Monday, April 27, 2009

Media, Secularists Revel in Reporting Failure of Christian Religion

The [Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life] results are a "big indictment" of organized religion, said Michael Lindsay [of Rice University]. "There is a huge, wide-open back door at most churches. Churches around the country may be able to attract people, but they can't keep them."

-- From "Study Shows Americans Leave Religion Due to Drift, Not Rupture" by Jacqueline L. Salmon, Washington Post Staff Writer 4/27/09

The survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life is the first large-scale study of the reasons behind Americans switching their religious faith and found that more than half of people have done so at least once during their lifetime.

Pew Forum senior fellow John Green said that result surprised researchers, who had expected policy disputes or disillusionment over internal scandals -- such as the clergy sex abuse controversy in the Catholic Church -- to play more of a role in people's decision to leave a faith. Among former Catholics who became Protestants, one in five cited the sex abuse scandal as one of several reasons why they had left the faith. But only a small percentage -- 2 percent to 3 percent -- cited it as the lone reason.

"It suggests that what leads people to leave their faith is that, somehow for some reason, it isn't meeting their needs," Green said. "Religion becomes less plausible to the person."

At the same time, the large and growing number of people who report having no religious affiliation are actually surprisingly open to religion, researchers said. Contrary to the popular perception that many have embraced secularism, a significant percentage appeared simply to have put their religiosity on pause. Having worshiped in at least one faith already, about three in 10 said they had just not yet found the right religion.

"We tend to think that when people leave [religion] they leave," said Stephen Prothero, chairman of the religion department at Boston University. "But a lot of these unaffiliated are unaffiliated for now. . . . It's not a one way street. It's not like after you've left a religious affiliation, you can't get back in."

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From "Pew Survey: Most Americans Have Switched Religious Affiliations at Least Once" by Dan Gilgoff, U.S. News & World Report 4/27/09

. . . a recent Trinity College survey found that mainline churches like the Methodists, Lutherans, and Episcopalians are losing numbers while evangelical and nondenominational churches are gaining. There are now 8 million nondenominational Christians, according to the Trinity report, up from 2.5 million in 2001.

The Pew report also provides a striking new portrait of those religiously unaffiliated Americans, the fastest-growing segment of the American religious landscape. The report finds that religiously unaffiliated, widely considered to represent a dramatic spike in avowed secularists, are actually quite open to religion and that only a minority feel that science disproves religion.

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From "Survey finds majority of Americans switch religions" by Matthai Kuruvila, San Fran. Chronicle Religion Writer 4/27/09

Catholics who leave the fold largely do so because they disagree with church teachings, while Protestants who leave their particular denominations tend to do so because of life changes, such as marriage or moving.

The survey found that American religious identity moves in all directions. No category of belief is fixed. Even among people raised unaffiliated with any religion, 54 percent now claim a specific religious identity and account for 4 percent of the U.S. population.

One of the few constants is the proportion of Americans who are atheists - roughly 2 percent of the general population for decades. Indeed, even as an increasing number of people do not identify with any specific religion [due to a] disenchantment with religious people and institutions.

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From "Why do Americans change their faith?" by Michael Paulson, Boston Globe 4/27/09

"Long-term, what this means is that the face of the Catholic Church is going to change dramatically over time," Green said. "There is likely to be continued erosion by Catholics of European background, and the church is going to be increasingly populated by Hispanics and Asians who are immigrating to the US."

"A lot of the switching is intra-Protestant switching, and I think at this point that's not even switching -- hardly anyone knows the difference between a Lutheran and an Episcopalian, or even a Methodist and a Baptist," said Stephen Prothero, a professor of religion at Boston University. "Lutherans hardly know anything about Luther, and Methodists hardly know anything about Wesley, and they don't care. We live in a postdenominational time."

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