Americans don’t cite ‘God, family, country’ quite like the cliche goes

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WASHINGTON (RNS) “God, family and country” might make for a good country music tune, but that’s not really how most Americans see the strongest influences on their personal identity.

The real order is family first (62 percent), followed by “being an American” (52 percent). “Religious faith” lolls way down in third place (38 percent) — if it’s mentioned at all, according to a survey released Thursday (March 19) by The Barna Group.

Americans identify how much various factors make up their personal identity. Family comes in first, followed by "being an American," and religious faith. Photo courtesy of Barna Group | design by Chaz Russo

Americans identify how much various factors make up their personal identity. Family comes in first, followed by “being an American,” and religious faith. Photo courtesy of Barna Group | design by Chaz Russo

The California-based Christian research company found another 18 percent of those surveyed said faith had a little to do with idea of who they are, and nearly 20 percent scored it at zero influence.

Christians were the largest self-identified group in the survey and Barna looked at them two ways. “Practicing” Christians — defined in the survey as self-identified Catholics, Protestants and Mormons who say they have attended church at least once in the last month and/or say religion is important to them — scored faith first, at a rate more than double the national average.

But they’re not most Christians — not by a long shot. The survey also found only 37 percent of self-identified Christians are “practicing,” while 64 percent are non-practicing, said Roxanne Stone, a Barna vice president and the designer and analyst of the study. That may account for the third place finish for “faith” in the overall standing.

The results were also skewed by age:

  • Family first: Millennials (53 percent); Gen X-ers (61 percent); Baby Boomers (64 percent); Elders (76 percent)
  • Being an American: Millennials (34 percent); Gen X-ers (37 percent); Baby Boomers (66 percent); Elders (80 percent)
  • Religious faith: Millennials (28 percent); Gen X-ers (34 percent); Baby Boomers (45 percent); Elders (46 percent)

Barna surveyed 1,000 U.S. adults online from Feb. 3-11. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. 

“Gen-Xers and Millennials have a reputation for wanting to be individualists—for wanting to break away from traditional cultural narratives and to resist being ‘boxed in’ by what they perceive as limiting expectations,” Stone said.



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  • James Carr

    It’s a sad commentary that matches the moral decline in the past 50 years. Not only in America, but the whole industrialized West.

    Personally, I have identified several events that seem to have sparked these changes, events that I lived through and saw a distinct change in attitude before and after them:

    Vatican Council II
    Stopping prayer in Public schools
    Arrival of the Beatles
    Kennedy Assassination

    That’s just me, though.

  • Andrew

    Dana, though you are correct about James’s deluded position on the good-old-days, and I agree that religion is a huge part of the problem, you cannot take the moral high ground if you are going to abuse him with pronouncements like ‘stupid, failed old man’ and ‘good riddance’. We are all a product of our time and place to a greater or lesser degree. Some things that you currently hold dear, may to future generations look foolhardy and despicable. You should hope that you are treated with more respect than you just showed to James.

  • James, nice Olden Times fallacy there.

    Dana can neither discern the import of James’ remarks or look her own time in the eye.

  • Dana, though you are correct about James’s deluded position

    What’s deluded about it?

    you cannot take the moral high ground

    One of you plays the rude twit and one of you plays the supercilious twit. It’s all one, buddy.

  • Andrew

    Art deco. I don’t think I was being supercilious, just pointing out what I saw as hypocrisy within Dana’s remarks. That said, I try hard to be aware of my failings, and will give some thought to your comment, though I believe you could easily be accused of the same thing with your statement ‘Dana can neither discern the import of James’ remarks or look her own time in the eye.’ However, I believe it is delusional to ascribe good morality to an adherence to religion. The countries of the world that have ostensibly dispensed with such dogmas, regularly score better on research considering healthy societies. I agree that we should be critical of our own time, and not dismiss the good elements of previous generations when appropriate, but I find James’s original list of ‘identified events’ to be extraordinarily naive. Sorry for my putative superciliousness.

  • Fran

    Of course, it is most important that we love God with our whole heart, body and mind and that we love our fellowman as well, including our own families.

    However, I beg to differ that nationalism should be an important part of our lives. We can already see the results of different nations saying, “My country or government is better than yours.” Promoting nationalism only promotes division and prejudice and not peaceful and unified brotherhood of man.

    The important point to consider is that God is not partial (and neither should we be partial based on nationalism), and that people of ALL nations who try to be righteous and try to do God’s will are acceptable to him. When someone tells me, “God bless the USA”, I can only respond with “God bless ALL meek and good-hearted persons on the planet,” no matter where they may be.

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  • James Carr

    How can you say my opinion is naive when I lived through these times? Was I supposed to be a psychic, or a genius at ten or eleven years old? Mine was a simple comment of observation, not meant to be taken as definitive history. Guess there is no reason why Americans stopped citing God, Family, Country, as Ms. Grossman cites. No source cause or event that may have affected this change?

  • Andrew

    Hi James. I think I have to confess to a slight misreading of your original comment. I thought your list was a ‘reasons for moral decline list’, when I now see it was a ‘reasons for the change in declaration of God, family, and country list’. My apologies, I’m an idiot. Before I realized this, my answer would have been… [I said naive because I don’t accept your premise of the moral decline, and therefore see your reasoning as specious. Even if I granted the premise, I think your historical markers would still be false, or at best insignificant. I obviously can’t challenge that you believe that that is what you were observing, but I think you were making incorrect correlations.] Probably best if you just ignore most of what I said. What I still standby though, is a rejection of the perceived moral decline, and the idea that moral decline comes as a consequence of the move away from a God concept as primary (if that’s what you were implying).

  • James Carr

    You needn’t apologize, but thanks, Andrew.

    Since you don’t accept the moral decline premise then I suppose any markers toward that perceived decline would be moot evidence.

    I do see an irreverance to authority and religious thought that did not dominate society at one time, in fact society and religion were companions in good governance once. I see the general embarasment of politicians citing any of their religious convictions publicly for fear of not being elected. The liberal, “we accept everything as your personal right to do” is weakness.

    I would not want any theocracy, for that brings its own autocratic vision eventually to dominate society in areas it has no need to address. But, a nod to the Church for moral guidance has practically become illegal.

  • Andrew

    James, let me try to summarize my thoughts somewhat so we can understand each other better. (I actually suspect we probably have many similar core values in how we treat people, but we’ve just arrived at them differently).
    You mentioned a perceived lack of respect for authority. I personally believe that an unquestioning reverence for authority is extremely problematic. You need only look at the number of corrupt politicians, exploitative corporations, murderous police officers, paedophile priests, thieving bankers etc. to see that authority is not always worthy of unwavering respect. I would go further to say that it’s precisely this ‘doffing-of-the-cap’ that allows such deep seated corruption to thrive. They should be regularly scrutinized, and held accountable for failings. What I’m saying though is that it has always been thus. It just used to be more hidden, as we didn’t have the kind of instant communications that we have today…CONTINUED

  • Andrew

    …CONTINUED Back-in-the-day you would not have previously heard about such things as murders in a different county/state (depending on where you are from, I’m in the UK). Spousal abuse was rampant because there was deep-seated misogyny. Child abuse was easy to hide because people lived in the middle of nowhere, and were afraid to challenge the patriarch. Nuns and monks were raping or beating the crap out of their pupils in convents and monasteries. Racism was everywhere, with policemen and politicians being photographed smiling next to lynching victims etc. I could go on. Human beings have not suddenly all genetically mutated in the last hundred years to become something very different, but what have changed are the circumstances, and our understanding of the physical world and the human mind…CONTINUED

  • Andrew

    CONTINUED…As an atheist, I have to strongly disagree with you on the point of going to the church for moral guidance. I think it has failed in both the content and application of its teachings, though I think secular society could learn something from the social cohesion gained from regular gatherings. In Britain it is becoming more popular for people to gather for a Sunday Lecture, rather than Sunday Service. My moral foundation comes from such things as empathy, the logic of cooperation, the best scientific understanding of what we are, the golden rule (which has been expressed throughout history from the likes of Plato, Confucius, Sun Tzu, Marcus Aurelius’, both before and after Jesus who takes all the credit!) Having read widely on biology (including evolution), neurology and the greatest philosophers of history, I believe we have much better resources for foundational understanding of the nature of things, and moral guidance without the baggage brought with religion.

  • Dana

    James, nice Olden Times fallacy there. I bet you still long for those days when women had fewer rights, and slavery was still allowed.

    The world is leaving your delusion behind, and that’s great news. Slowly, but it’s happening. Get used to it, you bitter old man.

  • The way the survey is framed seems skewed to me. For me its simple: God first, then the spiritual family or the body of Christ (believers), then the natural family , then work. Today family worship is very common. I see more and more “Christians” placing family above God, and “family sports” before God. It is disgusting and very offensive. Our love and devotion to God is not even to be compared with our love and devotion to family. They told Jesus that His family was waiting to talk with Him and Jesus said “and who is my family?” and pointed to His disciples saying “those who do the will of God they are My mother and My brothers and my sisters”. Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son to demonstrate his willingness to put God first and he did just that. Today many are very far from God because of misplaced priorities. We need to repent, receive Christ as Savior and Lord, and follow God as He leads us, giving Him first place in all things. God Bless

  • Dana

    Deco, obviously I look my time in the eye. I just commented on it.

    Next time, try to post a comment that you can back up, instead of your vapid nonsense thus far.

  • IMO, it’s good that the hyper-Americanized god of supernatural theism who blesses American exceptionalism is being rejected. What’s needed is to help more people become aware of healthier theologies and ways of relating to the Divine Mystery who is.

    – Roger Wolsey, author, “Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity”

  • Fran

    One of these days, everyone on planet earth will love their brother or sister in the human race, and comments that go against the love we have for our fellowman will be non-existent, no matter where they reside! I look forward to that day and grand future with great expectations and happiness!

  • James Carr

    Interesting, Andrew. Certainly the media has opened up the floodgates of information that we receive instantly today, and years ago crimes went unreported…….some because they were not considered crimes ( home abuse, school discipline, etc. ), and some because they were socially scandalous ( Homosexuality, Church misconduct, etc.)
    Whether now we have more crime or not, I don’t know, but I think a lot of bad things reported enough can bring out an excess of imitation, like suicide, school shootings, etc. To be famous at any cost drives some to extreme.
    So now, the Church is imagined as a hotbed of hypocrisy and sexual scandal. It brought this on itself, true, but the focus is largely on this evil even though it involves a small percentage of the Church membership. So be it.
    The Church can still claim to define morality as God would, because its Teachings do not change due to the sins of its members. Even the most immoral of Popes have never changed Doctrine or Catholic…

  • James Carr

    Teachings. Religion can hardly be considered baggage, unless one wants to create their own value system from the ground up, according to them.
    Where does one go for moral guidelines, for definitive answers? Inward? Philosophers? Science? Each of these are ever evolving, imperfect, and contradictory. Negating the existence of God is a throwing away of truth because it is inconvenient to our desire.

    The Judeo-Christian God revealed His existence to mankind, as opposed to the gods created by mankind. This true God laid out moral behavior that man would not create for himself, and the Church is compelled to teach these morals to mankind unaltered because they are from God. The Church can only explain these truths deeper as society questions their meaning. Time has given us great scholars and theologians to answer faithfully any questions that oppose the Truth.
    God does not evolve or change, so moral behavior should always attach itself to His core teachings.

  • James Carr

    Continued above……..

  • Andrew

    (Sorry James, I’m sure to offend you with the following, but that is not my goal, just a side effect of presenting my thoughts). Though I’m enjoying conversing with you, I fear we are never going to get over this hump. I simply do not believe that you possess a book that contains the inspired or literal word of an inerrant omniscient universe creator. You are an adherent of one particular religion of the thousands of different religions that have existed throughout history and today. Most of them make a claim to absolute truth, yet many of their teachings are mutually incompatible. Just note what that information reveals. It says that the vast majority of human beings that have ever lived, including those currently alive, were and are completely delusional in their understanding of the cosmos, because they either didn’t believe in a god if there is one (atheists like me), or they believed in the wrong god if one of the other religions is correct. CONTINUED

  • Andrew

    It shows that the human mind is exceptionally vulnerable to suggestion, especially the minds of children as they grow. The vast majority of religious believers simply adhere to the same religion as their parents or predominant culture, because that is the only one they are taught, and we are persistently guilty of confirmation bias. You are sure that yours is the correct one, but so are they.
    You say ‘The Church can still claim to define morality as God would, because its Teachings do not change due to the sins of its members.’ But how are flawed humans ever to get to this universal truth you speak of. Even if I hypothetically accept that yours is the right religion and such truth exists, which of the many denominations within Christianity holds this truth? Who do we follow; the Catholics, Protestants, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Evangelicals, Plymouth Brethren’s, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Anglicans, etc. CONTINUED

  • Andrew

    They all have their idiosyncrasies, and MOST IMPORTANTLY Christians today stand on BOTH sides of all of the main ethical arguments like homosexuality, abortion, female priests and so on, whilst simultaneously claiming that the opposing team are ‘not REAL Christians’.
    Please note that the Bible was put together over the space of hundreds of years, written by numerous different people, describing events they usually didn’t personally witness. These fragments were then put together, edited, shuffled around, with some books rejected and others added. This inconsistent and self-contradictory mish-mash was later translated into English with numerous errors of meaning being commonly argued over to this day. There are also lots of different modern versions to choose from; New International Version, New Living Translation, English Standard Version, New American Standard Bible , King James Bible, Holman Christian Standard Bible, International Standard Version, etc. CONTINUED

  • Andrew

    that again have their own little quirks. This is not a good way to help people understand your message.
    I ask you, if an all-powerful creator really wanted us to know what He thinks, and wanted us to follow his rules, don’t you think he would have found a better method than adding yet another book to the countless books making similar claims that existed at the time. And presenting it to a mostly illiterate populace in a small area of the middle-east? I know you will say that he sent His son Jesus, but you only have these contradictory stories written after-the-fact to tell you so. And given that two thousand years later, after multiple religious wars with each claiming God on their side, we are still no closer to agreement, don’t you think you should take a moment, step back, and ask yourself if these miracle tales are really true? CONTINUED

  • Andrew

    The growth of modern religions like Mormonism, scientology, and other crazy cults should give you some idea of how totally unfounded stories get spread and become ‘truth’ for their believers. This happened much more easily in Biblical times too, when everyone except a few scholars were illiterate and nobody had any scientific understanding of the physical world. A person suffering from schizophrenia, or one of the many neurological disorders that cause hallucinations, was back then believed to be a great visionary or prophet. There are actually a couple of plants that grow in the middle-east, and were known to be used, that have hallucinogenic compounds in them (I think possibly the acacia tree is one). CONTINUED

  • Andrew

    CONTINUED FROM (I think possibly the acacia tree is one).
    So how do we resolve the conflicts in a room full of people from different religions all pointing at their special book claiming its infallibility? Proof, that’s how. And how do we prove things…we use the best tools we have, those of science and consistent logic. Sorry to go on the offensive James, I hope you won’t do to me what it says in LUKE 19:27 – But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.’ END

  • Yeah because things were so much better in the South years ago when Jerry Falwell was for segregation. Praise Jesus!

  • Young people are no longer interested in worshiping a God that is Republican. Last time I read the bible, this guy named Jesus said to forgive your enemies- not bomb them. Last time I read the bible, Jesus said to help the poor- not cut them off from benefits. Last time I read the bible, it said the poor will enter the kingdom of Heaven- not those who make lot’s of money.

  • Gene Ellefson

    Donovan….your idea of charity really is screwed up. Forced redistribution of wealth by an all-powerful government is NOT charity. Second, perhaps you should look up the net wealth of Democratic Senators vs Republican Senators….you will find that the Democrats have considerably more wealth than the Republicans. Thirdly, for you to invoke Jesus’ name with regards to bombing vs loving is rediculous. You have no clue about Christ’s teachins if you think He said ANYTHONG about governments, national security, or any other similar topic…..He was only concerned with individuals and how they treat each other 1 on 1….You clearly have been brainwashed and your brain is full of mush….that is the problem with the culture today. Those who should be working to undertand the Bible are so willing to go with BS that they hear from leftist media sources, I guess. You need some serious 1 on 1 counseling with someone who actually knows the Bible before you comment on it.