According to the Gallup survey released Wednesday, 77% of Americans say religion is losing its influence. Since 1957, when the question was first asked, Americans’ perception of religion’s power has never been lower. Dan Merica, CNN

Is religion a good or a bad thing? Obviously people answer that question very differently depending on what they mean by the word “religion.” This Gallup Poll grabbed my eye when I first saw it but then I realized that, as usual, the word “religion” is not really defined.

So people use the same word, but “religion” means something very different to each of the speakers . Critics use the word “religion” to refer to traits like superstition, sectarianism and the fear of modernity. Supporters use the word “religion” to refer to traits like reverence, community and compassion.

Even if atheists and religionists sit at the same table, so long as they refuse to define terms they will continue to pass like ships in the night.

If we define religion as “all the above” we have a better idea of what is happening to religious attitudes in the U.S. The good news is that anti-scientific and sectarian attitudes may be on the wane: the bad news is that intimate communities that share wonder and celebrate life together may be dying with them.