditions you were brought up to believe in just as those on the other side of the globe were brought up to believe without question the traditions of Allah or Krishna?
@juny1958. So you think that morality only exists in believers? Wrong
Moby. I reject your premise that I have a responsibility to prove anything to you. I report to you that I have had a spiritual experience which has led me to a belief in a Supreme Being whom I choose to worship in the community of my choice. The experience is real and authentic to me, presented as a gift. Your insistence on proof seems a little envious and frankly lazy to me given that the same gift is available to you for the mere asking.
Moby......Perhaps it can be rephrased.....Why do you think Athiesm is accurate and what proof do you have that it is accurate
The author is right about this. Our enemy does not care about how religious you are or how many religions there are. Just the opposite since the more religions there are, the more confused the world becomes in its search for the truth. What our enemy is after, however, is the eradication of authentic Christ following believers because it is these who present the same threat to his kingdom that Christ presented (why do you think those who were led by our enemy nailed Jesus to the cross?).
I agree with you on huge numbers of religions confusing folks. We would be much better off with less religions, like none. God gave man reason. Man gave man religion, all religion.
I Follow Christ . I never wanted proof. I just had faith.
HE WHO follows Me, walks not in darkness,” says the Lord (John 8:12). By these words
of Christ we are advised to imitate His life and habits, if we wish to be truly enlightened and
free from all blindness of heart. Let our chief effort, therefore, be to study the life of Jesus
The teaching of Christ is more excellent than all the advice of the saints, and he who
has His spirit will find in it a hidden manna. Now, there are many who hear the Gospel often
but care little for it because they have not the spirit of Christ. Yet whoever wishes to understand
fully the words of Christ must try to pattern his whole life on that of Christ.
What good does it do to speak learnedly about the Trinity if, lacking humility, you
displease the Trinity? Indeed it is not learning that makes a man holy and just, but a virtuous
life makes him pleasing to God. I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it.
For what would it profit us to know the whole Bible by heart and the principles of all the
philosophers if we live without grace and the love of God? Vanity of vanities and all is vanity,
except to love God and serve Him alone.
This is the greatest wisdom—to seek the kingdom of heaven through contempt of the
world. It is vanity, therefore, to seek and trust in riches that perish. It is vanity also to court
honor and to be puffed up with pride. It is vanity to follow the lusts of the body and to desire
things for which severe punishment later must come. It is vanity to wish for long life and
to care little about a well-spent life. It is vanity to be concerned with the present only and
not to make provision for things to come. It is vanity to love what passes quickly and not
to look ahead where eternal joy abides.
Often recall the proverb: “The eye is not satisfied with seeing nor the ear filled with
hearing.”1 Try, moreover, to turn your heart from the love of things visible and bring
yourself to things invisible. For they who follow their own evil passions stain their consciences
and lose the grace of God.
See for yourself. You will be on a battlefield for christ
Thanks to the faithful!!! Some of you have amazing faith!!! Please pray for me–I had many personal experience with God, and gave myself to God completely years ago, but life has become very hard for me!!! I sometimes felt singled out, forgotten by God. I prayed, prayed for God to intervene, but no answer. Then, doubt comes-if there is God at all–if there is– why he watching me suffer?? I lost everything, every door closed–did not know what to do!!! I prayed and expected, for an answer, but things got worst!!! What shall I do? I am asking the faithful to help!
Dear goofball, Look at church and synagogue attendance figures rather than word games and you'll see where religion is headed. But of course, you're a wishful thinker who loves highly selective, irrelevant "evidence."
I did my own research on this and was so surprised to have gotten complete opposite results. Wow. Pew Forum what's going on ?
How many people did you poll? What were your questions? What was the demographics (age, se.x, location, etc...) was it a good cross section of people? Were you unbias?
Yeah.... I'm going to stick with Pew.
"I would rather live my life as if there is a God and die to find out there isn't,
than live my life as if there isn't and die to find out there is."
(quote credited to Albert Camus, French author & philosopher (1913-1960)
Do we really need another "9-11" to prove how many DO believe?!?!
Do we really need another "9-11" to prove how many DO believe?!?!
That's the best example of the destructive power of religion. It is the world's poison.
He also said “All that I know of Morality and obligations I owe to football” (meaning soccer). David Beckham as the next spiritual leader?
It is not just a matter of a person having faith, for many profess Christianity and use the word "faith". However, Jesus established that a person has to "exercise faith" (Greek pisteuon eis, meaning literally "one believing into"), not just profess faith, saying that "God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith (pisteuon eis ) in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life."(John 3:16)
James wrote: "You believe (Greek pisteueis) there is one God, do you? You are doing quite well. And yet the demons believe (Greek pisteuousin) and shudder. But do you care to know, O empty man, that faith apart from works is inactive ? Was not Abraham our father declared righteous by works after he had offered up Isaac his son upon the altar ?....Indeed, as the body without spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead."(James 2:19-21, 26)
The demons "believe" that there is a God, having seen him personally, and yet these make no effort to honor him, but rather shudder at even hearing his name Jehovah. The same is true of the churches, for most are "seat warmers", having no genuine faith or one that is misguided.(compare Rom 10:2, 3)
In our time period, called the "last days"(or "the Lord's day" that began in 1914 with Jesus installment as king of God's kingdom), religion would be loosing ground, for Revelation 16:12 says: "And the sixth one (angel) poured out his bowl upon the great river Eu·phra´tes, and its water was dried up, that the way might be prepared for the kings from the rising of the sun." In ancient Babylon, the Euphrates river was what kept the city protected.
Symbolically, "the great river Euphrates" pictures that which gives support and strength to Babylon the Great, the world empire of false religion, for "the waters (of the symbolic Euphrates) that you saw, where the harlot (Babylon the Great) is sitting, mean peoples and crowds and nations and tongues."(Rev 17:16)
"Peoples and crowds and nations and tongues" are leaving the churches (as well as the rest of the "harlot") either physically, spiritually, or morally, replacing "faith" with doubt due to the religious leaders (the "rich man") feeding the common people or Lazarus class spiritual "crumbs."(Luke 16:19-21) Thus, the "great river Euphrates" is thus drying up.
All of John's Gospel is of questionable historic value.
From Professor Bruce Chilton in his book, Rabbi Jesus,
"Conventionally, scholarship has accorded priority to the first three gospels in historical work on Jesus, putting progressively less credence in works of late date. John's Gospel for example is routinely dismissed as a source......
"Since "the higher criticism" of the 19th century, some historians have largely rejected the gospel of John as a reliable source of information about the historical Jesus. "[M]ost commentators regard the work as anonymous," and date it to 90-100."
"The authorship has been disputed since at least the second century, with mainstream Christianity believing that the author is John the Apostle, son of Zebedee. Modern experts usually consider the author to be an unknown non-eyewitness, though many apologetic Christian scholars still hold to the conservative Johannine view that ascribes authorship to John the Apostle."
And from Professor Gerd Ludemann, in his book, Jesus After 2000 Years, p. 416,
"Anyone looking for the historical Jesus will not find him in the Gospel of John. "
See also http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/john.html
"Nineteenth-century agnostic Robert G. Ingersoll branded Revelation "the insanest of all books". Thomas Jefferson omitted it along with most of the Biblical canon, from the Jefferson Bible, and wrote that at one time, he "considered it as merely the ravings of a maniac, no more worthy nor capable of explanation than the incoherences of our own nightly dreams." 
Martin Luther once "found it an offensive piece of work" and John Calvin "had grave doubts about its value."
As to why Luke 16: 19-21 has no historical merit, see Professor Gerd Ludemann's review in his book, Jesus After 2000 Years, pp. 369-370.
is what i see when i look in a mirror
Nii, the lack of comprehension is your own. I'm a lot smarter than you are. Read the following again, but really try to think it through this time. The excerpts are directly from the Christian book of nasty AKA the bible, but note especially carefully the comments about what the existence of different interpretations means for your sky fairy tales:
17 Now kiII all the boys. And kiII every woman who has slept with a man,
18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.
Deuteronomy 13:6 – “If your brother, your mother’s son or your son or daughter, or the wife you cherish, or your friend who is as your own soul entice you secretly, saying, let us go and serve other gods … you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death”
Revelations 2:23 And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.
Note that the bible is also very clear that you should sacrifice and burn an animal today because the smell makes sicko Christian sky fairy happy. No, you don't get to use the parts for food. You burn them, a complete waste of the poor animal.
Yes, the bible really says that, everyone. Yes, it's in Leviticus, look it up. Yes, Jesus purportedly said that the OT commands still apply. No exceptions. But even if you think the OT was god's mistaken first go around, you have to ask why a perfect, loving enti-ty would ever put such horrid instructions in there. If you think rationally at all, that is.
And then, if you disagree with my interpretation, ask yourself how it is that your "god" couldn't come up with a better way to communicate than a book that is so readily subject to so many interpretations and to being taken "out of context", and has so many mistakes in it. Pretty pathetic god that you've made for yourself.
So get out your sacrificial knife or your nasty sky creature will torture you eternally. Or just take a closer look at your foolish supersti-tions, understand that they are just silly, and toss them into the dustbin with all the rest of the gods that man has created.
Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement. Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.
U do realise that de board is not being wiped today, do u? It needs no saying that being smarter than me your Christian theology resides in these 5 verses which seems to show u might be a former JW or ended church attendance in primary school. I cud explain them to you but wud u listen?
you get nothing from nothing! Everything we know of came from something. Things just don't appear, they started from some where. Whether it be time, space, a particle. Those are something? How everything came to be, I believe God made happen.
Bob...here y©u go again with the copy and paste argument. Copy paste copy paste and on and on..Is that the best argum€nt y©u can put forward. To only quote select scriptures that obviously y©u have no real indepth understanding of! Y©u do realize that archeological findings have shown the depravity of many of the people brought to ruin in these cases. With mounds of infant remains that were used as sacrafices to those p@gan gods. A little research can go a long way Bob as could knowing what y©ur referencing in its complete context.
@Jake. If a god can come from nothing and create everything, why do you find it incredible that everything can come from nothing. You know, cut out the middleman.
Number one problem Bob has is inability to comprehend what a religion is or what spirituality is! l don't think he even knows which questions to ask! The Scriptures he uses are what every xtian understands. seems like Bob didn't learn or cudn't! i first read through the official bible in grade 2.
Its funny that people like BOB will think spam is a way to cause people to lose faith! Religious people like Bob find it hard to absorb spiritual truth n seek 2 close others minds 2 it too. This is truly unfortunate. It doesn't really matter yo religion. U r either spiritual or religious never both!
Nii, the lack of comprehension is your own. I'm a lot smarter than you are. Read the following again, but really try to think it through this time:
If you disagree with my interpretation of sections taken directly from your bible, ask yourself how it is that your "god" couldn't come up with a better way to communicate than a book that is so readily subject to so many interpretations and to being taken "out of context", and has so many mistakes in it. Pretty pathetic god that you've made for yourself.
The Bible is not of God . it's of Man...You people can not use the bible as the basis for your religion. There is no truth to it . for instance Genesis and Adam /Eve story all of it can not be true as it all happened like 100 thousand years or more before people could write or even have language or speak at all. yet thousands of years later when language is made someone knew how it all went down....total BS. even down to Jesus Jesus was dead for a couple hundred years before the bible was even a concept. Stories passed down over 1 year...one week change drastically....nowthe story of Jesus written 200 years after his death must really be drastically obscured. Now think back tens of thousands of years before man could even stand up....how did the story go???
Some people describe catching a fish a "spiritual" experience, or smoking pot, or throwing a perfect touchdown pass.
As I told u the last time my time with you has not been wasted. If u will be kind enough to explain to Bob n de other guy that what they are trying so hard to "teach" are taught to kids in Sunday School I'll very much appreciate it!
Spirituality has nothing to do with "spiritual experiences"!
Spirituality is your ability to satisfy the Human Moral Dilemma through expression of godly character. It is ironically religious people who seek "spiritual experiences". Spirituality=expression
"A wicked and ad.ul.te.ro.us generation seek for a sign!"-JC
Bob just the idea that y©u think y©ur smarter speaks volumes about y©ur characture as a person. Who is smarter really? Individuals have greater insight in particular areas of life than others and visa versa. Neither is 'smarter' only different areas of expertise, experience or insight.
I'm always skeptical of people who open with "I'm a lot smarter than you"
Evangelical, you seem to have a hard time understanding what you are presented with. Let's have a closer look at what your Christian book of horrors AKA the bible really says about what your nasty sky fairy wants you to do. Read carefully for a change, and try to understand the points:
17 Now kiII all the boys. And kiII every woman who has slept with a man,
18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.
Copy paste, copy paste, copy..........
christians, grow up. realize it was your parents and not a fat guy in a red suit bringing you presents every year. it means a lot more when you know it was your parents working hard to provide for you than santa claus magicking up your toys. embrace the truth - throw away the mythology.
is evidenced in the post above
lol, the mindless sheep have spoken.
Bootyfunk I know you are educated enough to know that St Nicholas was a real person who is venerated by our contemporary Christmas traditions.
Once doubt about the existence of god creeps in, surely all the lore associated with religions will fall by the wayside.
How can one believe god sent his son to earth via virgin birth to save our souls from his vengeance and punishment if one doesn't buy into the existence of gods in the first place?
For many, the reverse process happens. They come to realize the lore is absurd then so is the concept of gods.
ends at atheism
@stupid'. Extream Religious belief = insanity
leaves you paddling up an extream until you are extremely tired.
I think it's more likely that there have always been lots of people with severe doubts about the whole God notion, but they went along with it because they were taught that, without religion, society would crumble into moral decay. The more atheists "come out" and show the world that moral decay isn't going to take over the land just because people stop believing in Big Brother in the sky the more of these lukewarm believers will tend to join them.
You also have to consider that belief in God went largely unchallenged until lately. Believers never seriously had to defend why they believe, and I think most of them couldn't articulate an answer that even they would find convincing if they tried. A lot of them would be afraid to even try because they were taught that questioning your beliefs was a dangerous road to take.
You are wrong. I went through a particularly rough time in my life where I doubted for a while. I came through with my faith stronger than ever. Sometimes it takes difficult situations to really force us to look at what God wants for our lives and not at want we want – that we live for God and not the other way around.
Eva, why would a 'god' want for anything? It seems your particular Christian sky fairy is rather needy. He's also a nasty jerk, according to your book of nasty AKA the bible, wherein we see writings describing demands and acts of your god as horrid as these:
All you do is spam the same crap over and over again. You are not interested in hearing answers to any of the questions you posted as evidenced by the blaphemous way you presented them. Crawl back into the hole you crawled out of.
Eva, seriously, you are the one still back at the crawling stage, at best. Read more carefully what your nasty sky fairy says in your horror fairy tale book that you should be doing. It's very clear:
And once again, we ask JUST WHAT DOES STEPHEN P HIMSELF BELIEVE ABOUT GOD OR THE GODS which brings us to that famous (maybe infamous) prayer supplied free of charge and vitiating most of Stephen P's new book.
The Apostles' aka Agnostoics' aka Apollo's Creed 2012: (updated by yours truly and based on the studies of historians and theologians of the past 200 years)
Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven??
I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)
Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,
He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
many semi-fiction writers. A descent into Hell, a bodily resurrection
and ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.
(references used are available upon request)
Prayer changes things,
Millions of devoted believers have prayed for world peace for thousands of years. It hasn't done much good.
BTW, It's not healthy to teach children that god will punish and torture them forever with flaming fire and vengeance if they do not believe in him.
you seem to be the only one threatening children with torture and vengeance, why is that?
@hitchens, It's in your bible, and it gets preached on TV and in churches across the country every day. I drive by 3 churches every day. They frequently display signs in front with messages threatening hell for non-belief. But, I think you already know that.
2 Thessalonians, 8-9:"In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power."
you are without excuse then
One one is quite accurate about the nastiness of Christian god according to the bible, wherein we find god demanding and doing horrid stuff like this:
you are without excuse then
results in atheism
Care to show us how it leads to atheism?
consider your question to be evidence enough.
Well, you have lived up to your name.
*Prayer doesn’t not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.
An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.
The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!
Atheism is not healthy is Jesus on this blog. And Jesus is also Atheism is not healthly. Same troll, different handle....same copy paste, copy paste method as Bob...copy paste and on and on
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