Paul L. Caron

Sunday, July 31, 2022

WSJ Op-Ed: Religion Is Dying? Don’t Believe It

Wall Street Journal Op-Ed:  Religion Is Dying? Don’t Believe It, by Byron R. Johnson (Baylor; Pepperdine; Google Scholar) & Jeff Levin (Baylor):

Baylor ISRReports of religion’s decline in America have been exaggerated. You’ve heard the story: Churchgoers are dwindling in number while “Nones”—those who tell pollsters they have no religious affiliation—are multiplying as people abandon their faith and join the ranks of atheists and agnostics. Headlines declare that the U.S. is secularizing along the lines of Europe. From Britain’s Daily Mail in 2013: “Religion could disappear by 2041 because people will have replaced God with possessions, claims leading psychologist.”

These conclusions are based on analyses that are so flawed as to be close to worthless. In a new study with our colleagues Matt Bradshaw and Rodney Stark, we seek to set the record straight [Are Religious “Nones” Really Not Religious?: Revisiting Glenn, Three Decades Later, Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion, Vol. 18, Art. 7 (2022)].

Data from five recent U.S. population surveys point to the vibrancy, ubiquity and growth of religion in the U.S. Americans are becoming more religious, and religious institutions are thriving. Consistent with some previous studies but contrary to widely held assumptions, many people who report no religious affiliation—and even many self-identified atheists and agnostics—exhibit substantial levels of religious practice and belief. ...

[L]arge databases on American religion often lump Others in with the Nones. Respondents who don’t see their faith or denomination listed check off the only remaining option, “none of the above.” The error extends to the counting of religious institutions. The U.S. Religious Census, organized by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies, tracks the number of congregations and congregants at the county level. But recent research in three U.S. counties confirms that it has missed between 26% and 40% of their congregations. ...

Religion is constantly evolving, but it isn’t in decline in the U.S. More Americans attend and support more religious congregations than ever before. Social scientists can’t count them unless they know where to look.

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