PRRI have identified the proportion of the US population self-identifying as “Evangelical” as having dropped from 23% to 17%, more than a quarter, from 2006 to 2016. Much of this change is related to the exodus of white people from the White Evangelical bracket, but the data also show an interesting age/ethnicity trend: while various white religious groups show a skew towards the elderly, amongst the religiously unaffiliated and people of colour, the skew runs in the other direction. Part of that may reflect different age distributions amongst the ethnicities, but there is a rather inevitable cultural effect around religion being “something which old people do”.
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Not religious – xIxBxA
Obviously, there’s more detail than this.
One can identify with, for example, a denomination and a religion, or with only one of those (e.g., “Non-denominational Christian”, or “secular Anglican”). Similarly, one can identify with a religious group whose other members reject the identification with them (e.g., Jehovah’s Witnesses as part of Christianity).
Belief varies not only by strength, but by form and origin. One believer can accept one metaphysical proposition dogmatically (because it was taught by a trusted source), another unconsciously (having never thought about it), a third emotionally (having experienced something which made belief in it important), and a fourth philosophically (reaching a conclusion based on propositions either within or without the official system).
Attendance, of course, can include High Holy Days only, services which feature one particular characteristic (e.g., when Reverend Sally is preaching), every Sunday, or every Sunday morning and Sunday evensong and Wednesday evensong and Friday prayer meeting and Saturday youth group – not all of those necessarily at one church or within one denomination.
Even the above are simplifications. As with many other things, the closer you look, the more complex it becomes.
PRRI’s latest release on the “spiritual” versus “religious” reinforces some of the usual differences, but not all of them.
There is a well-established correlation between gender and religion, and that is borne out here: about 27% more men than women are neither “spiritual” (in belief) nor “religious” (in practice); 27% more women than men are “religious”; 34% more women are “spiritual”; 44% more women are both “spiritual” and “religious”.
There is also a well-established negative correlation between religion and extent of education, but the data show some interesting things about irreligion and spirituality. For example, a person with only a secondary-level education is 3.6 times as likely as a person with a postgraduate education to be “religious”, 3.42 times as likely to be “neither spiritual nor religious”, but only 2.03 times as likely to be “spiritual”; a person with an undergraduate degree is 1.52 times as likely as the postgrad to be “religious”, 1.5 times as likely to be “neither spiritual nor religious”, but only 1.26 times as likely to be “spiritual”. In other words, there is strong correlation between low education and religiousness, almost as strong a correlation between low education and irreligiousness, but a considerably weaker correlation between low education and spirituality.
Given the typical antipathy of institutes of higher learning towards the dogmatism of traditional religion, it’s interesting to see that the same effect does not impact spirituality.
A YouGov survey shows support only for six out of the ten commandments: worshipping idols, taking the Lord’s name in vain, having other gods, and keeping the Sabbath holy are – for more than half of Britons – considered obsolete. Notably, this remains true even when narrowing the responses to those of Christians only.
While conservatives might claim that this shows “a descent into sin”, what it does clearly demonstrate is the movement away from literalist dogmatism.
The following is a useful graphic display of the difference between US Christian and non-Christian views of Christianity. Barna have a similar chart relating to what people perceive as “extreme” in religion, and nearly three times as many young Brits believe religion to be a nett source of evil as believe it to be a nett source of good.
What the Bible says: “Valuing rules over people is bad” (Gen 18:19ff); “Valuing rules over people is bad” (Ex 32:1-14); “Homosexuality is bad” (Lev 18:22, 20:13); “Valuing rules over people is bad” (2 Chr 30:17-20); “Valuing rules over people is bad” (Is 1:10-17); “Valuing rules over people is bad” (Ps 50:7-15); “Valuing rules over people is bad” (Mic 6:8); “Valuing rules over people is bad” (Hos 6:6); “Valuing rules over people is bad” (Mt 9:11-13); “Valuing rules over people is bad” (Mt 12:1-8); “Valuing rules over people is bad” (Mk 2:23-28); “Valuing rules over people is bad” (Mk 12:33); “Homosexuality is bad” (Rom 1:25-6); “Homosexuality is bad” (1 Cor 6:9-10); “Homosexuality is bad” (1 Tim 1:8-11).
The only message which some people hear: “Homosexuality is bad”.