Jesus warned his disciples that it was “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”[i] Research by the Pew Research Center confirmed this insight, finding that wealthier societies are less religious.
“Overall, people in wealthier nations tend to place less importance on religion than those in poorer nations,” Research Analyst Angelina Theodorou wrote in an article on December 23, 2015.
The United States remains somewhat of an exception. Although it is among the wealthiest countries in the world, the U.S. ranks “in the middle of the pack” when it comes to religiosity. Fifty-three percent of Americans told Pew that religion was “very important” to them, while this rate was far lower in other industrialized countries like Germany (21 percent), the United Kingdom (21 percent), France (14 percent), and Japan (11 percent).
Of course, year after year fewer Americans claim to participate actively in religion. Theodorou points out that the U.S., “like much of Europe, has been experiencing a rise in the share of people who say they have no religion.”
Our country faces the threat of diminishing religious vibrancy like Europe unless we counter secularizing forces such as materialism in our culture. As I’ve written previously, prosperity can became a spiritual distraction in the West. I encouraged Christians not to rely on their wealth to meet their needs, but instead to focus on pressing into prayer like their brothers and sisters in the developing world.
Pew’s research serves as a timely reminder. The American Church must remain wary of the subtle tendency toward self-reliance, since “good circumstances can lead to overconfidence and spiritual indifference,” as Pastor Tim Keller wrote in his book, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God.
Like most Western countries, religion – especially Christianity – has played a key role in the development of American politics and society. But as evidenced by European countries in particular, a historic Christian heritage won’t stave off the long-term erosion of materialism forever. That’s why the American Church must commit to renewal, not just rely on the lingering religious momentum of centuries past to carry us into a spiritually prosperous future.