Anthony Sacramone at Strange Herring cites a new Pew Study that suggests earlier findings about Americans’ spiritual rootlessness do not necessarily mean that Americans are becoming more secular. Rather, Americans often change their religions.
More than half of American adults have changed religion in their lives, a huge new survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found. And there is no discernible pattern to the change, just “a free for all,” one of the lead researchers told CNN.
“You’re seeing the free market at work,” said Gregory Smith, a research fellow at the Pew Forum. “If people are dissatisfied, they will leave. And if they see something they like better, they will join it.”
Many people switch because they move to a new community, and others because they marry someone of a different faith, he said.
Some don’t like their ministers or pastors; some like the pastor at another church better.
And many people list more than one reason for changing, Smith said.
Sacramone comments, “So it appears that people are not so much losing their religion as simply changing their religion.” He also notes that the study does not distinguish between changing religion (i.e., from Buddhism to Christianity) and changing denomination (from a Baptist to a Bible church). In the context, it appears that the study is counting denominational change as a religion change. The report goes on:
The survey supported a study released last month in that it found about 16 percent of Americans are not affiliated with any religion. The American Religious Identification Survey, from Trinity College in Connecticut, found the number to be about 15 percent.
But Smith warned against labeling those people “secular.”
“Upwards of one-third of newly unaffiliated people say they just haven’t found the right religion yet,” Smith said.
And many people who had no religion as children later join one, he said.
It seems to me that in a society in which religion is a matter of conviction, rather than culture, this can be a good thing. On the other hand, there are good reasons and bad reasons for leaving a particular religious tradition. Another factor today is that so many denominations and non-denominations have become so much alike they are indistinguishable, so it doesn’t mean much to go from one to another.
I would certainly be one of those half. I grew up in liberal, mainline Protestantism and ended up as an evangelical and confessional Lutheran. If the numbers hold, I suspect half of you readers must have also changed churches. Why did you change?