Health & Wellbeing

Losing my religion: The pandemic is causing many to lose faith in God

Losing my religion: The pandem...
A German survey found increasing numbers of people lost their faith in a higher power over the course of the coronavirus pandemic
A German survey found increasing numbers of people lost their faith in a higher power over the course of the coronavirus pandemic
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A German survey found increasing numbers of people lost their faith in a higher power over the course of the coronavirus pandemic
A German survey found increasing numbers of people lost their faith in a higher power over the course of the coronavirus pandemic

New research published in the Journal of Religion and Health has found faith in God and trust in a higher power declined across the course of the pandemic. The German survey found the longer the pandemic went on, the more people seemed to lose their faith in God.

It is generally thought that belief in God and reliance on religious institutions increase during times of trauma and crisis. Prior studies have indicated faith-based beliefs can help people make sense of traumatic events that can initially seem meaningless or random.

“… trauma challenges so many assumptions about who we are, what our purpose is and how to make sense of a traumatic event,” wrote theologian Danielle Tumminio Hansen, in a piece for The Conversation last year. “Faith-based beliefs and practices offer meaningful resources to help navigate those questions. This is why spiritual beliefs and practices across various religions can often lead to faith strengthening rather than weakening, following a trauma.”

A Pew Research poll conducted in the summer of 2020 found, in the United States at least, the pandemic was strengthening many people’s religious faith.

“Nearly three-in-ten Americans (28 percent) report stronger personal faith because of the pandemic, and the same share think the religious faith of Americans overall has strengthened, according to the survey of 14 economically developed countries,” the Pew poll found after the first few months of the pandemic.

This new study focused more on temporal changes to religious belief over 18 months, beginning June 2020 and running up until November 2021. Nearly 5,000 people in Germany were surveyed at various points over the 18-month period, and the researchers found the longer the pandemic went on, the more people were losing their faith in God or a higher power.

“Analyses revealed that with the 2nd wave of the infection and its 2nd lockdown, trust in a Higher Source, along with praying and meditation decreased,” the researchers wrote in the new study. “Also, the sharp increase in corona-related stressors was associated with a decline of wellbeing and a continuing loss of faith. These developments were observed in both Catholics and Protestants, and in both younger and older persons.”

In June 2020, at the beginning of the study, only three percent of survey respondents indicated they had lost faith in a higher power due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Across six more surveys over the next 18 months this percentage consistently increased until the final survey conducted between August and November 2021 found 21.5 percent of people reporting a loss of faith due to the pandemic.

Loss of faith responses were consistent across not only Catholics and Protestants but also those more agnostic respondents classified as religiously non-affiliated. But the researchers hypothesize this general loss of faith trend during the pandemic is most likely due to a severing of the social bonds many religious communities rely upon.

“It seems that, due to the long course of social distancing and related restrictions, more or less vital social and religious bonds between people and local religious communities were affected and even disrupted,” the researchers hypothesized. “… when sacred spaces (i.e., the churches) are not easily accessible, people may lose access to the center of their public religious life, and thus they may either develop new forms of spiritual practices in privacy or simply get used to the loss.”

A recent survey from the Pew Research Center suggests this pandemic-related decline in religious belief may not translate to the United States. Although Pew has found a consistent decline in general religious affiliation over the past 15 years, it has not detected any unusual drop over the past 24 months.

While the pandemic has unsurprisingly led to decreases in US church attendance over the past 18 months, it is believed this should pick up as the coronavirus subsides. And many religious organizations are indicating a need to modernize their accessibility to make better contact with younger demographics.

The new study was published in the Journal of Religion and Health.

Well, a wee silver lining then...?
Fact is that belief in a higher power in the United States has been declining steadily for a number of years. The rise of the "nones" (those with no religious affiliation) has been well documented, to the point where there are as many nones as their are evangelicals or Catholics. As an atheist, I'm not sure I can be surprised that a very untoward event with such wide-ranging effects impacts religious belief on this kind of scale. The old trope of "thoughts and prayers" is wearing out its welcome as more of the country is beset with the impact of climate change, as it is. That adding a pandemic to the mix accelerates matters is hardly shocking.
Interesting study. I wasn't superstitious before the pandemic and I'm not superstitious now but I can imagine how a pandemic could cause people to question if their preferred supernatural creature is actually doing anything on their behalf.
Glad to see a reduction of this superstitious unprovable twaddle, whatever your preferred flavour. It about time we all realized our destiny is ours alone and we have only one shot at a meaningful life before it's permanent end.
The mission of NewAtlas is "to trace the development of extraordinary ideas that move the world forward." Glad to read enlightenment is one of those.
Why, as an atheist, would you care?
Nelson Hyde Chick
The fewer God simple the better!
This is reminiscent of the 1755 earthquake of 1 November which destroyed the Lisbon, killing perhaps 50,000 people. In the aftermath lots of philosophical and theological doubt when people asked what infants could have possibly done to have 'deserved' such a fate by their sins. Voltaire famously assailed the church's lame doctrinal justifications, aptly called 'apologetics'.
Ralf Biernacki
The sharp difference in JRH and PRC results is a red flag for me. The article hints that this is because Americans and Germans think differently, but in my experience (admittedly, in a very different field) when two different research projects yield contradictory results, this is 90% likely to be due to differences in methodology, rather than bona fide differences in the test population. With a delicate subject such as this, simply wording the key question differently could have produced these apparent results. To make sure this is not the case, the JRH should repeat the study using the Pew questionnaire verbatim, and see if the response is different. Or vice versa.