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. “).

Religious change: Americans identifying as Christian drops to 70.6%

New data from Pew Research shows a drop in how many American adults identify as Christians:

The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing, according to an extensive new survey by the Pew Research Center. Moreover, these changes are taking place across the religious landscape, affecting all regions of the country and many demographic groups. While the drop in Christian affiliation is particularly pronounced among young adults, it is occurring among Americans of all ages. The same trends are seen among whites, blacks and Latinos; among both college graduates and adults with only a high school education; and among women as well as men.

To be sure, the United States remains home to more Christians than any other country in the world, and a large majority of Americans – roughly seven-in-ten – continue to identify with some branch of the Christian faith.1 But the major new survey of more than 35,000 Americans by the Pew Research Center finds that the percentage of adults (ages 18 and older) who describe themselves as Christians has dropped by nearly eight percentage points in just seven years, from 78.4% in an equally massive Pew Research survey in 2007 to 70.6% in 2014. Over the same period, the percentage of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated – describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” – has jumped more than six points, from 16.1% to 22.8%. And the share of Americans who identify with non-Christian faiths also has inched up, rising 1.2 percentage points, from 4.7% in 2007 to 5.9% in 2014. Growth has been especially great among Muslims and Hindus, albeit from a very low base.

Changing U.S. Religious Landscape

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While the drop in religious affiliation will get a lot of attention, this report has other interesting information: American Christians have become more non-white; religious intermarriage is up; Black Protestants have been stable while Evangelical Christians are growing whereas Catholics and Mainline Protestants have lost large numbers; and non-Christian groups have grown but are still quite small.

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.

“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.

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”?