Monday, September 12, 2011

The unexpected face of the faithful (I)

Recently a number of  studies have  described addressing who, exactly,is going to church.  And the results may surprise you.

One study shows that more educated white Americans are actually MORE likely to attend church regularly.
….with each additional year of education:
  • •The likelihood of attending religious services increased 15%.
  • •The likelihood of reading the Bible at least occasionally increased by 9%.
  • •The likelihood of switching to a mainline Protestant denomination - Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian USA or United Methodist - increased by 13%.

“The more educated a person is in their faith, the more cosmopolitan they are in their religious outlook,” [D. Michael Lindsay] said. “They’re worldly in the very best sense of the term. They rub shoulders with people of different kinds of faiths every day and as a result they have different visions of what it means to express your faith in the public square.”

“They’re more open-minded, but here’s the thing: They’re no less faithful.”
Of course, fundamentalists would probably rail at these more educated believers, who are able to grasp allegory, paradox, and mystery without wanting it all laid out in black and white.  One might say, a more mature faith.

And while we're at it, let's address the stereotype that people in my profession (science) are all Godless atheists.  In fact, studies show a surprising number of my colleagues are amongst those in the pews.  Elaine Ecklund of Rice University has examined religion in the science profession, looking specifically at faculty at major research universities--that means doctoral level scientists. Of 1700 surveys, she interviewed 275 closely. From a review of her recent book, Science v. Religion:
Fully half of these top scientists are religious. Only five of the 275 interviewees actively oppose religion. Even among the third who are atheists, many consider themselves "spiritual." One describes this spiritual atheism as being rooted in "wonder about the complexity and the majesty of existence," a sentiment many nonscientists -- religious or not -- would recognize. By not engaging with religion more fully and publicly, "the academy is really doing itself a big disservice," worries one scientist. ….
I'm not interested in the "spiritual but not religious" identification which has been contentious on other blogs . Rather, I'd like you to focus on the fully half of the top scientists who consider themselves religious--including Francis Collins, the head of the NIH.

In an article in the WaPo, Ecklund expands on her findings:
It turns out that nearly 50 percent of scientists identify with a religious label, and nearly one in five is actively involved in a house of worship, attending services more than once a month.....

Unfortunately...most religious scientists do not feel comfortable talking about their scientific lives within their faith communities. They think discussing science within their house of worship might offend fellow parishioners who are not scientists. So they do not bring it up. Instead, they practice what I call "secret science."...[A]nother poll shows that 25 percent of Americans think scientists are hostile to religion...
Ya think? THose stereotypes will bite you every time.

In any case, it is clear that the stereotype that religion is the pablum for the uneducated masses is not correct. THese studies show that highly educated people, including scientists, are active in their faith communities. I'm going to guess that those tend towards particular TYPES of faith communities, such as those represented here on this blog, not those of rigid fundamentalist bent.

(Incidentally, I don't consider myself spiritual in the least. Nor do I consider myself religious. On the other hand, I do go to church with my wife every week, though at times I admit to finding it rather tedious--particularly when the music program is on summer hiatus.  But it's such an important part of BP's life that it's important to me to be with her and share what I can.)

So much for the educated.  What's happening to those with less education?  Why are they NOT attending church?  My next post will look at that issue.


Brother David said...

I actually spend a lot of time as I wonder about the complexity and the majesty of existence.

IT, I think that you do a pretty poor job pretending not to be spiritual!

Counterlight said...

Frankly, I'm completely indifferent to the whole "spiritual" vs. "religious" argument, and find it almost as sterile as the "creation" vs. "evolution" fight.

But then, I'm a borderline heretic with strongly universalist and antinomian sympathies.

Did the study break down religious inclinations in scientists by specialty? In my completely anecdotal and unreliable experience, physicists are the most likely to be religious, and those in biology are the least inclined to religion.

I believe that you truly are an atheist, but you're also a valued and valuable member of the Episcopal Church who lives out the whole Christian thing with more grace than most Christians.

JCF said...

So much of this has to do w/ terminology: who agrees to what is "spiritual", what's "religious."

If "being religious" is merely a sociological description, then the mere fact that you regularly park your kiester on a house-of-worship pew means that you ARE "religious", IT.

Are you spiritual? Terms, terms, terms. I think by many of our [FoJ] definitions here, you are. By your own, you aren't. I think we don't agree on what "spirituality" means. JMO.

IT said...

Thank you for the kind words, all, but I don't want me to be the topic here....! (Although as the Republicans in the latest debate apparently cheered a description of a man dying for the absence of healthcare, I am quite willing to agree that I am more of a Christian than they are.)

Counterlight, you raise an interesting point. I've commented here previously, I'm not surprised at MD's sitting in the pew, but not so sure I'd expect others. I don't know if Ecklund broke it down by discipline; that would be interesting. I know she also looked at the upbringing of scientists and broke that down by denomination.

dr.primrose said...

Good article in today's N.Y. Times conerning gay bullying in schools in Michelle Bachman's district - In Suburb, Battle Goes Public on Bullying of Gay Students. It begins:


This sprawling suburban school system, much of it within Michele Bachmann’s Congressional district, is caught in the eye of one of the country’s hottest culture wars — how homosexuality should be discussed in the schools.

After years of harsh conflict between advocates for gay students and Christian conservatives, the issue was already highly charged here. Then in July, six students brought a lawsuit contending that school officials have failed to stop relentless antigay bullying and that a district policy requiring teachers to remain “neutral” on issues of sexual orientation has fostered oppressive silence and a corrosive stigma.

Also this summer, parents and students here learned that the federal Department of Justice was deep into a civil rights investigation into complaints about unchecked harassment of gay students in the district. The inquiry is still under way.

Through it all, conservative Christian groups have demanded that the schools avoid any descriptions of homosexuality or same-sex marriage as normal, warning against any surrender to what they say is the “homosexual agenda” of recruiting youngsters to an “unhealthy and abnormal lifestyle.”

Adding an extra incendiary element, the school district has suffered eight student suicides in the last two years, leading state officials to declare a “suicide contagion.” Whether antigay bullying contributed to any of these deaths is sharply disputed; some friends and teachers say four of the students were struggling with issues of sexual identity.

IT said...

Here's the link:

dr.primrose said...

Sorry, my attempt to create a hyperlink apparently failed! Maybe this one will work.

Marshall Scott said...

IT, I think I've shared her before my experience. I have always laughed at comments about Ph.D's and religion, and about conflict. My father spent his career in nuclear power research. My earliest memories of family friends are the families of my father's colleagues in doctoral programs (and pretty much all in physics and engineering, since that was his doctorate). All were and continue to be active on congregations. Some were in academic institutions and some in government research facilities (I grew around Oak Ridge), and remember visiting churches across the spectrum, while my family regularly attended first Presbyterian and then Episcopal churches.

Working in health care, I find few who would not identify themselves as "spiritual." Most can talk about the faith they grew up in, even if they "grew away from it." I did think Counterlight's question interesting. I work, after all, surrounded by what we might call "functional" biologists and chemists - doctors, nurses, pharmacists, etc. I wonder whether atheism is more common among academics than among - what would be an appropriate term? "Pragmatics?" I wonder whether it's more common among folks in the social sciences than among those in the physical sciences.

By the way, I have a somewhat different take on "spirituality." When I get it up, I'll share. I'll be interested in responses.

IT said...

Marshall, medicine is very different than Bioscience. We don't look death in the face in the lab every day. The cultures are sugnificntly different and in my experience medical professionals are much more likely to be religious. Engineers, too-- they also tend to be quite conservative politically. Academic science is quite different