Interesting study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life:
More than a quarter of adult Americans have left the faith of their childhood to join another religion or no religion, according to a new survey of religious affiliation by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
The report, titled “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey,” depicts a highly fluid and diverse national religious life. If shifts among Protestant denominations are included, then it appears that 44 percent of Americans have switched religious affiliations.
What’s interesting about this is that most Americans who call themselves religious probably couldn’t tell you much about the actual beliefs their church or denomination subscribes to, which probably makes it easier to jump from church to church. And in some cases, the churches deliberately play down the more intolerant aspects of their faith in order to attract members who are driven by a need to belong, not a need to subscribe to a strict Pentecostal theology or scary Apocalyptic revenge fantasies (yes, I’m looking at you, Rick Warren). Though I’m sure that there are people for whom the consigning-all-those-other-sinners-to-hell (because we are godly and we are saved) bit is the main attraction.
And then there’s the Catholic church, which is what I left. And lookee here:
The percentage of Catholics in the American population has held steady for decades at about 25 percent. But that masks a precipitous decline in native-born Catholics. The proportion has been bolstered by the large influx of Catholic immigrants, mostly from Latin America, the survey found.
The Catholic Church has lost more adherents than any other group: about one-third of respondents raised Catholic said they no longer identified as such. Based on the data, the survey showed, “this means that roughly 10 percent of all Americans are former Catholics.”
That means there are about as many ex-Catholics than there are, say, Southern Baptists. I don’t suppose that the fact that the Pope and the Bishops, theoretically celibates all, are out there telling Catholics not to use birth control, and how to vote, and all kinds of fun things like that, has anything to do with it. Losing one-third — ONE THIRD! — of cradle Catholics is a pretty big deal. It would be interesting to find out how many of them left after the Church began its rightward lurch under JPII after many years of liberalization, cracking down on liberation theologists, stopping cold the expansion of the role of women in the Church, and reinvigorating the office of the Inquisition (which was Papa Ratzi’s last job). I’ve often thought that JPII shrunk the Church to the point where little other than abortion and regulating female sexuality* is its focus.
Another interesting finding is that the religiously unaffiliated have been growing, although those that do not belong to a particular religious affiliation are not necessarily nonbelievers:
In the 1980s, the General Social Survey by the National Opinion Research Center indicated that from 5 percent to 8 percent of the population described itself as unaffiliated with a particular religion.
In the Pew survey 7.3 percent of the adult population said they were unaffiliated with a faith as children. That segment increases to 16.1 percent of the population in adulthood, the survey found. The unaffiliated are largely under 50 and male. “Nearly one-in-five men say they have no formal religious affiliation, compared with roughly 13 percent of women,” the survey said.
The rise of the unaffiliated does not mean that Americans are becoming less religious, however. Contrary to assumptions that most of the unaffiliated are atheists or agnostics, most described their religion “as nothing in particular.” Pew researchers said that later projects would delve more deeply into the beliefs and practices of the unaffiliated and would try to determine if they remain so as they age.
Thoughts? Does this bode well for the country?
* Regulating male sexuality? Only when they’re gay. Or when they’re priests who get caught, but that’s blamed on either Teh Gay or on the wanton temptingness of 12-year-old boys.