We hear a lot these days about the growth of the “Nones,” people who refuse to declare an affiliation with any particular religious tradition. Never, though, confuse that caution about affiliation with a rejection of a religious or spiritual world-view.
That point is underlined by a recent study by Jeff Levin on “Prevalence and Religious Predictors of Healing Prayer Use in the USA,” in the Journal of Religion and Health, a piece that has been gaining a lot of media attention. (Full disclosure: Jeff is a colleague of mine at Baylor’s Institute for the Studies of Religion).
The study used a large sample, and followed stringent criteria for determining that the survey techniques were valid, so we should take the findings very seriously.
About 87 percent have prayed for healing for others, the study found. Just over half said they did so often, according to a 2010 survey of more than 1,700 adults across the United States.
Almost 80 percent of Americans reported praying for healing for themselves at some point in their lives. Nearly one-third said they did so often, the survey showed.
About 54 percent have asked for prayers for their health, 26 percent have given a “laying on of hands” for healing, and 53 percent have been part of a prayer group, prayer circle or prayer chain.
“The most surprising finding is that more than a quarter of all Americans have practiced laying on of hands — and nearly one in five has done so on multiple occasions.”
Levin’s conclusion: “Outside of belief in God, there may be no more ubiquitous religious expression in the U.S. than use of healing prayer.”
There is so much here that demands attention, but this one has to grab us: “26 percent have given a laying on of hands for healing.”
Ah, secularizing America!
So why are there more self-declared “Nones” than a generation ago? It’s a long story, but one big point is that many people are reluctant to declare an institutional connection because it seems to align them with the culture wars of the past two decades. It doesn’t mean that they are less religious, nor is their actual religious participation necessarily less. Plenty of them still attend church and pray regularly. But they don’t want to come out as “Christian” if that seems to link them with the Christian Right.
Another big factor: the clergy abuse cases have made a lot of Catholics reluctant to espouse that label as proudly and publicly as they might once have done. And Catholics, you recall, make up a quarter of the US population.
More Nones, sure. But an actual decline in religiosity? No.