December 4, 2018

In secular survey, 71% of Christians confess to idolatry

Christians’ public witness took another hit the week of Thanksgiving, when a newly released survey exposed rampant idolatry among the people of God who live in America. The Pew Research Center found only 29% of Christians in America claim religion as “the most important source of meaning in their lives.” This dismal result calls into question why unbelievers would find the Gospel attractive when even most Christians don’t seem to care about it very much. Aren’t we all a bunch of hypocrites?

The study asked respondents about where they find “a great deal” of meaning, as well as what the most important source of meaning is for them. 52% of all Christians said that religion provided “a great deal” of meaning in their lives, including 65% of evangelicals and 62% of historically black Protestants. However, only 41% of Catholics and 39% of mainline Protestants said religion provided “a great deal” of meaning for them. The rest indicated that religion provided, “some” meaning, “not much,” or “none at all.”

However, relatively few Christians (29%) considered religion to be the most important source of meaning in their life. This included only 45% of evangelicals, 38% of black Protestants, 17% of Catholics, and 15% of mainline Protestants.

Of course, we Christians have a particular term to describe a situation where someone has elevated something else in their life to be more important than God:

That’s called idolatry.

Idolatry is prohibited in different ways by the first two of the Ten Commandments. It is serious enough to send people to the second death, the lake of fire, right alongside murderers, sorcerers, and the sexually immoral (Revelation 21:8). Idolatry is basically cheating on God, so he treats it like a big deal.

The lack of focus on religion leaves us facing the question: if religion isn’t the most important source of meaning to Christians, what is?

The same survey by Pew also uncovered that the “number one” idol of American Christians is the family. Of American Christians, 42% said that family was the most important source of meaning in their life, including 54% of mainline Protestants, 50% of Catholics, 37% of black Protestants, and 31% of evangelicals. When answering what was most important to them, respondents had to choose among options they had already said were important to them. This means that those who said family was the most important source of meaning had to deliberately choose it over religion, unless religion was not important at all.

And compared to 52% of American Christians who said religion provided “a great deal” of meaning in their lives, 76% of Christians said that family provided “a great deal” of meaning. This includes 81% of mainline Protestants, 75% each of evangelicals and black Protestants, and 73% of Catholics. To many Christians in America, family is more important than religion.

I have to admit, I am skeptical whenever I hear someone say the church has a problem with idolizing the family. I usually suspect the speaker is trying to de-emphasize rampant sins wreaking havoc on the church right now. After all, abuse, divorce, infidelity, pre-marital sex, one-parent families, and plummeting birth rates are plaguing the Church almost as much as the society at large. In our present age, we need more focus on the family, not less!

But while we need more focus on the family, the results of this study also seem to indicate that we need a lot more focus on God. In the short and often neglected book of Haggai, the Israelites who returned from captivity ignored God’s command to rebuild the temple and preoccupied themselves with pursuing material prosperity. So, God supernaturally intervened to prevent the people from ever obtaining that material prosperity while they ignored God (see especially Haggai 1:9). He disciplined the people out of love, because he wanted what was best for them—to serve him. When they repented and became obedient, God blessed them with many good things—including material prosperity.

God often withholds good things when his children become obsessed, until they learn to seek him first—but he does want to bless us! Perhaps the reason why the American family has collapsed so much in recent decades is because Christians are making the family more important than God. For me personally, it took my parents’ divorce for God to show me that I had made an idol out of my family, and that I was living to please my family instead of him.

Besides the family, another 29% of Christians identified various other idols as the most important source of meaning in their lives. This included 33% of Catholics, 31% of mainline Protestants, 25% of black Protestants, and 24% of evangelicals. And it’s likely that many people who claimed religion as the most important source of meaning also have idols; they just didn’t admit it to the interviewer. All that goes to say: American Christians have a lot of idolatry for which to repent in order to restore our witness before nonbelievers. We ought to humble our own hearts, and pray with the Psalmist:

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!

11 Responses to In secular survey, 71% of Christians confess to idolatry

  1. Patrick98 says:

    Did you see the actual wording of the survey questions, or just results from it? There are many Christians who I think if they were given the options of “God” or “Jesus” as the most important source of meaning in their lives would choose that option. Surveys can be tricky depending on how the questions are worded and asked. I did not take the survey and haven’t seen it, but I am curious as to how the questions were worded.

    That being said, I do believe that the United States is becoming more pagan and less Christian. I think we are going through a sifting out period. Then will come trial and testing. This will be a refining and purifying. Maranatha! Jesus – come soon!

  2. Brad Pope says:

    If the poll asked about “religion” as opposed to their relationship with Christ then it’s no wonder the answers are so skewed.

  3. David says:

    The survey is easily found by searching for “Pew Survey meaning.” I find the use of “meaning” is problematic. Does it imply enjoyment and pleasure or special purpose or intent? The second somewhat borders on self importance. Given the casino of conception and birth, the idea of chance cannot be ignored. I see in the survey as many rate their hobbies nearly as highly as religion. There is a particular drop off in religion for those under middle age.

  4. Ken Dean says:

    You failed to show the actual survey questions, thus making the entire article baseless

  5. The percentage is much higher when one understands that idolatry is not so much about statues as it is statutes, such as what one considers the supreme law of the land.

    Case in point: those who claim to be Constitutional Christians.

    For more, see blog article “Today’s Mt. Carmel Christians” at

    Then “Could You Be a Disciple of Baal and Not Know It?”

    Find out how much you *really* know about the Constitution as compared to the Bible. Take our 10-question Constitution Survey in the sidebar and receive a free copy of a book that *examines* the Constitution by the Bible.

    • Andrew J Patton says:

      What has a heretic to do with God? You claim to be this generation’s Elijah, but you know nothing of the True Religion. It is not enough to confess Yahweh as Lord of All; one must worship Him as He commands to be worshiped. And how is Yahweh to be worshiped? “Do this [the Eucharist] in memory of Me.” Self-appointed pastors blaspheme Yahweh with their heresies and false claims of authority. You claim religious tolerance is an affront to Almighty God; very well, you yourself stand guilty of exactly what you condemn others for, because you do not obey the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, which alone was established by Almighty God and commanded that every man obey. Furthermore, I see that you confess to have attended Catholic school, which means you are not ignorant of the Church’s claims. Repent, lest you also perish.

  6. Anneke says:

    “In our present age, we need more focus on the family, not less!” While I agree that the church needs more focus on the qualities that make families (two parents, parents married, etc), I see far too many cases where “family” becomes the worshipped rather than the tool. I can name five different people in my church who happily claim they come to church for the benefit of their family… not for the benefit of God. That’s the problem. The church becomes a marital counselor, a self-help group to keep the marriage intact. These folks aren’t there to worship God or to do his will.

  7. John Smith says:

    Most people probably wouldn’t pick religion and with good reason. What do you get with religion? Battles in the political sphere by Left and Right, internal battles like those in the UMC and TEC. Congregational fights, sexual abuse scandals, financial irregularities, mega-millionaire preachers, and it goes on. I could even make the argument that those who claim religion is the most important are the ones who have made religion an idol.

    And that is without addressing a flawed survey that went looking for a problem. But really could you blame a member of the UMC if the denomination wasn’t his greatest influence? After all what does it stand for anymore but fighting over LGBTQ……..

  8. Chris says:

    Are the so called “Christians” in the survey really followers of Christ ?

    Do they and their “religion” stand up for and promote Christ, His Kingdom/Will on earth ?

    Should their “religion” be better described as, tasteless salt ?

    ” … but if the salt become tasteless, how will it be made salty again ?   It is GOOD FOR NOTHING ANYMORE, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.” (Matt.: 5: 13)  ????

    Is it not the “Fundamentalist Christians”, “New Testament Only Christians”, etc., that teach the lie that God’ Laws, Statutes and Judgments have been done away with, “contrary to us”, etc., etc. (when Christ Himself said the exact opposite: Matthew 5: 17-19), the ones that have lost their saltiness ??

    And are these (practicing their various “religions”) not the ones in the survey ?

    “Unless they speak to the Law and the testimonies, there is no light in them.” Isaiah 8: 20.

    This nation has become “twice the sons of hell” as those who have proselytized it.  

    We allowed the process to begin when we decided “We The People” should be god (sovereign) and decide what is to be the supreme law of the land.

    The legislative process provided by the various federal and state constitutions was the vehicle used by the enemy to corrupt over time (via gradual increments) and finally take over.   Now, the state is the god of most, knowingly or unknowingly, and the “god” the state is controlled by His and our enemies.

    This nation wanted to determine what was “good and evil” (remember the garden?), instead of enforcing His Perfect Moral Laws.

    Malim in se (evil in and of itself as defined by The Great I Am, the ONLY lawgiver) vs. malim prohibitum (evil because someone determines, or legislates, it to be evil).

    The only way to save this nation is to turn back to Him, His Perfect Moral Laws, Statutes and Judgments, i.e., His Kingdom/Will On Earth.    Seek Him while He may yet be found.

    “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, And I will give you rest. Take My yoke (i.e., His Law 1 John 5: 2 & 3, as well as His tithe [tax] system) upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and ‘YOU SHALL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS.’ (Jer. 6: 16). My yoke is easy, and My load is light.” Matthew 11: 28 – 30.

    He told us that if His people ” … shall humble themselves (e.g., quit thinking we’re the sovereign, take our proper place and quit usurping His), and pray, and seek my face (e.g., He’s to be the ONLY law giver), and turn from their wicked ways (e.g., enforce His Laws, Statutes and Judgments); THEN will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” 

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