July 23, 2013


God Helps Us : America remains as religious as you thought (WILLIAM MCKENZIE, 7/29/13, Weekly Standard)

[I]n God Is Alive and Well, Frank Newport presents page after page of data demonstrating how religion is thriving in the United States. Religious belief is taking on new shapes, mind you; but that morphing is a good thing. It keeps religious expression growing and vital.

The data presented by Newport, who is Gallup's editor in chief, start off showing that the percentage of Americans who say they believe in God is on par with the percentage who said they were believers back in 1944. When Gallup asked Americans in 2011 whether they believed in God, more than 90 percent said yes. Over those 67 years, the percentage of Americans who say they do not believe in God has bounced around between only 6 and 8 percent. In other words, there has been no real change. 

Newport also presents data showing that the percentage of Americans saying they attend church is about the same as in 1940. About 40 percent report attending religious services at least once a week or almost weekly. About 15 percent say they never attend church. "Overall, this is fairly indicative of a religious nation," writes Newport, who was raised a Southern Baptist and is a Baylor graduate. He also highlights how the percentage of Americans who say that religion is very important to them remains at 55 percent. That number is not lower than it was 30 years ago: "There is no indication that there has been a continuous drop in the personal aspect of religion in recent years," he concludes. [...]

 The most fascinating change is the one that's accompanying large birthrates among Latinos. Newport reports that those growth rates are keeping Roman Catholicism growing in America. (The percentage of white Catholics is declining, but not of Latino Catholics.) Even more important is the role of Latino evangelicals. They are one of the fastest-growing parts of evangelicalism, and their churches are common in places like Dallas, where I live and where you see neighborhood churches with signs proclaiming names like Iglesia del SeƱor.

Latinos could influence the way evangelicalism shapes national politics, and we're seeing it already in the immigration debate. Latino evangelicals like Reverend Samuel Rodriguez are speaking out for a broad reform of policies, not just tighter security along the border. Look for more such influence. Look, also, for the role that baby boomers could play in religion in general. The older people get, the more likely they are to turn to some kind of faith, a point that Newport backs up with data. If those of us who are boomers follow this time-honored trend, we could become a growth industry for churches and other houses of faith. I had not thought of the possibility before reading this book, but what an irony if boomers, a generation known in part for self-absorption, should fuel religious growth on our way out.

The part of the book that caught me most off-guard, and that is worth the cover price, is the section that deals with the link between religion and health. I was genuinely skeptical when I started reading Newport's explanation of data that show how people of faith tend to enjoy better health.

Posted by at July 23, 2013 5:26 AM

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