The Surprising Consequences of the Catholic Sex Abuse Scandal

It’s no surprise to think that the Catholic sex abuse scandal has resulted in people leaving the church, but where did they go? When one is disappointed in a religious institutions, does one give up religion altogether or find a substitute? Daniel Hungerman, an economist at Notre Dame, has looked at this issue and he came out with a paper entitled: “Substitution and Stigma: Evidence on Religious Competition from the Catholic Sex-Abuse Scandal.” Here is its abstract:

This paper considers substituting one charitable activity for another in the context of religious practice. I examine the impact of the Catholic Church sex-abuse scandal on both Catholic and non-Catholic religiosity. I find that the scandal led to a 2-million-member fall in the Catholic population that was compensated by an increase in non-Catholic participation and by an increase in non-affiliation. Back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest the scandal generated over 3 billion dollars in donations to non-Catholic faiths. Those substituting out of Catholicism frequently chose highly dissimilar alternatives; for example, Baptist churches gained significantly from the scandal while the Episcopal Church did not. These results challenge several theories of religious participation and suggest that regulatory policies or other shocks specific to one religious group could have important spillover effects on other religious groups.

What I find interesting is that people would leave the Catholic faith for a Baptist church but not the Episcopal Church. The liturgical form of worship is much more similar at the Episcopal Church, but perhaps the moral beliefs and congregational life are more similar at Baptist churches.

Thanks to David Weakliem for the link.

The Last American Sin

Watching the Penn State fiasco shake out last week awoke to my consciousness something that stirs every time we witness—or rather, hear about in the media—a sexual abuse scandal that involves children. Facebook and the blogosphere lit up with indignation from all corners. Penn State students who rallied in support of Coach Paterno were lumped in with him in Americans’ collective disgust. Simply put, there are to be no viable defenses of Penn State, its administration, or its football staff. Why? Because Jerry Sandusky committed the last American sin. I’m calling it that because I can think of no other act that can resonate so negatively with virtually all Americans. Murder is too localized. We’re no longer patriotic enough to get worked up over treason. So far as I can tell, sexual acts with children are the only egregious acts—sins, as it were—from which the vast majority of Americans still noticeably recoil, regardless of religion, race, gender, age, or politics. It’s a
strangely uniting moment when something like it happens.

What exactly is it about child molestation that uniquely unites Americans in outrage?

This is where it gets murky. [Read more...]

Interview on 100 Huntley Street

100 Huntley Street is one of Canada’s top religious programs, and here’s an interview that I did with them over the summer for my book Upside: Surprising Good News about the State of the World.

I did several dozen interviews on radio and a few on tv, and this one went really well because the host, Jim Cantelon, is not only a good interviewer, but he had read and thought about the book, and so he had interesting, challenging questions. From my own experience, and talking to other authors, it turns out that most (maybe 2 in 3, 3 in 4?) interviewers don’t read a book before interviewing the author about it. The rely on the marketing materials that publisher sends them, which include possible questions, or they skim through the table of contents.

Note that I’m wearing white gym socks… I forgot to pack dress socks. [Read more...]

Asian American Faith and the Problem With “No Religion”

In a previous post I shared the current prevalence of Christianity among Asian Americans. Based on three different surveys, each with different drawbacks, less than half of all adult Asian Americans are not Christian. To some of my Korean Christian second-generation friends, this may or may not be surprising. In fact they would raise concern that I am perhaps overstating the figures because the “true” Christian is one who is active in his or her faith. From their perspective there is little difference between someone who affiliates as a Christian but never attends a worship service, or someone who does not mention any religious affiliation at all.

Sociologists of religion distinguish between those who say that they have no religion and those who are not religiously active; the former is described as (lack of) affiliation, and the latter is (lack of) behavior. Let’s start with affiliation and in an upcoming blog we’ll take a look at behavior. So what’s the percentage of Asian Americans who say they have “no religion?”

[Read more...]

Does God Use Natural Disasters to Guide American Politics?

In recent weeks, I have written about my discomfort with people aligning religion with a particular party and the costs that it might impose. Today I examine what I view as an unhelpful instance of a bringing religion into a political debate.  I use this not to critique the candidate who said it, but rather to examine its underlying logic.

In August, Republican candidate Michele Bachmann told an audience in Florida that God had sent deadly tornadoes and earthquakes in recent weeks to indicate his displeasure with the high levels of federal spending. She said:

“I don’t know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We’ve had an earthquake; we’ve had a hurricane. He said, ‘Are you going to start listening to me here?’ Listen to the American people, because the American people are roaring right now. They know government is on a morbid obesity diet, and we’ve got to rein in the spending.”

(Bachmann later claimed that she was joking, but having listened to her statement a couple of times, I’m not so sure.)

Whereas most religion-politics linkages take the form of “we’re on God’s side”, this takes it one step further and says “God is on our side.”

I’m quite comfortable with the idea of God communicating directly with people, but as I understand scripture [Read more...]