The link I've given you to the study in the previous paragraph will let you read the whole thing. And if statistics about religion float your boat, you might want to do that.
But the overwhelming point of this follow-up study to the original Pew study is that faith in America seems to be in constant flux. About half of all adult Americans no longer are affiliated with the religion of their childhood (or the lack of religion of their childhood).
So what's happening here?
Well, in the media conference call about the study, I asked the study leaders whether they thought their work showed that Americans are just "mindless religion shoppers." No, they said. Such a description would be unfair in that it would discount the seriousness with which a lot of people take changes in their religious affiliation.
As religion scholar John Green told us, "Americans change religious affiliation often, early and for many reasons."
It's the "many reasons" that intrigue me. No doubt some people -- perhaps most, as the study suggests -- simply drift away from one religion toward another or toward none. And no doubt some people grow to have serious objections to dogma or practice, so they search for a place that is more compatible with where their head and heart is.
But my guess is that in our consumerist culture, lots of folks shop for a religion the way they shop for a house or a pair of socks. As Green said, "We do live in a competitive religious marketplace. In that context, religious leaders have to be competitive."
I think that this often leads to people changing congregations for superfluous reasons. It leads to a lack of commitment to stick with a congregation in trying times because that congregation is in some sense family. It leads to a sense of entitlement -- an entitlement to "be fed," and when people aren't feeling fed, they look for a better religious restaurant.
So if you've changed religious affiliation at some point, can you tell us why?
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THE TASK FOR ATHEISM
A thoughtful atheist writer suggests some reasons religion will continue to be a powerful cultural force in the United States. My own guess is that 50 or 100 years from now the percentage of true atheists (not just the religiously unaffiliated) in the American population will be roughly what it is today. I remember a friend telling me once he tried to be an atheist but kept having lapses of disbelief. On the other hand, people in religious congregations sometimes are reminded that their religion is always just one generation away from disappearing.
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P.S.: I wrote here on St. Patrick's Day about a new publication called the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue. I wanted you to know that the inaugural edition of the journal is being made available free online starting today. Click here for that. My first glance through it tells me it looks to be good, solid stuff. And there's an invitation to others to submit articles for the next edition.
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ANOTHER P.S.: From time to time here I've mentioned the excellent films and documentaries offered by Odyssey Networks on the Hallmark Channel. There's another one set to air at 6 a.m. CDT this Sunday. It's from Mennonite Media and is called "Embracing Aging: Families Facing Change." Yes, that's an inconvient time for most of us but that's why many folks have the capacity to tape shows. Besides, the show will be available online on Monday, May 4 at http://www.odysseynetworks.org/.