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24 April 2008

Save Thee? Or Sell Thee? Part 2

For those just joining us, you can find Part 1 in this series by clicking here.

Religion in America

Back in 2002, the Pew research folks reported that "Religion is much more important to Americans than to people living in other wealthy nations. Six-in-ten (59%) people in the U.S. say religion plays a very important role in their lives."

Prompts one to wonder what questions they are asking since other research shows nearly 90% of the world's population participates in an organized religion. If the same people were asked, would we learn that while those 9 out 10 people actively participate in religion, only 6 out of those 10 do so because it is important to them? Thereby making 3 out of the 10 participating in religion, but it not being very important to them? Oh, never mind.

Many religious affiliation studies tout findings that break down with every respondent being religious, just some being more so and some being less so. This suggests quite clearly a flaw in their study since obviously 100 out of 100 people are not religious - by any definition - in America. See below.

Averaging the other studies, it seems that roughly 80% of ATRTRS's (Americans That Respond To Religious Surveys) are Christian. Unfortunately, these public opinion polls are usually wrong; see below. Nonetheless, the rest of the breakdown:

80-ish% - Christian
10-ish% - Non-religious
7 -ish% - Jewish
3 -ish% - others, including Muslim, Unitarian, Scientologist, Buddhist, Native American, etc.

Perhaps this is why it was such a gimme when a recent Harris Poll said that the bible was America's favorite book? But on the other hand, considering that the barely 1/2 of America had even read a single book in a whole year according to a study by the National Endowment for the Arts; picking the bible probably seemed like a safe pick.

Looking closer at those affiliation numbers, not even 20% of Christians go to church once a month. There is a more publicized figure of around 40% of church attendance, but it has also been determined to be more perpetuated myth than proven fact.

A few years back in Ohio, a couple of researchers went to a local Catholic Mass, every one, every week, for several months. And they counted each person. Then they got on the phone and conducted a phone survey of church members, asking specifics about if they had been to church. Guess what? The reported numbers doubled, which means that half of them were lying through their holy, non-tithing teeth (more on tithing later). This study has been replicated in other denominations in other areas with the same results. The truth to flat out lie conversion factor is 1 to 2. Can I get an Hallelujah?

No Child Left Behind?

Currently among youth's, 18 and younger, religious non-affiliation jumps to nearly 20%. And those youth that claim to be religious attend church even less frequently than their older counterparts.

People that identify themselves as Christians are doing so less and less each year, dropping almost 1% per year in total participation. And statisticians believe that all told, with the current shift away from world religions, that most Americans will self identify as non-religious or at least non-Christian in just 15-20 more years.

Break it Down, Michael!

So what does all of this mean? For starters, it means that I likely have nearly a 100% chance of pissing off at least everybody at least once during this series of articles.

It also means that whether we accept the numbers as presented or apply the 2-to-1 fudge factor, organized religion is facing a gradually diminishing flock of followers.

But where are they going?

Pew Hopping

The recent press release on religion I mentioned in the first article touts a finding that people hop between religions on their way to eternal salvation the way Frogger hops from safe zone to safe zone on his way across the highway.

For example, the 25% of America that is reportedly Catholic is not comprised of the same 25% of Catholics from say, 5 years ago. Those folks are now Baptists, or Muslims, or
Theosophites, or Agnostics. Or maybe even Frisbeetarian with a side order of Vegetarian. Seems that on average, the turnover rate among Catholics is one third of all their followers because they didn't like what they were being served ... and went elsewhere. Kind of like being disappointed with the steak tartare at the Western Sizzler and deciding to try The Bonanza, I presume.

Historically however, when the Pope did a headcount, roughly the same number appeared in church each Sunday. It turns out according to that according to Pew, it just wasn't the same people in the, you know, pew's.

Because like cellular service plans, Thursday night sitcoms and Jenny Craig, it seems that many people just aren't always that committed to just one brand to have their proverbial bread buttered.

And in the land of the Mega Church, not having steady customers can hurt the bottom line. So church leaders now more than ever must devise more plans on how to market, how to "witness" more potential converts, how to sell their service and their, ahem, faith, to the church hopping masses.

Sticky is as Sticky Does

The Pew Dude said: "...once you attract these folks, how do you root them within your own particular tradition when people are changing so quickly..."

Now, to the religious oriented out there, this may not be a secret at all. Remember, it has already been established that some religions will limit their followers options by codifying behavior that requires them to follow a certain set of guidelines.

But what they really mean is not tradition, like watching America's Funniest Home Videos on Friday nights, eating bagels and lox on Christmas morning or cheering for Notre Dame football on Saturday. Those are traditions. What they mean is institutionalizing people within the ever restrictive confines of their religion's policies and procedures. And to partially concede his point, there IS a tradition in organized religion to confine people - by whatever means necessary - into that religion's policies and procedures. Stick around and I will disclose those unsavory origins.

And like any Policy & Procedure manual, the passage of time merely create more opportunity for the meddler to add more to it. Sound familiar?

Remember the topic about the death of common sense (book by the same name is available on my recommended reading list)? The procedure for making bricks has been virtually the same since bricks were first invented. Clay, water, heat, etc. Yet the Regulatory Policy & Procedure manual has grown from a pamphlet to a phone sized document. Same dog, different fleas.

Oh, but I digress...

Next up, we will cover the little known path, yet crucial origin to today's "bible-banging", the selling of faith, role of "spirituality" and we will expose more guilt driven methods of the church.

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Dana said...

It has long been my belief that organized religion is far more about friendship than faith. People are looking for other people that they have commonalities with - they can compromise on the faith requirements (thus jumping from pew to pew) but not on their need to belong to a social group. When they find a social group (i.e. religion) where they feel they belong, they stay. When that social group has an upheaval (as they all do) they move on to find another acceptable group to belong to.

Assuming I have some time tonight to put together a blog post, I plan to include a little blip about this series. You do such an excellent job of taking the emotion out of this topic and presenting it as fact - a skill not many have mastered.

Michael M. said...

Thanks Dana....and from visiting your site, you have developed quite the fan base to attend to so thanks for taking the time to visit!

A couple that I have a tremendous amount of respect for - who are not very religious themselves - have sent their kids to a religious school in part to give them another network of people to fall back on. When the scorecard for positives outweighs the negatives, I suppose it is hard to argue with that logic.

Further to your point, if that is why people join churches, it is perplexing to me why one wouldn't pursue less confining, less expensive and less politicized ways to promote their desire for fellowship?

Dana said...

Again, just my opinion - belonging to a church and/or proclaiming your belief in one's God has always been somewhat of a status symbol. Common thought is that those that practice most religions must lead a "better" life - be kinder and gentler people. I believe people find the increase in perceived status well worth the confining, expensive and politicized expectations found in organized religion.

BTW, I did post a little blurb about this series (and the mating series) on my blog today. I find your writing quite thought provoking and hope others will as well!

Talisman said...

I really hope you go more into those Mega Churches. We have at least 2 of them in this area and they freak me out. They are so "Mega" that the police have to direct traffic near the churches on Sunday mornings.

On a fundamental level I understand the draw to a place of worship. It gives you a community of people that (probably) believe similar things to you.

However those Mega Churches are filled with so many people that you're not in a community you're just another face in a very large crowd and nothing but a customer of a very large business.

I don't really see the draw or attraction of it at all other than being able to hit the church's own Starbucks to get some caffeine so you can stay awake during the sermon.

Michael M. said...

Thanks for your opinion and voice of reason Dana. The folks I have heard from privately have echoed a similiar sentiment too of why folks congregate (in church and otherwise). I attempt to address this in Part 5.

Owning a BMW, vacationing in Rome and having a trophy wife (or the male equivalent) are staus symbols to some too. But religion is unique in that it frequently transcends mere symbolism into something that leads to more division (and wars and bogotry) than neighbor Bob with the new Harley does.

I will attempt to strike to the heart of the matter in Part 3.

I sure appreciate your complimentary words on your post today Dana. Thanks for your readership and support!

Michael M. said...

Talsiman....oh yeah. "Prosperity Gospel" has a starring role starting in Part 3. Stay tuned and grab some popcorn. :)

I appreciate your comments about the "community aspect' of religion too. I hope I adaquately address this by the end of the series since it surely seems to be a common thread.

Two Date Diva said...

Where the hell do i sign up to be a frisbeetarian. I'm thinkin' that church has a lot of hot shirtless guys.

Talisman said...

I really think that the desire for community is a driving factor in religion. I also think that it's one of the main reasons for all the "pew hopping" -- if the church we are going to doesn't subscribe to a persons belief system, rather than modifying his/her beliefs he/she will just find something else that fits them; because, that community will be better for him/her anyway. (Or so they think)

Look forward to more! =-)

Michael M. said...

Diva...perhaps you're right but the rules are pretty strict: you have to have a little Jack Russell Terrier that jumps high ... and all the Frisbeetarians meet on the ROOF of the local YMCA...

Michael M. said...

Thanks Talisman...I appreciate your viewpoint too.

Tismee2 said...

I remember my Mum having an argument with our vicar who criticised her for not sending me to Sunday School because he thought I should go seeing as I was in The Girl Guides.

My Mum was a great arguer and shot him down by saying "I might if you weren't so bloody patronising"

That has stuck with me and apart from obligatory life events haven't attended church without a good reason for years.

My MIL said something years ago when we were discussing having out first son baptised. I said I didn't see the point as he would probably never attend church or anything. She then said "well you never know what happens when you die so I would just to be on the safe side".

So maybe it's the brainwashing about heaven and hell that's the crucial point? Ends up we added two to the numbers 'just in case'.

Michael M. said...

Gail: What a charming vicar. Bravo for your Mum!

I read earlier about a preacher who came to officiate a newborn's burial at the grandparents request...and who told the grieving parents that the baby's death was punishment for not being a christian. Yikes.