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A statistical analysis of religious attitudes in america

Dave Ross

SOCI 250/2


Computer Assignment #1

Religion used to be a very important component in an American's life. Protestantism was as American as Mom and apple pie. Families would don their "Sunday best" and go to church early on Sunday mornings. However, this situation has changed quite a bit. After reviewing the 1994 statistics I gathered from the Micase system and comparing them to the statistics received in class, I discovered a trend away from traditional religious beliefs and practices, and one toward atheism or alternative religious beliefs.

After a resurgence in the 1970's and early 1980's, the Roman Catholic church began experiencing a slow, yet steady, decline in membership. As membership in the more orthodox Roman Catholic church decreased, membership in Protestant churches increased. In recent years, the Catholic Church has become politically active and more vociferous concerning its views on moral issues such as war, abortion, and euthanasia. It is my feeling that many Catholics are searching for sects that will allow them to retain their faith in Christ without a central body (i.e., the Vatican) speaking on behalf of them on issues that they are capable of rationalizing for themselves.

Among Catholics and Protestants, there is a trend toward less rigid attendance of religious services. If we examine the figures from Stark and Glock's 1968 survey, 54% of Americans surveyed at the time attended church more often than once a month. This figure shrank to 40.7% in the 1994 survey. Though the Catholic church insists on weekly attendance of church, weekly attendance dropped from 52% in 1978 to 49% in 1986. Then, attendance plummeted, with only 28.3% of Catholics surveyed in 1994 claiming to have attended church in the last seven days. Even among those who remain with the traditional Christian sects, attendance is diminishing.

Christianity used to be an integral part of most family and community customs and traditions in America. It seems that as Americans' lives become more complex, less time is available for formal religious commitments. Also, one may theorize that the exponential growth of technology and education has rendered traditional religious teachings, such as creationism, obsolete and people are leaving the Christian churches because their teachings do not agree with their personal beliefs.

However, not everyone is leaving the Catholic church for Protestant denominations. In the last thirty years, the number of people claiming to have no religious affiliation have increased almost five-fold, with 2% of the people surveyed claiming no affiliation in 1967, and 9.2% claiming the same in 1994. Since the early 1980's, there has also been an increase in the number of people claiming "other" religious beliefs. This number jumped from 1% in the late 1970's to a constant 4% in the 1980's before dropping to 3.8% in 1994. Apparently, people feel that they aren't getting the guidance and support that they need from Christian churches, and are turning to other sources, either religious or humanistic, for them. Many alternative belief systems stress individual faith over adherence to dogma or excessive ritual. This may be attractive to Americans who are trying to make religion once again a part of their personal lives.

The percentage of members of "other" religions who attend religious services several times a week is almost three times as high as their Catholic counterparts, and slightly higher than Protestants. 11.3% of members of alternative religions in 1994 claimed to attend several a week, compared to 4.7% for Catholics and 10.3% for Protestants. This is most likely due to these religions often being more intertwined with a persons daily life and routines. As an example, a Muslim must stop what they are doing to pray several times a day. This integration of prayer into everyday life reinforces the role of religion.

Interestingly, one religion's membership has not changed much over the course of the last forty years. From 1957 through 1994, 2-3% of Americans surveyed claimed membership in the Jewish faith. This is not particularly surprising, as Jewish families tend to intermarry and spread the faith. To Jews, their religion is an important part of everyday family life. The loss of the religion could mean a disruption of family life as one knows it. In light of the small percentage of Americans claiming Jewish beliefs, the remaining Jews cling tightly to their beliefs and traditions in order to preserve them for future generations.

The statistics presented show a trend away from Christian sects, most notably the Roman Catholic church, and an increase in the number of people who are claiming to have no religious affiliation or to be of other faiths. Of those that stay, the trend is toward less strict attendance of church services. As life becomes busier for Americans, they are distancing themselves from traditional faiths and finding faiths that suit their beliefs, ideals, and lifestyles.

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