A View From The Handbasket

Monday, September 11, 2006
The angry guy in the sky
Posted by neros_fiddle at 3:57 PM
The Washington Post has a thought-provoking article up on the difficulties of getting a handle on the "religiosity" of America:

The unaffiliated -- people who check "none" or "no religion" when asked their affiliation -- have been closely eyeballed since 1990, when major surveys showed they doubled, from 7 percent of the U.S. population to 14 percent, reflecting, sociologists say, increasing secularization that is occurring at the same time American society is becoming more religious.

But the Baylor survey, believed to be one of the most detailed ever done about religion in America, found that a tenth of people who picked "no religion" out of 40 possible religious groups did something interesting when asked later where they worship: they wrote down a place.

Which could in fact be a classic case of asking one question and getting an answer to a different question. While the poll-takers assumed an answer of "none"/"no religion" meant "agnostic/atheist", a sizable number of those polled chose "none" were in fact spiritual/theists who didn't claim any of the 40 religions on offer. If "other" was an option, then people weren't completing the survey correctly. If "other" was omitted, then it was a poorly constructed survey. Either way, it seems that pigeon-holing faith is becoming increasingly difficult.

I was more struck, however, by this section later on:

Among the most innovative aspects of the Baylor survey, scholars who know about it say, are questions that probe how Americans describe God's personality. Respondents were offered 26 attributes ranging from "absolute" and "wrathful" to "friendly," and asking if God is directly involved in and angered by their affairs, and worldly affairs.

The researchers separated God's attributes into four categories: angry, judgmental, benevolent or distant. Researchers found that the largest category of people -- 31 percent -- was made up of people who believe God both wrathful and highly involved in human affairs.

People's beliefs about God's personality are powerful predictors, according to the survey. Those who found God engaged and punishing were likely to have lower incomes and education, to come from the South and be white evangelicals or black Protestants. People who believe God is distant and nonjudgmental are more likely to support increased business regulation, environmental protections and the even distribution of wealth.

Sounds like the 31 percent who believe in the "pissed-off hands-on" God prefer to leave the questions of justice to the angry guy in the sky.

Finally, we have this:

The changing demographics of America demand different polls as well, religion pollsters say. For example, approximately 3 percent of Americans come from faith traditions besides Christianity and Judaism. While still small, this group is growing rapidly, and scholars say if current trends continue, that number could reach 10 percent.

According to Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg, who focuses on religion, that is already the figure for Americans under the age of 25. Questions about the frequency of "attending" religious services aren't as relevant to Hindus and Buddhists, who often have worship spaces in their homes. Questions about "weekly" prayer services aren't as relevant to Muslims, who are required to pray five times a day, she said.

"The broader point is that this country that's always been religiously diverse," said Green, "is becoming religiously diverse in a new way."

If I'm interpreting all this correctly, we could be looking at a situation in the foreseeable future where a quarter of the country will identify as non-Judeo-Christian. How Bill O'Reilly will deal with this remains to be seen.

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