You are hereSurvey: Americans switch faiths often

Survey: Americans switch faiths often

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By Virgil - Posted on 28 April 2009

The United States is a nation of religious drifters, with about half of adults switching faith affiliation at least once during their lives, according to a new survey. The reasons behind the swap depend greatly on whether one grows up kneeling at Roman Catholic Mass, praying in a Protestant pew or occupied with nonreligious pursuits, according to a report issued Monday by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.While Catholics are more likely to leave the church because they stopped believing its teachings, many Protestants are driven to trade one Protestant denomination or affiliation for another because of changed life circumstances, the survey found.
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The ranks of those unaffiliated with any religion, meanwhile, are growing not so much because of a lack of religious belief but because of disenchantment with religious leaders and institutions.

The report estimates that between 47 percent and 59 percent of U.S. adults have changed affiliation at least once. Most described just gradually drifting away from their childhood faith.

"This shows a sort of religion a la carte and how pervasive it is," said D. Michael Lindsay, a Rice University sociologist of religion. "In some ways, it's an indictment of organized Christianity. It suggests there's a big open door for newcomers, but a wide back door where people are leaving."

Religion-swapping

The report, "Faith in Flux: Changes in Religious Affiliation in the U.S.," sought to answer questions about widespread religion-changing identified in a 2007 Pew survey of 35,000 Americans.

The new report, based on re-interviews with more than 2,800 people from the original survey, focuses on religious populations that showed a lot of movement: ex-Catholics, ex-Protestants, Protestants who have swapped denominational families within Protestantism and people raised unaffiliated who now belong to a faith.

The 2007 survey estimated that 44 percent of U.S. adults had left their childhood religious affiliation.

But the re-interviews found the extent of religion-swapping is likely much greater. The new survey revealed that one in six Americans who belong to their childhood faith are "reverts" — people who left the faith, only to return later.

Roughly two-thirds of those raised Catholic or Protestant who now claim no religious affiliation say they have changed faiths at least twice. Thirty-two percent of unaffiliated ex-Protestants said they've changed three times or more.

Age is another factor

Age is another factor. Most people who left their childhood faith did so before turning 24, and a majority joined their current religion before 36.

"If people want to see a truly free market at work, they really should look at the U.S. religious marketplace," said Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Sixteen percent of U.S. adults identified as unaffiliated in the 2007 survey; 7 percent of Americans described being raised unaffiliated, suggesting that many Americans end up leaving their religion for none.

About half of those who have become unaffiliated cited a belief that religious people are hypocritical, judgmental or insincere. Large numbers said they think religious organizations focus too much on rules, or that religious leaders are too focused on money and power.

'Dissatisfied customers'

John Green, a University of Akron political scientist and a senior fellow with the Pew Forum, classified most unaffiliated as "dissatisfied consumers." Only 4 percent identify as atheist or agnostic, and one-third say they just haven't found the right religion.

"A lot of the unaffiliated seem to be OK with religion in the abstract," Green said. "It's just the religion they were involved in bothered them or they disagreed with it."

The unaffiliated category is not just a destination. It's also a departure point: a slight majority of those raised unaffiliated eventually join a faith tradition.

Those who do cite several reasons: attraction of religious services and worship (74 percent), feeling unfulfilled spiritually (51 percent) or feeling called by God (55 percent).

The survey found that Catholicism has suffered the greatest net loss in all the religion switching. Nearly six in 10 former Catholics who are now unaffiliated say they left Catholicism due to dissatisfaction with Catholic teachings on abortion and homosexuality. About half cited concerns about Catholic teachings on birth control and roughly four in ten named unhappiness with Catholicism's treatment of women.

Writerx's picture

"In some ways, it's an indictment of organized Christianity. It suggests there's a big open door for newcomers, but a wide back door where people are leaving."

What the evangelicals of today need to do is ask yet another hard question. Forget for a moment the droves of people herding away from the pew (I suppose you could say I'm even in that camp). Now think on this: of those who are remaining, how many are doing so for any reason aside from habit? And of those who have 'sincere' reasons for attending organized religion churches, how many of them are truly involved and/or active in a meaningful way?

It occurs to me that 'church' as it's been done the past few thousand years is about to go on life support if it hasn't already.

-A.J.

Virgil's picture

AJ - what is actually speeding up the process is the fact that those who are refusing to see the Church is heading for a trip to ER are making things worse by attacking and resisting the change necessary to reform and change.

Writerx's picture

And this is only the practical side of the argument. On a theological note, most of the mainstream Mega Church preachers or the TV dispys are so utterly inept at digging into the shallowest soil of the scriptures that it's amazing anyone even knows who Jesus was in the first place. When a collective body like this lacks 1) transformative power 2) theological grounding, and 3) finally a lack of butts in the seats, how does anyone expect it to continue to hold sway?

mazuur's picture

"While Catholics are more likely to leave the church because they stopped believing its teachings"

yeah, this is what happen when they actually open their Bible for a change and doing some reading.

-Rich

-Rich

rfwitt's picture

I view the institutional church like a box. In that box are the beliefs and practices that attendees should adhere to. When you find yourself on the outside of the box (e.g. those who believe in Full Preterism) you find you are no longer welcome. It's their way or the highway. Freedom to think out of the box is discouraged through various means. Speaking for myself, I have found the institutional church the least "free" place to discuss differences. It would be interesting to know how many Christians no longer attend an "institutional church". I have run into several myself.
Richard...

Barry's picture

Church history can be summed up in this statement IMO.
"The persecuted, become the persecutors".

The one which were first persecuted become with time the "right ones" and then become th persecutors. And so it goes on.

This is the history of the "institutional church". The question is then if "Preterism" were to become popular will it fallow the same path?

The answer IMO is that Unity is not "made" it is realized.

JMO
Barry

we are all in this together

Writerx's picture

Barry,

I think you raise an interesting question here. The answer should be obvious, but I suspect it doesn't work itself out that way. Fact of the matter is, Preterists ought to know better than to go about their theological relationships in lockstep, unquestionable certainty. Of all people we know on some level what it's like to have to entirely shift a perspective on a topic; to shut down the factory after one shift and go back to the pew as if nothing had happened (and try to ward off outside-the-box thinking as a result) should be ludicrous.

But from what I've seen from the preterist community––aberrant examples aside––most seem pretty willing to engage on any topic and hear out any argument. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't see Church 2.0 in preterism's future.

-A.J.

Barry's picture

Hey AJ
Quote:
But from what I've seen from the preterist community––aberrant examples aside––most seem pretty willing to engage on any topic and hear out any argument.
End quote.

A few thoughts:

This IMO is due in part because of technology. First the printing press and then the Internet.

The affect of technology means that everything is sped up. Both in terms of human to human interaction and the diversity of views and opinions and so information to consider, ponder, or reject.

The typical "polarization" of thought and view and philosophy (which is formed to create a view of self identity), that usually comes into play in religious circles is challenged by this new technology. Meaning that a few more people than was previously the case in previous generations, are getting a little more comfortable with changing their minds. It is getting harder to be as dogmatic as we otherwise tend to be.

Just a thought,
Barry

we are all in this together

rfwitt's picture

"The typical "polarization" of thought and view and philosophy (which is formed to create a view of self identity), that usually comes into play in religious circles is challenged by this new technology. Meaning that a few more people than was previously the case in previous generations, are getting a little more comfortable with changing their minds. It is getting harder to be as dogmatic as we otherwise tend to be."

I agree Barry. Unless the institutional church can become a learning center as opposed to an indoctrination center its days are numbered.
Richard.....

Parker's picture

"Nearly six in 10 former Catholics who are now unaffiliated say they left Catholicism due to dissatisfaction with Catholic teachings on abortion and homosexuality. "

This is great news. The Catholics leaving the faith are the unfaithful liberals. Good riddance. We're all too glad to see those folks go!

The Catholics are the largest denom in the world thousands of times over. It's the only denom Jesus founded in actual history, so it's not going anywhere. We can afford to lose our liberals.

Moreover, we have scores of top notch protestant converts, from Evangelical Society Prez Francis Beckwith to Laura Ingraham and Newt Gingrich.

Virgil's picture

It's the only denom Jesus founded in actual history

I know it's futile to get into a whole thing with you again here, but Jesus did not find a "denomination." There is no historical or biblical evidence of such a thing...

Parker's picture

Virg,

Jesus founded just one group. That group is historically identified as the Catholics. We're the only denom that dates to the first century and the apostles' own flocks.

Example: the Church at Rome, to whom St. Paul wrote, never went away and is led by Pope Benedict XVI, the 265th successor of St. Peter.

Contemporary protestant groups have no historical connection to the historical Jesus.

Starlight's picture

Parker,

I love you brother but I’m working on lowering my High Blood pressure. It just shot up 50 points.

Can you give me some help there?

Virgil, I blame you too as you knew better. ;-) LOL

Norm

Parker's picture

What's the problem here, Norm?

The Catholic denom is the only one that dates to the first century apostolic churches. (Example: Church at Rome) I'm only stating historical fact. No need to get excited.

In contrast, the oldest protestant denoms date to about 1500, and thus have no historical link to Jesus or the apostles of the first century AD.

Blessings,

Starlight's picture

Parker,

No,No, I'm not getting sucked into this.

Blessings

Norm

Virgil's picture

You are operating under the paradigm that Jesus came to "found" some denomination. Again, there is no such evidence found anywhere. He did not come to found a denomination or group. He came to bring about the Kingdom of God and reconciliation of humanity back to the Creator.

Parker's picture

Jesus founded His church, Virg, and that church was one single denom with one common leadership, fellowship, and doctrine. Historically, we know that the Catholics are that one christian denom founded in the first century.

The protestant sects emerge from Luther and other Catholics who left the Catholic denom starting in 1500s, but just a few of those protesting sects continue to this day (Lutherans, Mennonites, Presbyterians). The other thousands of protestant sects originate even later.

No protestant sect has any historical connection to Jesus, the first century, or the denom/group overseen by the apostles and their bishops. The catholics alone hold that distinction.

davo's picture

Parker: No protestant sect has any historical connection to Jesus, the first century, or the denom/group overseen by the apostles and their bishops. The catholics alone hold that distinction.

G'day Parker… I think your logic is a little amiss – "Catholic" simply means "universal". Christians are all catholic, simply of differing persuasions of practice; some are Romish the rest are not. Virgil is right however in that Jesus did NOT come to start a new denomination – He came to redeem Israel and in the process reconcile mankind; clearly He succeeded on both accounts.

davo

Parker's picture

Hi Davo:

The early christians were at their founding by Christ one group, one denom, one church, one people. They had one common leadership, one common international fellowship, and one common doctrine. The Church at Rome was the hub, as history shows, and the entire world of christians was run by a common bishopric (ordained bishops leading the flocks by region/city). These bishops convened in many ecumenical councils down the centuries.

That one church is, historically, the Catholics. The protestants don't arrive until 1500 years later when certain catholic priests left the one church and proceeded to create hundreds (now thousands) of schismatic sects, shattering christian unity.

Schism is against God and hurts us all. Schism weakens our witness in the world, our ability to act as a major force against evil, our ability to help the needy, and our ability to support each other effectively. I'm not certain how it can be reversed while the protestants are divided into thousands of sects, but perhaps God will use forces of history to bring about a reunion among the most populated protestant groupings.

As scripture and history show, Jesus founded only one denomination, and that denom is the Catholics, whose history begins with the apostles' flocks and appointed bishops and continues even to our day in unbroken historical succession.

plymouthrock's picture

Parker,

Are you saying that current Catholic doctrine today is the same doctrine taught by Christ in the first century?

If so, prove it vis a vis praying to saints, purgatory, calling men father, etc.

plymouthrock!

Parker's picture

What I'm saying is that the one single denom Jesus founded in the first century is the Catholic denom. That's a historic fact.

The protestant non-cathoilcs don't appear until 1500 centuries later, but they appeared when certain Catholics left the catholic church and subsequently started their own sects.

Today those protestant sects now number in the dozens of thousands, as the protestants can't seem to find any way to stick together as one. But perhaps God will use historic circumstances of one sort or another to end schism and restore unity to christianity. Until then, we're all weakened in our influence and witness, and the West is dying as a result.

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