Friday, February 29, 2008

Religious Churning is Good

On the Pew U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, 4 (and last)

The headline on most articles about the Pew survey of the religious landscape have emphasized how much denominational switching Americans do. A quarter of American adults have made a biggish change from their childhood faith -- mostly Protestant-Catholic swaps, or vice-versa, but also switching across the Christian/non-Christian divide. When we include people who have switched from one Protestant denomination to another, the percent of religious switchers among American adults rises to 44%.

On the whole, I think religious switching is a good sign. This is what a free market looks like. Choice normally increases commitment. Converts are more intense members, as a rule. To pick a number out of the air, we might expect that nature plus nurture would make, say, 2/3rds of kids choose the same denomination as their parents. Even the groups with much higher retention rates now -- such as the 90% Hindu retention rate -- will likely drop closer to the two-thirds mark as subsequent generations get more Americanized.

Moreover, one of the critical requirements of a religious free market is the willingness to evangelize. Catholics and evangelicals can have significant switching out and still hold their market share because they evangelize. Jews and Episcopalians, to take just two of many examples, have significant losses but do not evangelize, and are slipping.

Religious change is a sign of a religiously vibrant society.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Catholic Lose Big, Hold Steady

On the Pew U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, 3

The Roman Catholic Church has been the largest denomination in the United States for five generations. Catholics make up about a quarter of the population. Yet the Catholic Church shows huge losses over a lifetime in the new Pew survey. Asking adults what religion they are now, and what they claimed as a child, the RCs show a 24% loss. Yet they remain nearly a quarter of the population. How is that possible?

Part of the answer is conversion. While 7.5% of the population reports that they once were Catholics but now are not, another 2.9% of the population made the shift the other way, making up almost 40% of the loss.

The other part of the answer is immigration. Almost half of all immigrants are Catholic. Immigrants make up nearly a quarter of the Catholic membership in this country - double the percentage of Americans who are foreign-born.

The Pew survey does not tell us when the exiting Catholics departed. It seems likely to me that there was a spike of departures in the wake of the recent priestly pedophilia scandals. If so, then the rate of departures is likely to slow down soon.

Still, for a group with such massive losses, the Roman Catholic Church is surprisingly and steadily robust in the United States.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Deconstructing the Religiously Unaffiliated

On the Pew U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, 2

One of the big findings of the Pew survey is that the "religiously unaffiliated" are now 16% of the adult population - making them the fourth largest "religious family." However, Pew also added a nuance to their questions that most surveys miss. They had the usual categories of atheists and agnostics, and then a catch-all category of "nothing in particular." The nuance comes in the next step: they let people within the nothing in particular category further defined themselves as "secular unaffiliated" and "religious unaffiliated."

So how do the religiously unaffiliated break down? The 16% of the total falls out:
Atheist 1.6% (of the total adult population)
Agnostic 2.4
Secular unaffiliated 6.3

Thus, the truly not religious population of the U.S. at the moment is 10.3% of the total. Another 5.8% of the total are not affiliated with a religious institution, but nonetheless think of themselves as religious.

Moreover, the unaffiliated are a changeable group. While 16% are unaffiliated now, only 7% were raised that way. And they are young - 31% are under 30, vs. only 20% of the whole population. And they are less likely to be married - 46% vs 54% of the total. They are more likely to be men - 59 vs. 48. Interestingly, the education and income profiles of the unaffiliated are the same as the population as a whole.

What this suggests to me is that the core of the religiously unaffiliated are unmarried young men. If we check in with them later in the life course, a significant portion of them will have become affiliated.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Big Lumps of American Denominations

On the Pew U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, 1

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has released a new survey on the landscape of American religion that will be the benchmark study of this subject for a decade. It is big enough, at 36,000+ respondents, and diverse enough to give a picture of denominational groups down to .3 of the population.

I want to start with the big lumps of denominational families that it reveals. Americans are

1/4th Catholic
1/4th Evangelical Protestant
1/4th Mainline + Black Protestant
1/4th Everything else

Of the Everything else, about half are "nothing in particular" - but half of them say that religion is important in their lives.

All the non-Christian religions add up to about 5% of the total U.S. population.

Monday, February 25, 2008

58% of American Kids Live with Their Married Parents

The latest good news from the Census Bureau finds that a solid majority of kids live with their married parents. Another couple percent live with their unmarried parents -- and a significant hunk of those parents will marry. Being raised by their own married parents is the best situation for kids. That doesn't mean that the other options are terrible, or that all married parents are great. But most kids get the best option. And since most parents want to stay married and raise their kids together, most parents get the best option, too.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Thin Religious Coalition Against Gambling

Kentucky is considering casinos. A broad coalition of religious groups oppose them. The surprise is that the liberal churches, starting with the Kentucky Council of Churches, have been strong leaders in the anti-gambling coalition. Many mainline churches, my Presbyterian Church included, have firm teachings against gambling going back to the days when we strictly regulated our own conduct.

I believe, though, that the mainline churches are more worried about other people's gambling than our own. Sure, gambling can ruin people in all classes, but it is far more likely to ruin the lives of poor people -- just like all the other regulated vices. Sure, everyone who is tempted to an addiction is helped if the temptation is forbidden. But ruinous gambling hasn't been a big item in the moral agenda of most mainline members for a long time. You can get a bigger mandate to limit smoking from mainline Christians than to hit the streets to fight gambling. Even the limited kind of gambling, such as the lottery and bingo, that are permitted here, involve the Other Danville and the Other Kentucky. On those rare occasions when I have seen lines of people purchasing lottery tickets or playing commercial bingo, I didn't know anyone there. In a small town, it is hard to go into any social setting and know no one.

The Louisville Courier-Journal had a good piece on this debate today (in which yours truly is quoted). I think Peter Smith, the journalist covering the religious angle of this story, is right that this debate has created some "strange pew-fellows."