Americans are religious (as you thought), but diverse in beliefs

Americans are religious, alright, but not dogmatic.

That’s a main finding of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life’s second report, released today, on the U.S. Religious Landscape. The study is based on interviews with 35,000 adults.

It’s going to take me a while to sort through the findings, so here are some highlights, according to Pew (in their words):

  • Although many Americans are highly religious, they are not dogmatic in their faith. Seventy percent of Americans with a religious affiliation say that many religions – not just their own – can lead to eternal life. Most also think there is more than one correct way to interpret the teachings of their own faith.
  • This does not mean, however, that Americans take religious matters lightly. Most, in fact, say they rank the importance of religion very highly in their lives, and a plurality wants to preserve the traditional beliefs and practices of their faith, while only a small minority wants to accommodate their religion to modern culture.
  • There is tremendous diversity of religious beliefs and practices in the U.S. Important religious differences exist between the major religious traditions, but there are also important differences within religious traditions.
  • While more than nine-in-ten Americans (92%) believe in the existence of God or a universal spirit, there are considerable differences in the nature of this belief. Six-in-ten adults believe that God is a person with whom people can have a relationship; but one-in-four – including about half of Jews and Hindus – see God as an impersonal force. Similarly, seven-in-ten Americans say that they are absolutely certain of God’s existence, while roughly one-in-five (22%) are less certain in their belief.
  • Three-quarters of Americans report praying at least once a week, with large majorities among most religious traditions saying they pray on at least a weekly basis. Even among the unaffiliated, roughly one-in-three pray on a weekly basis. At the same time, however, there are those among all faith groups who pray much less frequently; overall, one quarter of the public says they pray a few times a month or less often.
  • Almost two-fifths of Americans report meditating at least once a week. This practice is particularly common among Buddhists, but nearly half of evangelical Protestants and Muslims say they meditate at least weekly. About one-quarter of the unaffiliated report weekly meditation. These patterns may incorporate elements of both Christian and non-Christian traditions.
  • Politics and religion in the United States are intertwined, and religion is highly relevant to understanding politics in the U.S. Yet while the diversity of religious affiliation, belief and practice translates into important differences on many social and political issues, differences on other issues are less pronounced.
  • Religion is closely linked to political ideology. The survey shows that Mormons are among the most politically conservative groups in the population. Jews, Buddhists and Hindus, by contrast, are among the most likely to describe their ideology as liberal.
  • People who regularly attend worship services and say religion is important in their lives are much more likely to identify as conservative, and this pattern extends to many religious traditions. For example, within the evangelical, mainline Protestant, historically black Protestant, Catholic, Mormon and Orthodox Christian traditions, those who attend church weekly are significantly more likely than those who attend less often to describe themselves as political conservatives. And among Jews, those who say religion is very important to them or pray every day are more likely than others to be politically conservative.
  • The connection between religious engagement and political attitudes appears to be especially strong when it comes to hot button social issues such as abortion or homosexuality. For instance, about six-in-ten Americans who attend religious services at least once a week say abortion should be illegal in most or all cases, while only three-in-ten who attend less often share this view. This pattern holds across several religious traditions.
  • On other topics covered in the survey, such as views on the role and size of government and foreign policy attitudes, the role of religion is less clear and there appears to be greater consensus across and within religious traditions. For instance, a majority of nearly every religious group supports stricter environmental regulations and believes the government should do more to help Americans in need. Similarly, most Americans, including majorities of most faiths, say it is more important to focus on problems here at home than to be active in world affairs.

A final pre-arrival poll on the pope

Two weeks before the pope touches down in America, 32% of Americans say they do not know enough about him to offer an opinion.

And those are the folks who will admit it.

A new poll from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life shows that of those who do have an opinion, 52% of Americans and 74% of Roman Catholics view the pope — here’s that nebulous word that pollsters love — favorably.

The numbers are pretty much the same as they were last summer.

What will the numbers be after the papal visit?

How has Benedict done at interfaith relations? Hmmm. 39% say he has done an excellent or good job. 40% say he has done a fair or poor job.

297-1.gifAmong Catholics, 64% say he has done an excellent or good job at promoting interfaith relations.

This is kind of interesting: Last summer, 56% of Americans saw the pope as conservative and 22% as moderate or liberal. Now, only 45% see him as conservative and 28% as moderate or liberal.

A lot of orthodox Catholics don’t like the pope (or any Catholic figures) being painted as conservative or liberal, saying such political tags don’t apply to the faith. But blame the pollsters, not me…

NOTE: The graphic is from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Catholic Church increasingly Latino (as we know)

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has a nice analysis of the “state of the Catholic Church” in the U.S. as the papal visit nears, drawn from its recent study of religion in America and other sources.

Here are a few nuggets about the immigration influence:

The vast majority (82%) of Catholic immigrants to the U.S. were born in Latin America, and most Catholic immigrants from Latin America (52% of all Catholic immigrants to the U.S.) come from just one country — Mexico. Catholics are also well represented among immigrants coming to the U.S. from Western Europe, Eastern Europe and East Asia; more than one-in-four of all immigrants from these regions are Catholic.

Recent demographic analyses conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center indicate that the Latino share of the U.S. population will grow significantly in the coming decades. Indeed, there are likely to be nearly 130 million Latinos in the U.S. by the year 2050 — more than three times the size of the Latino population in 2005 (42 million). These estimates project that Latinos will account for 29% of the U.S. population by 2050, up from 14% in 2005.

As the Latino share of the U.S. population grows, the proportion of American Catholics who are Latino is likely to grow as well. The Landscape Survey finds that Latinos now account for nearly a third (29%) of all Catholic adults in the U.S. Perhaps more significantly, Latinos account for nearly half of Catholics under age 40. In contrast, older Catholics are predominantly white. For example, only 12% of Catholics age 70 and older are Hispanic.

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Graphic source: Pew Forum

Why the Protestant decline?

So the big Pew Forum study showed that only 51 percent of Americans identity themselves as Protestants these days.

The always-funny Onion asked some “ordinary people:”

Since the 1980s, the percentage of Americans who identify themselves as Protestant has dropped from two-thirds to just 51 percent. What do you think?

onion_front.jpgOne answer:

Katla Mirk,
Attorney at Law
“Then I’m really proud of my law firm’s commitment to diversity.”

And the second:

Bryan Goudiva,
Systems Analyst
“And that 1 percent edge is all I need to be self-righteous and judgmental.”

Oh, heck, here’s the third and last:

Sam Fischer,
Heating and Cooling Installer
“That’s because everyone started doing yoga and eating weird beans and stuff.”

Catholic Church losing people, gaining people and holding steady

Large numbers of Roman Catholics are leaving the church — but are being replaced by immigrant Catholics, according to a major study of American religion released today by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

major_religious_traditions.gifThe Pew Forum’s U.S. Religious Landscape Survey is based on interviews with more than 35,000 people 18 and over. (That’s Pew’s graphic from their website.)

Pew found that:

While nearly one-in-three Americans (31%) were raised in the Catholic faith, today fewer than one-in-four (24%) describe themselves as Catholic. These losses would have been even more pronounced were it not for the offsetting impact of immigration.

Thanks to the immigrant influx, Catholics represent 23.9% of the population — about where they’ve stood for some time.

It’s going to take me a while to sort through all the numbers, but here are some initial findings of interest:

  • Respondents were 78.4% Christian.
  • Evangelicals make up 26.3% overall and mainline Protestants 18.1%.
  • Members of historically black churches account for 6.9% of respondents.
  • Only 4.7% of the population adhere to non-Christian faiths.
  • But 16.1% say they are unaffiliated.

In New York state, 39% of respondents were Catholic, 16% mainline, 11% evangelical, and 5% from historically black churches.

Jews make up 6% of New Yorkers, compared to 2% of the national population.

And New York’s unaffiliated group? 17%.