Statistical revelation: Religion going strong
Baylor poll also shows nearly 20% in U.S. see God as on America’s side
WACO — Religion is not on the wane in the United States, according to a national survey on faith released Monday. The American Piety in the 21st Century survey found that previous studies incorrectly counted 10 million people as having no religion.
It also revealed that nearly a fifth of Americans believe God favors the United States in world affairs.
In what Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion researchers described as one of the most comprehensive studies of the U.S. religious landscape, the survey found that 89 percent of Americans attend a local congregation or affiliate with a denomination.
The finding rebuts other national surveys showing that 14 percent or more of Americans were “religious nones” — people with no religious backgrounds.
“We find that barely one in 10 truly have no religious affiliation in America,” said Kevin Dougherty, Baylor University assistant professor of sociology. “Prior national surveys have concluded that 10 million people are not religious who actually are in church every Sunday — praying, believing in a God; 10 million Americans counted as religious nones.”
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The earlier findings led some scholars to theorize that the increase in religious nonaffiliation signaled a rise of secularization comparable to that in Europe, Dougherty said.
Baylor researchers went beyond asking people to identify their faith or denomination and asked for names and addresses of any worship centers they attend, he said.
“We find that just asking about religious preference, 33 percent of respondents said, ‘I don’t know about my religion,’ ” Dougherty said. “But five questions later, they gave us the name of their congregation.”
The confusion stems from the rise of nondenominational churches, he said.
“Denominations don’t mean as much as they used to,” he said.
“People don’t think of themselves as good Southern Baptists; they tend to think of themselves as good members of a particular congregation.”
And many of those congregations today do not include their denomination in their name.
Among the 10.8 percent of Americans unaffiliated with any religious group, only 37.1 percent do not believe in God, according to the survey.
The rest believe in God or some higher power.
The survey found 33.6 percent of Americans, or roughly 100 million people, are evangelical Protestants by affiliation.
However, it also discovered that “evangelical” is not a term that believers used to identify themselves even if they were members of evangelical denominations such as Southern Baptist. Most described themselves as Bible believers, born again or other terms.
“Barely 15 percent of the population identifies with that label even though they are sitting in churches which researchers and reporters alike would clearly define as evangelical,” Dougherty said.
Evangelical Protestants are consistently supportive of conservative political issues such as military spending, allowing school prayer and government promotion of values. Half of Southerners are identified as evangelical Protestants.
Contrary to the impression given on the campaign trail, Americans do not believe God favors one political party over another.
Overall, only 4 percent believe that God favors a political party. Among evangelical Protestants, 8.1 percent hold that belief.
However, nearly a fifth (18.6 percent) of respondents believe God favors the United States in world affairs. Among evangelicals, 26 percent think God is on the side of the United States.
The survey, which drew 1,721 responses in late 2005, is the first of biennial examinations aimed at developing a comprehensive national database on American religion, institute co-director Byron Johnson said. It had a margin of error of 4 percentage points.
The American Piety in the 21st Century survey in late 2005 by the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion also found:
• Overall, 10.8 percent of Americans are not affiliated with a religion. By demographic characteristics, the percentage of unaffiliated varies: African-Americans, 5.7 percent; 18- to 30-year-olds, 18.6 percent; 65 and older, 5.4 percent; those living in the South, 7.1 percent; those in the West, 17.6 percent.
• Attending religious services at least weekly are 43.1 percent of black Protestants; 45.2 percent of evangelical Protestants; 24.3 percent of mainline Protestants; 32.8 percent of Catholics; and 7.3 percent of Jews.
• More than 40 percent of Americans who are not affiliated with a church, synagogue or mosque are atheists.
• 12.2 percent of respondents feel abortion is wrong in all circumstances; but 23.4 percent of those who believe in an authoritarian God believe that, while only 1.5 percent of those who believe in a distant God think that way.
• 40.7 percent believe Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks (Catholic, 46.2 percent; evangelical Protestant, 51.9 percent; mainline Protestant, 38.4 percent; unaffiliated, 18 percent).
• 20.7 percent trust President Bush “a lot” (Catholic, 23.7 percent; evangelical Protestant, 31.7 percent; mainline Protestant, 17.9 percent; unaffiliated, 6.8 percent).
• 36.1 percent said they trusted Bush “not at all”; 15 percent said “only a little”
• Evangelical Protestants (60.3 percent) are the religious group most likely to approve of the Iraq war, followed by Catholics (46.7 percent).
• 30.2 percent of Republicans and 8.3 percent of Democrats believe God favors the U.S.
• 8.6 percent of Republicans and 0.4 percent of Democrats believe God favors a political party.