The results of a new study on the prevalence of world religion were summarized in the New York Times last week, and I’ve now read the full report. The survey, “The global religious landscape” (download full report here) was conducted by the Pew Research Center (now in collaboration with the Templeton Foundation!). It’s a long report (80) pages, but unless you’re interested in the variation among nations, there are only a few salient results for us.
- The first is that although 84% of the world’s population (5.8 billion people0 identifies with a religious group, 16%—one in six—is “religiously” unaffiliated. This figure from the survey tells the tale:
These data are for 2010. (Oy vey: only 0.2% Jews!)
The 1.1 billion people who aren’t affiliated with a religion aren’t, of course, all atheists. As the report notes,
Surveys indicate that many of the unaffiliated hold some religious beliefs (such as belief in God or a universal spirit) even though they do not identify with a particular faith. . .
For example, belief in God or a higher power is shared by 7% of Chinese unaffiliated adults, 30% of French unaffiliated adults and 68% of unaffiliated U.S. adults. Some of the unaffiliated also engage in certain kinds of religious practices. For example, 7% of unaffiliated adults in France and 2 7% of those in the United States say they attend religious services at least once a year. And in China, 44% of
unaffiliated adults say they have worshiped at a graveside or tomb in the past year.
Most of the unaffiliated are in the Asia-Pacific region, with China and its 365,000,000 unaffiliated (52.2% of the population) making up 62.2% of the world’s unaffiliated. Most of that is undoubtedly the result of the hegemony of godless Communism. Japan has 6.4% of the world’s unaffiliated, and the U.S., with 16.4% inhabitants unaffiliated, makes up 4.5% of the world’s quasi-heathens. The six countries in which the unaffiliated are more than 50% of the population are China, the Czech Republic (the winner with 76% unaffiliated), North Korea, Estonia, Japan, and Hong Kong. The median age of unaffiliated people is 34, substantially higher than believers (28).
- Here’s the world’s distribution of faiths from the report:
Mongolia is an off-color, representing a Buddhist majority (55%) but a substantial Hindu minority (39%). The rest of the countries are as you might expect, though Greenland, more Christian than the U.S. surprises me.
Besides the New York Times piece, there’s a substantial summary and ancillary information in a CBS Sunday morning report called “Losing our religion” piece (transcript is below the video):
According to a new study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, the nation’s spiritual landscape may be becoming a little LESS religious.
Some 45 million people, or one-fifth of the U.S. adult population, now say they belong to no church in particular.
Six percent of them are either atheist or agnostic.
“There’s a yearning to find like-minded people, to be able to have a conversation that’s not taboo,” said Red McCall, president of an atheist group in the buckle of the Bible Belt – Oklahoma City – whom we met last month.
In just the past three years, membership in the Oklahoma Atheists has jumped from just 300 members to well over a thousand. [Abbie Smith will like that!]
Shelly Rees, a college professor, in one of them. She feels the public mood on atheists – even here – has softened.
“There were still people when we were marching in the parade at Halloween yelling, ‘You’re going to hell,’ and stuff like that,” said Rees. “But there were more people who weren’t, and I think that’s going to keep going. I think that’s the trend.”
Researchers call them “The Nones” – those who check the “none” box when asked to describe their religious affiliation.
And they’ve more than doubled since 1990.
And I can’t help reproducing The Good News in extenso. Why, asked CBS, is religion waning in the U.S.
The study suggests it’s organized religion—with respondents overwhelmingly saying many organizations are too focused on money, power and politics.
Protestants have suffered the greatest decline. They now account for just 48 percent of religious adults, making it the first time in history that the United States doesn’t have a Protestant majority.
Evangelical churches aren’t immune, either. The megachurches once bursting at the seams are a little less mega than they used to be. [n.b. Tanya Luhrmann made the opposite assertion in her book When God Talks Back].
“We’re seeing church attendance being much more inconsistent than I’ve ever seen it in my entire life,” said Ed Young, Senior Pastor of the Fellowship Church based in Dallas. He’s hardly conventional – even preaching a sermon with his wife while sitting on a double bed.
It’s his attempt not at a gimmick, he says, but to reach those who these days find organized religion, at its best, irrelevant – at its worst, intolerant.
“I don’t think we have been vulnerable enough,” said Pastor Young. “I don’t think we have been real enough about issues and about life. You have to realize that the church is pretty much one generation away from extinction.”
Indeed, it’s the young – one out of every three person surveyed under the age of 30 – who say they don’t link themselves with a church, a mosque, a synagogue, or anything else.
Compare that, with the “Greatest Generation,” where only one in 20 claimed no religious home.
“We’re in kind of a post-denominational phase, I think, in many ways in the United States,” said Charles Kimball, Director of Religious Studies at the University of Oklahoma. “That’s still dramatically different that what you see in Europe, but you see that pattern, I think, is present here as well.”
While Kimball says most of his students still respect religious organizations as a power to do good in the world, it’s often their stands on social issues – abortion and gay rights in particular – that he feels are driving the young away.
“The vast majority of students, even people coming out of pretty traditional religious backgrounds, don’t see these as a big deal. They don’t get, what’s the issue here, don’t understand it,” Kimball said. “You can see a real clear shift away from dogmatism there.”
The church “one generation away from extinction”? Well, maybe Ed Young’s church, but I think it will take about a century. And it’s heartening that the unaffiliated comprise largely the young, who are starting to realize that religious dogma about stuff like gays, abortion, and hell just don’t comport with modern sensibilities. Those churches, like Catholicism, who don’t go along with modernity are the ones doomed to the fastest extinction.
Just remember this the next time you hear the mantra, “Religion is here to stay” (we’ll hear that later today from England’s chief rabbi Sacks). It wasn’t there to stay in Europe, and it isn’t in the U.S., either.
h/t: Hempenstein, John B.