Anomalies From the Rooftop

Theology from Anomalies. One story a day from the world of Christianity that is just a little off-beat. Sometimes, in shouting the good news from the rooftop, Christians do some strange things.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Americans Not Good at Filling Out Surveys

The Washington Post, along with many other mainstream news organizations, has reported on a new study out of Baylor University that claims Americans are actually better at being religious than they are at filling out surveys. The full report contains all sort of interesting findings about people's conception of God, their own religious self-identification, and the interplay between faith and politics. But, at least for this post, what's most interesting is that some 14 percent of the population selects "none" as their religious affiliation, but 10% of that 14%--or some 10 million people--wrote down that they worshiped at a particular place. In other words, they have no religion, but they are members of a congregation.

10 million people is a lot of people, so this is a relatively big deal in the world of religious demographics. And it all seems to point to the idea that denominational identity is increasingly irrelevant. As Kevin D. Dougherty, one of the authors of the survey and a sociologist at Baylor noted, "People might not have a denomination, but they have a congregation. They have a sense of religious connection that is formative to who they are."

What's so interesting about this trend, which can be experienced in everyday life and not just read about, is that religion has become captive to the individualizing tendency of modern life, rather than the tendency towards globalization/homogenization that are such major parts of the 21st century. People no longer identify as members of a denomination because their religion has essentially become their own--or at least limited in scope to the members of their own churches. And yet, everyone shops at WalMart. Why is it that people crave the individualism in their spiritual lives, but don't seem to mind a homogenized material existence? I don't think there is anything natural about religion that makes it move in an individualistic direction, but perhaps there is something about the American religious and political climate that makes religion move in that direction. Perhaps if we were a state that persecuted certain religious groups (which thankfully is not the case), people would feel more strongly about their religious identities.

Of course, if the US persecuted religious groups, people might be circumspect about filling out the surveys--which would save us the embarrassment of trying to explain why 10 million people aren't able to figure out the survey.


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