“People will be surprised by the amount of movement by Americans from one religious group to another — or to no religion at all. They’ll also be surprised by the extent to which immigration is helping to reshape the U.S. religious landscape.”
(Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum on Religion and American Life.)
The big news in religion this week is: You’ve changed!
Or, at least, millions of you have changed religious affiliations in your lifetime — nearly 1 out of every 2 Americans reported that to researchers in a major project funded by the Pew Forum.
More than one in four American adults have completely left the faith of their childhood for another religion — or they’ve moved to no religion at all. Then, when denominational change is added to the mix — meaning that you’ve changed from one branch of Protestantism to another branch within the Christian faith — then 44 percent of American adults have changed their religious affiliation!
Now, that may not sound so newsworthy at first glance — but dig a little deeper! Pew finally is placing solid research behind shifts that many of us who have been carefully watching the religious landscape for years have been describing mainly from anecdotal reporting.
Catholics? Your whole world is transforming in the U.S.!
Lesson No. 1 for the Future, Catholics: Learn to speak Spanish!
Half of all Catholics aged 18 to 29 now are Latinos. In virtually every Catholic parish I’ve visited in the past 25 years, people have talked about the importance of reaching young people. Well, half of the young Catholics in America are Hispanic.
In fact, it’s only thanks to Latino immigration that the Catholic church has managed to shore up its traditional claim that “1-in-4 Americans are Catholic.” That’s because Catholics have left the church in the tens of millions over the years. One third of American adults who started life as Catholics — now are somewhere else religiously!
These Pew conclusions run parallel with the ongoing research of Dr. Wayne Baker, a sociologist with the University of Michigan’s school of business. His landmark study, “America’s Crisis of Values,” formed the book showed us how deeply Americans’ deep passion for religion is also coupled with a desire for self expression that’s stronger than the desire for free expression in some Scandinavian countries.
In short: We love religion — but we’ll make up our own minds, thank you.
Perhaps Baker was in an ideal position to theorize on these trends, because he’s based in the Midwest, which Pew this week pointed out is an ideally balanced location for observing America’s religious diversity. We agree. That’s one reason we’re pleased that our ReadTheSpirit Home Office is situated in the heart of the Midwest.
Pew reported: “The Midwest most closely resembles the religious makeup of the overall adult population of the U.S. The South, by a wide margin, has the heaviest concentration of members of evangelical Protestant churches. The Northeast has the greatest concentration of Catholics, and the West has the largest population of unaffiliated people, including the largest population of atheists and agnostics.”
Go take a look at some of Pew’s findings. More reports will come later from further examination of this massive study — but some of the coolest data and comparisons are represented in interactive, online charts on the Pew site, already. Watch out! You could lose ourself for a good hour or so clicking around on the Pew site. So, when you’re good and ready: Visit the Pew Forum Web site.
BUT — PLEASE — before you do that — either add a “Comment” to this story by clicking on the link at the end of this article online — OR, simply click to drop me, ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm, an email.
We really would like to know: Why did you change? You’re not alone. More than 100 million Americans have changed affiliations. So, don’t be shy. Show a little of that desire for “self expression” that Dr. Baker writes about — and drop me a note. I’d like to gather some comments from readers about why you’ve made your changes — and see what insights we might share with ReadTheSpirit readers.
Late this week, I talked with another expert on global religious-diversity issues. I spent about an hour on the telephone talking over emerging issues with the journalist and author Ira Rifkin, who lives in Annapolis and wrote one of the essential books on these issues: “Spiritual Perspectives on Globalization.” (Remember: You can click on any book or film cover in our articles and jump to reviews — and buy a copy via Amazon, if you wish.)
I asked Ira what he found most surprising in the Pew report.
“Nothing,” he said. “Anybody who has been observing this scene for a while, this is what you see -– you see people hopping from one group to another, people feeling more free than ever to search for answers that make sense to them.”
What Ira did find most interesting, however, is the way these patterns of change are affecting some groups more than others. Catholics are going through a historic change. The Jewish population is shrinking significantly. Mainline Protestants are experiencing a dramatic evolution. Hindus and Buddhists don’t seem to be leaving their faith groups as rapidly as other Americans — “but in another generation, they may see more change and intermarriage than they’re seeing now,” Ira said, pointing out elements in the Pew study that he found intriguing.
In other words: All of us who care deeply about the impact of spirituality and religion on the shape of our world want to know — Why did you change?
Take a moment this weekend — and drop us a note!
Why? Oh, why?
Once again: Add a “Comment” to this story by clicking on the link at the end of this article online — OR, simply click to drop me, ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm, an email.
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