Yes, it’s election season and along with the primetime presidential debates — everyone wants to debate poll numbers.
But there’s another poll warranting even greater scrutiny: A Pew Research Foundation report just released claims they found 20 percent of Americans do not identify themselves as religious. This, according to the foundation, is up from 2007 when the number was just over 15 percent. In the 30 years of age and under category it’s 33 percent — a third of younger Americans will tell pollsters they’re not religious at all. With 90 percent saying they’re not interested in seeking religion whatsoever.
Just to put this into perspective, 19 percent of Americans are white evangelicals and 22 percent identify as Catholic. Their numbers are now on par with the “unaffiliated” and yes (gasp) atheists.
But here’s the problem when pollsters ask Americans about our religion: We lie. When someone with a clipboard asks us about our belief in god and our church attendance we give the answer we think we should instead of the truth. According to the Pew study in 2012, 73 percent of Americans were religious and 68 percent said that religion plays an important role in their lives. According to Pew: “[American religious importance] is far higher than in Britain (17 percent), France (13 percent), Germany (21 percent) or Spain (22 percent).”
How do we know Americans are embellishing their churchiness en masse? If 37 percent of Americans went to church weekly or more and 33 percent went monthly/yearly — you know what you’d see at churches? Lines of people. A hundred million people every single Sunday. Instead churches (even iconic mega-churches) are going bankrupt and the pews are collecting dust instead of donations.
No, when it comes to self-reporting religious devotion Americans cannot be trusted.
We under-estimate our calories, over-state our height, under-report our weight and when it comes to piety – we lie like a prayer rug.
A different study at the University of Michigan looked at the rate of self-reported church attendance by Americans in contrast with actual attendance. “America maintains a gap of 10 to 18 percentage points between what people say they do on survey questions, and what time diary data says they actually do,” said the report.
Which means Americans attend church as frequently as (gasp) Europeans. Only unlike those heathen Europeans, we feel the need to say we’re in church when we’re actually watching the NFL. In short: Americans attend “church.” Wink. Wink. Air quotes.
On the other hand, there’s no evidence people are telling pollsters they’re atheists and then secretly go to church. The deceit is one-sided
So if we have been consistently over-reporting our religiosity by 10 to 18 percentage points, it’s reasonable to suggest this current estimate of non-religious Americans to be at 20 percent, could actually be closer to 38 percent. Which is on par with the largest religious group in the U.S., Protestant at 42 percent.
It’s possible we’re completely surrounded. Shh.
Taking Eternal Vigilance Too Far
Posted: Thursday, 11 October 2012