One way to look at the place of faith in society is to follow the money.
Here are two indicators of where the culture is going relative to faith: charitable giving and sales of art.
Market Watch says that charitable giving is up but giving giving to religious institutions is down.
Americans donated $316 billion to charitable causes in 2012, a 3.5% increase from 2011, a new report by the Giving USA Foundation found. But while charitable donations to education increased 7% to $41 billion, religious donations dropped slightly (by 0.2%) to $101.54 billion. “Americans continue to be the most generous people in the world, despite discretionary income percentages nearing all-time lows,” says Eileen Heisman, CEO of the National Philanthropic Trust. But donors are writing the checks to different recipients.
That’s not to say that donations to religious institutions have dried up. In fact, they accounted for 32% of all charitable donations. But that’s down from around 38% a decade ago, according to Giving USA. And Heisman expects that number to continue to fall. “I don’t think it will plummet to zero,” she says. “At some point, it will level out; the question is when.” But there’s reason to think the next generation may be even less generous to religious institutions. One-in-three people under 30 had no religious affiliation versus just one-in-10 of those 65 and over, a 2012 Pew Research Center report found. Among all U.S. adults, 20% report having no religious affiliation, up from 15% in 2007.
“People don’t belong to religious institutions like they once did,” Heisman says. “The idea that the place of worship was the center of your social existence is no longer as strong as it once was.” More than 13 million people — nearly 6% of the U.S. public — identify as atheists or agnostics, and 33 million say they have no particular religious affiliation, Pew found. Instead or donating to religious institutions, they’re giving more to secular organizations like those that support the arts (up 7.8%), animals and the environment (up 6.8%) and, of course, education.
Indicator #2: religious art, particularly of the crucifixion, commands less at the auction house.
Even images of Crucifixions by established masters can be purchased on the cheap, said Joaneath Spicer, curator of Renaissance and baroque art at The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. Spicer hasn’t purchased Crucifixions for the museum in some time.
In part, she said, Christian art has become the victim of its own success.
“If I want more Crucifixion bronzes, there are some in storage that are quite nice,” she said.
But there are other cultural factors that may be contributing to the declining sales prices. One of them may be changing worship styles that rely more on words and music and less on visual images. A bigger one may be an unwillingness to openly and publicly display one’s religious commitments.
“The de-emphasis on art as part of the devotional experience within the Catholic Church surely has had some impact on this,” said Spicer.
Catholics are also less likely to display religious art in their homes, said Eike Schmidt, curator of decorative arts and sculpture at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.