New Statistics: the religious make-up of America 4

The Washington Post has published a rather detailed breakdown of religion in the US … alas statistics, so yes it can indeed be potentially quite dull stuff, I’ll skip a lot of details and cut to the chase of what it is of interest – non-belief is rapidly increasing. (There, that’s it, so you can skip the rest now if you like)

Still here? Oh OK, first observation, let’s ask where their data is from and also how old it is.

It comes from the “2010 U.S. Religion Census: Religious Congregations & Membership Study,” an every-decade research effort sponsored by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies.

Ah .. so it is already 3 years out of date. I’d like to suggest that the greatly increased flow of information and higher degree of connectivity we now all have is still disrupting the belief landscape, so that snapshot reflects 2010 and not right now … and yet even that is still interesting. I’ll let you read the full article yourself, but I will caution that it is a tad tricky to delve in and make sense of it all; luckily some have already done that.

The UK’s Telegraph digs up a few interesting details … so quickly skipping over some (to me) dull bits,Damian Thompson writes …

My point is that the religious geography of America is changing – partly as a result of immigration (Hispanic, chiefly) but also because the Washington Post maps show how washed out and feeble Catholicism and mainline Protestantism have become. They may occupy the same territory that they did 50 years ago, but the Post’s map below tells a dismal story. This is religious participation by county:

Again, click through to the Washington Post for an interactive map. But the redder the colour, the more “participants” there are – meaning people who identify with a particular religion. I just checked the Boston area and it’s about 60 per cent, falling sharply in neighbouring counties. So 40 per cent of people in Boston have no religion at all, and it’s more than half in many counties. As for the 47 per cent of Bostonians who are Catholic “participants” – well, there isn’t much participation going on come Sunday morning. We’re talking about 17 per cent Mass attendance these days –and it was only 20 per cent before the clergy scandals broke. The story is the same in many other supposedly Catholic cities – fewer than one in five Catholics go to church regularly. Compare that to the 70 per cent in the 1950s

Well yes, some Catholic Priests always were a tad too eager to work with kids, and now that we know why, that decline is to be expected … oh but wait, it’s not just the Catholics …

You think Protestantism is holding its ground? Take another look at the map. Many counties in the Bible Belt and Midwest are uniformly Protestant – 70 or 80 per cent – if only in name. That makes them red. But this article from an evangelical Christian website reports widespread scepticism among researchers about the much-quoted figure that 40 per cent of Protestants are weekly churchgoers. That’s what they tell pollsters. Try other systems of measurement – an old but effective trick involves counting cars outside congregations – and you’re looking at 20 per cent.Much like the Catholics, in fact.

What is abundantly clear from all this is that the fastest growing belief in the US is in fact non-belief. Pew reckons atheists have grown by 25 per cent in five years – and that is an astonishing change in such a short span of time.

We might indeed make fun of the fact that we now all have in our pockets a device that grants us access almost instantly to the sum of all human knowledge, but in fact just use it gawk at videos of cats doing weird things … and yet … fun as it might be to mock ourselves with such comments, the truth is that the greatly increased flow of information is rapidly transforming our culture, our beliefs, and ourselves.

We are becoming more rational, less violent, and more skeptical … now that is indeed encouraging.

Sadly the believers that remain are also becoming more fundamental and extreme. This is perhaps because the moderate more reasonable and rational people have walked away and left the complete and utter nuts behind, and so I suspect the polarisation between belief and non-belief could potentially widen in the years to come. But don’t let that possibility get you down, because things are indeed looking up, we are learning to let go of the toys of our childhood and also all the imaginary friends that we used to play with.


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