Religiosity of 116th Congress both does and does not reflect changes in American religion

Comparing the religious makeup of the newest Congress to previous Congresses shows several interesting patterns:

http://www.pewforum.org/2019/01/03/faith-on-the-hill-116/

A few patterns to note:

  1. The number of Protestants has dropped dramatically – roughly a loss of 100 from sixty years ago – even as the percent of Protestants in Congress (54%) continues to be higher than the percent of Protestants in the U.S. population (48%).
  2. The number of Catholics in Congress increased from the 1960s into the late 1970s and early 1980s and then has stayed relatively stable. There are more Catholics in Congress (30%) than in the U.S. population as a whole (21%).
  3. The number of religious others is still low and hasn’t changed much over time.
  4. As noted in the summary of the findings:

But by far the largest difference between the U.S. public and Congress is in the share who are unaffiliated with a religious group. In the general public, 23% say they are atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular.” In Congress, just one person – Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., who was recently elected to the Senate after three terms in the House – says she is religiously unaffiliated, making the share of “nones” in Congress 0.2%.

When asked about their religious affiliation, a growing number of members of Congress decline to specify (categorized as “don’t know/refused”). This group – all Democrats – numbers 18, or 3% of Congress, up from 10 members (2%) in the 115th Congress. Their reasons for this decision may vary. But one member in this category, Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., announced in 2017 that he identifies as a humanist and says he is not sure God exists. Huffman remains categorized as “don’t know/refused” because he declined to state his religious identity in the CQ Roll Call questionnaire used to collect data for this report.3

In summary, Congress is overwhelmingly religious and Christian. While America as a whole is still solidly majority religious and Christian, Congress is even more so. This seems to suggest Americans still like to elect people who have a faith affiliation even if there is less information on the actual beliefs and practices of the Representatives and Senators (this data “does not attempt to measure their religious beliefs or practices. “).

Bigger gap in viewing race between white and black Christians

A new study looks at how white and black Christians in America view race – and the two sides are still far apart:

“The new findings … lay bare the dramatic and growing gap in racial attitudes and experiences in America,” writes David Briggs in releasing the second wave of results from the Portraits of American Life Study (led by Michael Emerson of Rice University and David Sikkink of Notre Dame) via the Association of Religion Data Archives. “We do not live in a post-racial nation, the [new 2012 results] suggests, but in a land of two Americas divided by race, and less willing than ever to find a common ground of understanding.”…

1) More evangelicals and Catholics have come to believe that “one of the most effective ways to improve race relations is to stop talking about race.” In 2012, 64 percent of evangelicals and 59 percent of Catholics agreed with this statement, up from 48 percent and 44 percent respectively in 2006…

2) More evangelicals now agree that “it is okay for the races to be separate, as long as they have equal opportunity.” In 2012, 30 percent of all evangelicals agreed, up from 19 percent who said the same in 2006…

In 2006, more than 4 in 10 white non-evangelical Protestants agreed that the government should do more, versus only 3 in 10 white evangelicals and white Catholics. But in 2012, researchers found that “the religion effect disappeared” thanks to “substantial declining support” among white mainline Protestants (dropping from 42 percent to 21 percent) and white “other” Protestants (42 percent to 20 percent). Thus, “regardless of religious affiliation, whites were statistically identical to each other” by 2012.

5) More Americans now say they have been “treated unfairly” because of their race. And moreover, the increase from 2006 to 2012 was statistically significant for all groups: blacks (36% to 46%); Hispanics (17% to 36%); Asians (16% to 31%); whites (8% to 14%); as well as all Americans (13% to 21%).

Looks like more evidence for continuing to assign Divided By Faith to my Introduction to Sociology classes…

Evangelicals and Catholics first joined forces in the suburbs

In the middle of an article about how Rick Santorum has appealed to evangelicals, one of the factors mentioned is geographic: evangelicals and Catholics both moved to the suburbs after World War Two.

The plate tectonics of social mobility also figure into the Santorum surprise, note scholars like the political scientist John C. Green of the University of Akron. In the post-World War II years, many Catholics moved out of insular urban neighborhoods while many evangelicals left their rural and small-town homes for the suburbs and exurbs. In subdivisions, in office parks, in colleges, the young people of the two religions began to encounter one another as benign acquaintances rather than alien enemies.

It is no coincidence, then, that a Santorum voter like Carissa Wilson has grown up in the suburban sprawl between two cities with strong Catholic heritages, Dayton and Cincinnati. Like the Michigan autoworkers in 1980 who made a break with Democratic tradition to vote for Ronald Reagan, Miss Wilson just may be the embodiment of a new wave.

In other words, evangelicals and Catholics met and learned to like each other in the suburbs. United by suburban values and perhaps a dislike for both cities and rural areas, these two groups settled into the land of single-family homes and found that they could find common ground on some social and theological issues.

This brings several questions to mind:

1. Are Catholics and evangelicals more interested in preserving suburban values than finding common theological ground? Perhaps this is crassly put but the way the argument is written in the article, it suggests that the suburbs came first before the social and theological common ground.

2. How do race and class play into the process? In other words, while both groups came from different places to the suburbs, they were probably mostly white and the educational status of both groups was rising. Does this mean that the older city/rural divide was transcended by common status interests based on race and class?

Statistic: “More Than 1,000 Mexicans Leave Catholic Church Daily”

Statistics are often put into terms that the average citizen might understand. Or, more cynically, into terms that grabs attention. Here is an example from a sociologist/historian looking at data about Catholicism in Mexico:

More than 1,000 Mexicans left the Catholic Church every day over the last decade, adding up to some 4 million fallen-away Catholics between 2000 and 2010, sociologist and historian Roberto Blancarte told Efe.

Put this way (and a headline built around this daily figure), this statistic seems noteworthy as it looks like a lot of people are making this decision every day. But later in the article, we get a broader perspective:

In 1950, 98.21 percent of Mexicans said they were Catholic, in 1960 the percentage dropped to 96.47 percent, in 1970 to 96.17 percent, in 1980 to 92.62 percent, in 1990 the percentage dropped to 89.69 percent, in 2000 the country was only 88 percent Catholic, and now that percentage is lower still at 83.9 percent.

This signifies that the last decade has seen a drop of more than 4 percentage points, equivalent to almost 4 million people or an average of 1,300 people a day leaving the Catholic Church.

From this decade-by-decade perspective, there is a clear decline from 98.21 percent to 83.9 percent in 2010, a drop of just over 14 percent over 60 years. But this longer-term perspective also helps show that the daily average isn’t really that helpful: are there really 1,300 people each day that make a conscious decision to leave the church? Is this how it works among individual citizens? In this case, it might be better to look at the percentage change each decade and see that the 4.1 percent drop in the 2000s is the largest since 1950.

Additionally, can the average person easily envision what exactly 1,300 people means? This is a large room of people, bigger than even a decent size college classroom but not quite enough to fill a decent sized theater. The Metro in Chicago holds about 1,150 so this is a close approximation.

At least we didn’t get down to another type of common statistic: this data from Mexico breaks down to about 1 Catholic leaving the church every 1.11 minutes.

Conference on faith among Catholic emerging adults

A number of recent studies have focused on the religion of emerging adults, those who are roughly 18-29 years old and are making the transition from being teenagers to adults. Some of these findings and thoughts about Catholic emerging adults were shared at a recent conference:

Sociologist James Davidson, professor emeritus at Purdue University, said young Catholics “distinguish between the Catholic faith, which they identify with and respect, and the Catholic Church, which they are less attached to.”

Quoting a wide body of research, including his own, Davidson said eight of 10 young Catholics believe there are many ways to interpret Catholicism and they grant more authority to their individual experience than they do to the magisterium.

“They stress the importance of thinking for themselves more than obeying church leaders,” he said. “Instead of simply embracing church traditions and teachings, they tinker with them. They distinguish between abstract beliefs and principles that they think are at the core of the Catholic faith, and more concrete norms and codes of conduct that they consider optional or peripheral.”

In essence, Davidson said, “they believe that doctrines such as the Trinity, the Incarnation, Mary as the mother of God, Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist and the need to be concerned about the poor are more important than teachings such as the need to limit the priesthood to men, the need for priestly celibacy, the church’s opposition to artificial birth control and its opposition to the death penalty.”

Catholic young adults are not immune to the complex encounter between the church and popular culture, said participants in a panel discussion on “Sex and the City of God.”…

There is some more interesting stuff here. These discussions sound very similar to the findings of Soul Searching and Souls in Transition: emerging adults are less interested in organized religion but are still spiritual even as this spirituality looks more like “moral therapeutic deism” and they question traditional (or conservative) stances of the church toward social issues.

New survey of Chicago Catholics

On Wednesday, a new comprehensive report on Chicago Catholics will be released. The report is based on data from “524 Catholics in Cook and Lake counties” and the project was headed up by sociologist Andrew Greeley. Here are a few of the findings:

In addition, 78 percent of the respondents said Catholicism is either “extremely important” or “very important” in their lives.

Greeley wrote that the survey suggests “two separate Catholic identities — an imaginative, story-telling identity and a rules identity,” commonly referred to as “Cafeteria Catholics.” Those Catholics revere the sacraments and run in primarily Catholic circles, but they make their own choices on moral, religious and political issues.

“The only safe prediction seems to be that … there will be, whether the leadership likes it or not, varied forms of affiliation with a Church most of them still love,” Greeley wrote. “Not Cafeteria Catholics so much as Smorgasbord Catholics, a rich and diverse collection of ways to affirm one’s Catholicism.”

These findings about Catholics don’t seem too different than findings from other studies of American religion that show people of faith don’t follow all of the doctrines or practices of their faith traditions. Overall, people have some basic Christian beliefs or notions about spirituality but then a wide range of opinions on moral and practical issues.

A few questions about the methodology: 524 as a total N seems a little small plus I wonder why they went for Catholics in Cook and Lake Counties and not some of the other collar counties. This reminds me that on maps that show the religious plurality in each American county, DuPage County is coded Catholic. I’d also be curious to know whether Latino Catholics, of which there are a large number in the Chicago region, have different views than other Catholics.

Americans may be generally religious but not necessarily knowledgable

Americans are considered to be a generally religious people, particularly compared to other Western nations. However, new findings from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life suggest that being religious doesn’t necessarily lead to being knowledgeable about faith traditions:

Forty-five percent of Roman Catholics who participated in the study didn’t know that, according to church teaching, the bread and wine used in Holy Communion is not just a symbol, but becomes the body and blood of Christ.

Respondents to the survey were asked 32 questions with a range of difficulty, including whether they could name the Islamic holy book and the first book of the Bible, or say what century the Mormon religion was founded. On average, participants in the survey answered correctly overall for half of the survey questions.

Atheists and agnostics scored highest, with an average of 21 correct answers, while Jews and Mormons followed with about 20 accurate responses. Protestants overall averaged 16 correct answers, while Catholics followed with a score of about 15.

So there are two interesting findings: people who are Protestants or Catholics can only answer about half of the questions correctly and they are outperformed by atheists, agnostics, Jews, and Mormons.

It is interesting to think why this may be the case. Do Protestants and Catholics emphasize doctrine less? Can people be more of “cultural” Protestants and Catholics as opposed to dedicated followers? Does the minority/smaller group status of the other groups, atheists, agnostics, Jews, and Mormons, mean that people who are in these faiths have to be more serious, intentional, or knowledgeable?