The world’s most Christian nation. . .

. . .is soon to be China, according to scholars who project that in ten years the still-Communist country will have 160 million Protestants (the USA has 159 million) and in 15 years 247 million Christians in all, more than any other nation. [Read more...]

The religious spectrum of liberals and conservatives

E. J. Dionne is a liberal columnist who is also a  faithful Catholic.  He has written a column warning liberals about the anti-religion reflex that some of them display.  In doing so, he cites a useful study of where both liberals and conservatives fall on the religious spectrum. [Read more...]

Unorganized religion

Michael Gerson discusses the 20% of Americans who describe their religion as “none.”  It isn’t that the “Nones” (not to be confused with “nuns”) don’t believe in God, necessarily.  64% of them do.  They just don’t want to affiliate with any “organized religion.”

The statistics about “Nones” probably don’t include the number of self-described Christians who feel the same way.  I know of some who haven’t found a church they can agree with or that is up to their high standards.  So they don’t go to church at all.  After all, with their “me-and-Jesus” theology, why do they need a church?  But they do.

The good news is that 40% of those raised as “Nones” drop out of their non-religion to join an actual religious institution.  Hey, isn’t that about the same drop out rate, according to one measure, for young people raised in churches? [Read more...]

New global religion statistics

A new study, entitled The Global Religious Landscape,  from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, has found, among other interesting facts, that Christianity has become fairly evenly distributed around the world.  The Asia and Pacific regions contain most of the other world religions, as well as most of the religiously unaffiliated.

Christians are the world’s largest religious group and are nearly evenly dispersed globally, according to a new Pew study on the size, geographic distribution and median ages of the world’s major religious groups.

Of the world’s 6.9 billion people, 2.2 billion or 32 percent are Christians, Pew reported Dec. 18. While only 12 percent of Christians live in North America, the vast majority of Christians, 99 percent, live outside the Middle East-North Africa region where Christianity began.

Apart from North America, Christians are geographically dispersed, with 26 percent in Europe, 24 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean, 24 percent in sub-Saharan Africa and 13 percent in the Asia-Pacific region, the study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found, based on 2010 data.

Researchers did not study the degree to which people actively practice their faiths, but relied on the subjects’ self-identification of their religious affiliation. . . .

The majority of the world’s other religions lives in the Asia-Pacific region, including nearly all Buddhists and Hindus, and most Muslims and the religiously unaffiliated, researchers found. While 58.8 percent of the world’s population lives in the Asia-Pacific region, it is home to 99 percent of Hindus and Buddhists, 62 percent of Muslims and 76 percent of the religiously unaffiliated.

Pew reported that the world’s population includes 1.6 billion Muslims, 1 billion Hindus, nearly 500 million Buddhists, 400 million adherents of various folk and traditional religions, 58 million adherents the study confined to the category of “other,” comprised of many religions including Baha’i faith, Jainism, Sikhism, Shintoism, Taoism and Wicca.

A plurality of the world’s 14 million Jewish people, 44 percent, live in North America, while 41 percent live in the Middle East and North Africa, nearly all of them in Israel, the study found.

In the U.S., 78 percent, or 243,060,000 of the country’s 310,390,000 people are Christian, the study found. The U.S. also has 50,980,000 religiously unaffiliated, 5,690,000 Jewish people, 3,570,000 Buddhists, 2,770,000 Muslims, 1,790,000 Hindus, 630,000 adherents to folk religions and 1,900,000 affiliated with other religions. . . .

Globally, about half of all Christians are Catholic. An estimated 37 percent of Christians are Protestant, including Anglican, independent and nondenominational churches. The Orthodox Communion, including the Greek and Russian Orthodox, make up 12 percent of Christians.

Researchers categorized Christian Scientists, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses as “viewing themselves as Christian,” and computed them as comprising about 1 percent of the global Christian population.

Most of the world’s population, 5.8 billion or 84 percent, affiliates with a particular religion, leaving 1.6 billion, or 16 percent, with no religious affiliation, the study found. But many with no religious affiliation hold religious or spiritual beliefs, such as a belief in God or a universal spirit, while not identifying with a particular religion.

via Baptist Press – Christians most populous, Pew research affirms – News with a Christian Perspective.

The "nones" as hyper-Protestants?

More from that Pew study of Americans who are unaffiliated with any religion.  It turns out that the 20% of Americans who check “none” when asked their religion are not necessarily complete secularist materialists.  Only 6% of Americans are atheists. Most of the “nones” seem to be simply people who have religious beliefs that are highly privatized.

The beliefs of the unaffiliated aren’t easy to characterize, as the Pew poll shows. The nones are far less likely to attend worship services or to say religion is important in their lives. But 68 percent say they believe in God or a universal spirit, one-fifth say they pray every day and 5 percent report attending weekly services of some kind.

via One in five Americans reports no religious affiliation, study says – The Washington Post.

Many American Christians have little use for church authority and focus instead on “me and Jesus.”  Many American churches do little with collective doctrines or corporate identity, emphasizing their member’s individual religious experience.  Aren’t these “nones” just the next step, going from the individual’s right to interpret the Bible for himself to the individual’s right to believe anything he wants, leaving the Bible out of it?  Though the Pew study says that Protestantism has declined to a mere 48% of the American public, aren’t the “nones” really just hyper-Protestants?

America’s culture gap

Democrats are often citing a widening economic gap between the affluent and those barely scraping by.  The controversial social scientist Charles Murray, who is more on the conservative side, says that’s just the half of it.  There is a growing cultural gap between the affluent (who still, usually, get educated, get married, and go to church) and the working class (who increasingly raise children without marriage and are becoming more and more secular).

Note how this flies in the face of conventional wisdom, that religion is for the poor and uneducated, and the upper crust lives a hedonistic, permissive lifestyle.  It’s actually the reverse!  And this isn’t a racial thing:  Murray is looking specifically at the demographics of white people. (Lower-income blacks, for example, tend to be very religious, unlike lower-income whites.)

Murray, drawing from his new book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 explains his findings in the Wall Street Journal from earlier in the year.  He describes  two fictional-but-based-in-fact cities, the upper-income suburb of Belmont and the lower-income community of Fishtown (both predominately white):

In Belmont and Fishtown, here’s what happened to America’s common culture between 1960 and 2010.

Marriage: In 1960, extremely high proportions of whites in both Belmont and Fishtown were married—94% in Belmont and 84% in Fishtown. In the 1970s, those percentages declined about equally in both places. Then came the great divergence. In Belmont, marriage stabilized during the mid-1980s, standing at 83% in 2010. In Fishtown, however, marriage continued to slide; as of 2010, a minority (just 48%) were married. The gap in marriage between Belmont and Fishtown grew to 35 percentage points, from just 10.

Single parenthood: Another aspect of marriage—the percentage of children born to unmarried women—showed just as great a divergence. Though politicians and media eminences are too frightened to say so, nonmarital births are problematic. On just about any measure of development you can think of, children who are born to unmarried women fare worse than the children of divorce and far worse than children raised in intact families. This unwelcome reality persists even after controlling for the income and education of the parents.

In 1960, just 2% of all white births were nonmarital. When we first started recording the education level of mothers in 1970, 6% of births to white women with no more than a high-school education—women, that is, with a Fishtown education—were out of wedlock. By 2008, 44% were nonmarital. Among the college-educated women of Belmont, less than 6% of all births were out of wedlock as of 2008, up from 1% in 1970.

Industriousness: The norms for work and women were revolutionized after 1960, but the norm for men putatively has remained the same: Healthy men are supposed to work. In practice, though, that norm has eroded everywhere. In Fishtown, the change has been drastic. (To avoid conflating this phenomenon with the latest recession, I use data collected in March 2008 as the end point for the trends.)

The primary indicator of the erosion of industriousness in the working class is the increase of prime-age males with no more than a high school education who say they are not available for work—they are “out of the labor force.” That percentage went from a low of 3% in 1968 to 12% in 2008. Twelve percent may not sound like much until you think about the men we’re talking about: in the prime of their working lives, their 30s and 40s, when, according to hallowed American tradition, every American man is working or looking for work. Almost one out of eight now aren’t. Meanwhile, not much has changed among males with college educations. Only 3% were out of the labor force in 2008.There’s also been a notable change in the rates of less-than-full-time work. Of the men in Fishtown who had jobs, 10% worked fewer than 40 hours a week in 1960, a figure that grew to 20% by 2008. In Belmont, the number rose from 9% in 1960 to 12% in 2008.

Crime: The surge in crime that began in the mid-1960s and continued through the 1980s left Belmont almost untouched and ravaged Fishtown. From 1960 to 1995, the violent crime rate in Fishtown more than sextupled while remaining nearly flat in Belmont. The reductions in crime since the mid-1990s that have benefited the nation as a whole have been smaller in Fishtown, leaving it today with a violent crime rate that is still 4.7 times the 1960 rate.

Religiosity: Whatever your personal religious views, you need to realize that about half of American philanthropy, volunteering and associational memberships is directly church-related, and that religious Americans also account for much more nonreligious social capital than their secular neighbors. In that context, it is worrisome for the culture that the U.S. as a whole has become markedly more secular since 1960, and especially worrisome that Fishtown has become much more secular than Belmont. It runs against the prevailing narrative of secular elites versus a working class still clinging to religion, but the evidence from the General Social Survey, the most widely used database on American attitudes and values, does not leave much room for argument.

For example, suppose we define “de facto secular” as someone who either professes no religion at all or who attends a worship service no more than once a year. For the early GSS surveys conducted from 1972 to 1976, 29% of Belmont and 38% of Fishtown fell into that category. Over the next three decades, secularization did indeed grow in Belmont, from 29% in the 1970s to 40% in the GSS surveys taken from 2006 to 2010. But it grew even more in Fishtown, from 38% to 59%.

It can be said without hyperbole that these divergences put Belmont and Fishtown into different cultures.

via Charles Murray on the New American Divide – WSJ.com.

What are the implications of  this cultural divide?  I would think it means, for one thing, that churches should concentrate their evangelistic efforts in working class areas rather than the current target of affluent suburbs.  (Working class folks used to be the backbone of the church.  What would be necessary to make that happen again?)

HT:  Roberta Bayer


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