The real estate market for religious buildings in America

American religious buildings continue to change hands as different denominations and groups lose or gain members:

The handover in houses of worship across the country is not a straightforward case of an increase in non-Christian immigrants in the United States. In fact, many church sales can be attributed to shifts among Christian denominations. Roman Catholic weekly service attendance has slid from 75 percent in 1955 to 45 percent in the mid-2000s, while Southern Baptist and Evangelical churches have seen big drops in attendance, partially due to a split within the Protestant church between mainline Protestantism and Evangelicals. Meanwhile, Pentecostal churches have seen spikes in attendance…

Though sales of churches has picked up during the recent recession, it’s not a new phenomenon. Look to synagogues, says Ellen Levitt, author of The Lost Synagogues, a series of books and tours exploring the changing of hands of the Jewish place of worship to churches, community centers, and schools…

It’s not just because of immigration patterns—religions are also changing, creating ripples in the church sales market. Christian Science groups, for example, have reported declining attendance. Korean-based Christian congregations have reported spikes in worshipers, while Mormonism is the fastest growing religion in America.

But finding a new place to worship presents a dual problem: getting a brand new building for many groups is out of reach, while the smaller churches that are being sold are just too small for growing congregations. Most state rules require that a building be established as a church for fire code reasons, which means buying a house and turning it into a church is off. And parking, particularly in space crunched California, is precious.

The real estate market is not one many people might associate with religion but religious groups own a lot of property in the United States. It would be interesting to see some figures how much religious real estate changes hands on a yearly basis. And how many of the non-religious or people outside of the particular group that currently owns and uses the building notices much different?

As the article notes, as some groups decline, particularly older religious groups, newer groups are looking for space. Even as it might be complicated to adapt existing buildings, it might be even harder to construct new buildings, particularly if they are large, because of needing money or building in neighborhoods that don’t want a new religious building. I would guess proponents of reusing buildings and retrofitting – giving old buildings new uses, though this could lead to religious buildings being turned into things like residences – would also like this.

Despite “info gap,” good number of Canadians still believe in life after death

A sociologist and a researcher note that although people have little information about life after death, a good number of Canadians still believe in it:

Our surveys confirmed the hunch. Close to 40 per cent of Canadians say they “definitely” or “possibly” will see people again who have died. Some 30 per cent say they don’t know, and only about 30 per cent have actually closed the door on the possibility, including just one in two of those who have “no religion.”

But what we have been taken aback by is the remarkable extent to which people believe that individuals who have died are interacting with us.

More than five in 10 Canadians think the deceased see us, know what we are up to, and share in our lows and highs. About four in 10 claim that they themselves “have been in touch with someone who has died” – up, by the way, from 25 per cent around 1980. Differences by age and religion are negligible. Similar levels and patterns are also found in both the U.S. and Britain – which have very different religious histories and trajectories – leaving us scratching our heads as to where these beliefs come from…

The findings underline a paradox in the Information Age: We know more than enough about just about everything in life. But we continue to know very little about what happens after death. Credible expertise is scarce. Academics are reluctant to touch the topic, and religious leaders tend to have little to say. The extensive market is left largely to channelers and charlatans, with the predictable result that claims are trivialized and claimants stigmatized.

Three thoughts:

1. The argument here is that there is not “credible expertise” about life after death. The implication is that people today tend to need such hard data to believe in things. Where is the evidence? Personal stories might be more influential than people think.

2. There are also hints here that while people in Canada and the United States are less inclined to identify with traditional markers of religion, some still hold to religious beliefs. Religious ideas may just have longer lives in individuals beyond formal institutions.

3. I’m intrigued by the suggestion that “religious leaders tend to have little to say” about life after death. Really? All religious leaders?

Just curious: do “channelers and charlatans” equal Hollywood movies like Heaven is for Real?

Is more Internet use correlated to a decline in religious affiliation?

A new study suggests using the Internet more is correlated with lower levels of religious affiliation:

Downey analyzed data from the General Social Survey, a well-respected annual research survey carried out by the University of Chicago, to make his findings.

Downey says the single biggest cause of religious affiliation is upbringing: those you are raised in religious households are much more likely to remain in their family’s religion as adults…

By far the largest factor, says Downey, is Internet use.

In the 1980s, Internet use was virtually non-existent, but in 2010, 53 per cent of people spent two hours online a week and 25 per cent spent more than seven hours…

Downey says that his research has controlled for ‘most of the obvious candidates, including income, education, socioeconomic status, and rural/urban environments’ to discount a third factor, one that is responsible both for the rise of Internet use and the drop in religiosity.

Since the full story is behind a subscriber wall, two speculations about the methodology of this study:

1. This sounds like a regression and/or ANOVA analysis based on R-squared changes. In other words, when one explanatory factor is in the model, how much more of the variation in the dependent variable (religiosity) is explained? You can then add or subtract different factors singly or in combination to see how that percent of variation explained changes.

2. Looking at religious affiliation is just one way to measure religiosity. Affiliation is based on self-identification (do you consider yourself a Catholic, mainline Protestant, conservative Protestant, etc.) or what religious congregation you regularly attend or interact with. But, levels of religious affiliation have been falling in recent years even as not all measures of religiosity are falling. Research about the rise of the “religious nones” shows a number of these people still are spiritual or perform religious practices.

If there is a strong causal relationship between increased Internet use and less religiosity, why might this be the case? A few ideas:

1. The Internet opens people up to a whole realm of information beyond themselves. Traditionally, people would look to those around them, whether individuals or institutions, within relatively close proximity. The Internet breaks a lot of these social boundaries and allows people to search for information way beyond themselves.

2. The Internet offers social interactions in a way that religion used to. Instead of going to a religious congregation to meet people, the Internet offers the possibilities of finding like-minded people in all sorts of areas from hobbies and interests, people in the same career field, dating websites, and people you want to sell goods to. In other words, some of the social aspects of religion can now be replicated online.

3. The Internet in its medium and content tends to be individualistic. Anyone with an Internet connection can do all sorts of things without relying on others (outside of having a service provider). This simply feeds into individualistic attitudes that already existed in the United States.

It sounds like there is a lot more here for researchers to explore and unpack.

“Half of American fans say ‘supernatural’ forces are in play during sports events”

Around half of American sports fans, particularly football fans, think that the supernatural influences are at play on the field/court/ice/pitch/playing surface.

“Just ahead of the 2014 Super Bowl, 50 percent of sports fans see some aspect of the supernatural at play in sports, meaning they either pray to God to help their team, have thought their team was cursed at some point in time, or believe that God plays a role in determining the outcome of sporting events,” reports a new survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, a nonpartisan, non-profit group based in the nation’s capital.

A fervent 26 percent of the respondents say they have prayed that “for God to help their team”, while an equal number have entertained the notion that their team was “cursed.”…

“Football fans are also more likely than other fans to say they pray for their team (33 percent ), perform pre-game or game-time rituals (25 percent), or to believe that their team has been cursed (31 percent).

White evangelical Protestants (38 percent), white mainline Protestant (33 percent) and minority Protestant (29 percent) sports fans are considerably more likely than Catholic (21 percent) or religiously unaffiliated (15 percent) fans to say they have prayed for their team, the survey found.

A few quick thoughts:

1. America is often regarded as an unusually religious industrialized nation so it is not surprising that this would carry over to sports.

2. This gives credence to the argument that sports might sometimes act as functional religion.

3. Rather than attribute outcomes on the field to the actions of individual players or physics, some fans invoke the supernatural. How else to explain unusual plays or certain outcomes? Does invoking religion is related to the record of a particular team (bad teams are cursed, good teams are provided miracles – mediocre/average teams are supernaturally stagnant)?

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…

“The Last Taboo”: Atheists still face uphill battle in American public life

Here is an overview of the hurdles atheists face in American society:

For starters, consider that there is not a single self-described atheist in Congress today. Not one. It wasn’t until 2007 that Rep. Pete Stark, a Democrat from Northern California, became the first member of Congress and the highest-ranking public official ever to admit to being an atheist. (And even he framed it in terms of religious affiliation, calling himself “a Unitarian who does not believe in a supreme being.”) Stark was elected twice after this, but when the 20-term congressman lost his seat last year, it was to a 31-year-old primary challenger who attacked him as irreligious, citing, among other things, Stark’s vote against our national motto: “In God We Trust.”

Indeed, the same year that Stark came out, the Secular Coalition of America was able to identify only five atheist public officials in the entire United States. After Stark and a Nebraska state senator, the third-highest ranking atheist was a school-board president from Berkeley, Calif.—this despite the fact that, according to a 2012 Pew report, 6 percent of Americans say they don’t believe in a higher power. That leaves at least 15 million Americans without any elected officials to represent their point of view. Basically, atheism is still as close as it gets to political poison in American electoral politics: A recent Gallup poll found (once again) that atheists are the least electable among several underrepresented groups. Sixty-eight percent of Americans would vote for a well-qualified gay or lesbian candidate, for example, but only 54 percent would vote for a well-qualified atheist. Seven state constitutions even still include provisions prohibiting atheists from holding office (though they are not enforced). One of those is liberal Maryland, which also has a clause that says, essentially, that non-believers can be disqualified from serving as jurors or witnesses…

The Cold War changed all that. Atheism began to seem almost treasonous amid tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, because the Soviets were officially and emphatically against religion. Sen. Joseph McCarthy famously used the phrase “godless communists” to bash the political left and others he considered his enemies. In this context, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed laws in the mid-1950s inserting “God” into our Pledge of Allegiance and putting it on all our money. (It had been on most coins earlier, but Eisenhower made “In God We Trust” our national motto, henceforth to appear on all bills.)…

In fact, the fastest-growing religious category in the United States is what are called the “nones”—people who say they have no religious affiliation. One-fifth of Americans are in this group today, according to Pew Research Center polling. Among adults under age 30, a full third count themselves as religiously unaffiliated. Some of them believe in a god or gods; some do not. They are not going to want to be pushed around by any sect one way or another, and as their numbers increase, they won’t have to allow it.

Surveys consistently show Americans are more opposed to atheists than other groups (such as voting for President) even as organized religiosity declines and atheists look to form megachurches. Read more of the Pew report on religious nones which suggests the numbers are growing even as some still have more traditional religious beliefs and practices.

Painting the church of Walmart

Lots of “normal” activities take place at Walmart so why not spiritual matters as well? Artist Brenden O’Connell has taken up the subject:

For the past decade, O’Connell has been snapping photographs inside dozens of Wal-Marts. The images have served as inspiration for an ongoing series of paintings of everyday life — much of which involves shopping, which O’Connell calls “that great contemporary pastime.”

“Wal-Mart was an obvious place” to look for inspiration, he tells The Salt. “It’s sort of the house that holds all American brands.”…

Wal-Mart stores, he notes, are “probably one of the most trafficked interior spaces in the world.” In the tall, open, cathedral-like ceilings of Wal-Mart’s big-box stores, he sees parallels to church interiors of old.

“There is something in us that aspires to some kind of transcendence,” he told me back in February. “And as we’ve culturally turned from religious things, we’ve turned our transcendence to acquisition and satisfying desires.”

In conversation, O’Connell comes across as thoughtful and urbane. He’s well aware that, as a company, Wal-Mart can be polarizing. But “regardless of your feelings about it,” he told me back then, “it just is. It’s like an irrevocable reality that’s part of our experience.”

On the occasions that we go to church and then Walmart afterward, I have joked that we are visiting America’s two kinds of churches. This may not be too far from reality considering the number of shoppers at Walmart, its yearly sales, and the power of its brand. But, it is really that surprising that a retail store could be the contemporary version of a spiritual space when our country is so devoted to consumption and shopping?

Cardinal George on secularization: it is harder for people to have faith today

Chicago Cardinal Francis George makes a secularization argument by suggesting it is more difficult for people today to have faith:

Cardinal George acknowledged the pope is concerned about faith, and added that all the cardinals are concerned as well. This will be utmost in their minds when they deliberate in Rome…

“The larger question: Is there now such a sea change in Western culture that people can’t believe; that they aren’t open to belief?” he asked. “That therefore you have to be your own god in a way. ‘You have to do just what you want to do in the way that you want to do it. You have to follow your own dream.’

“Well, it’s important to follow God’s dream.

“So we could say maybe (some) people have lost the gift of faith because we’ve created a society where people can’t believe. It’s impossible — well, not impossible, never impossible, but very difficult — to believe because it goes against the grain to say, ‘I surrender my life.’ Maybe it’s why marriage is in such difficulty because when you’re married that’s what you do. You surrender your life to a woman or a man, a husband, a wife. Well, faith means you surrender your life to God.”

George is suggesting social conditions, “we’ve created a society,” make it more difficult to have faith. He doesn’t suggest exactly why this is. Sociologists and others have made arguments over the years for why this has happened: new technologies, demonstrable progress as well as believing in its capabilities, new ways of thinking (from the Enlightenment on) that favor reason and science, the development of the welfare state that takes care of basic human needs, two world wars, and more.

It would be interesting to hear how the Catholic cardinals discuss this topic as they pick a new pope. On one hand, there are over 1 billion Catholics in the world. On the other hand, Catholics and other Christians have been challenged for decades on the relevance of faith and what position it should play in civil society.

“Faith in the Age of Facebook” published online by Sociology of Religion

Along with my co-authors Peter Mundey and Jon Hill, a new article I co-wrote was published online a few days ago by Sociology of Religion. The paper is titled “Faith in the Age of Facebook: Exploring the Links Between Religion and Social Network Site Membership and Use” and here is the abstract:

This study examines how religiousness influences social network site (SNS) membership and frequency of use for emerging adults between 18 and 23 years old utilizing Wave 3 survey data from the National Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR). Independent of religion promoting a prosocial orientation, organizational involvement, and civic engagement, Catholics and Evangelical Protestants are more likely than the “not religious” to be SNS members, and more Bible reading is associated with lower levels of SNS membership and use. We argue there are both sacred and secular influences on SNS involvement, and social behaviors, such as being in school and participating in more non-religious organizations, generally positively influence becoming a SNS member, yet certain more private behaviors, such as Bible reading, donating money, and helping the needy, lessen SNS participation. We also suggest four areas for future research to help untangle the influence of religiousness on SNS use and vice versa.

Religious nones vote overwhelmingly for Obama in 2012 presidential election

A number of commentators have pointed out the advantage for President Obama among the religious “nones,” people who have no religious affiliation who now make up almost 20% of the US population, in the 2012 election. Here is another look at the voting gap:

— In Ohio, Obama lost the Protestant vote by 3 points and the Catholic vote by 11, but he won the “nones” — 12 percent of the state’s electorate — by 47 points.— In Virginia, Obama lost Protestants by 9 points and Catholics by 10 points, but won 76 percent of the “nones,” who were 10 percent of the electorate.

— In Florida, Obama lost Protestants by 16 points and Catholics by 5 points, but captured 72 percent of the “nones.” They were 15 percent of the electorate.

Similar results were seen in states including Michigan, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania…

Nationally, Obama lost the Protestant vote by 15 points, won the Catholic vote by 2 points, and captured 70 percent of the “nones.”

If the late 1970s and 1980s were about the rise of conservative religious voters, the Moral Majority and all that, are the 2010s going to be about the rise of the “nones”? While the article cautions at the end that religious switching is common in the United States, I haven’t seen commentators or political types address this question: how could Republicans change their pitch to attract more of the “nones”?