This Pew report is getting a lot of people’s attention. It includes some surprising data. The most important is that people are not staying in the religion that they were brought up in. Also, there is an alarming drop in the number of Catholics. As usual, the Baha’i Faith’s miniscule numbers didn’t even place it on the radar.
This is the most widely seen excerpt from the study (click to see full view):
But for me, the most interesting piece of data was elsewhere. Take a look at this chart comparing the “religiosity” of people to their economic standing:
The survey finds a strong relationship between a country’s religiosity and its economic status. In poorer nations, religion remains central to the lives of individuals, while secular perspectives are more common in richer nations.
Of course, this isn’t really shocking nor news. Most of us have an innate sense that this is true from our own experiences. Have you heard the expression “There are no atheists in a foxhole”?
I know from the efforts of the Baha’i Faith that Western Europe has been impregnable for the past 4 decades. The same with North America. The only place the Baha’i Faith has made any headway has been in poorer countries like India where the vast percentage of Baha’is in the world reside. Even that is contested due to the fluid nature of religious affiliation on that continent.
Needless to say, there are exceptions to the general data. There are many extremely wealthy people who are also extremely religious. And Mark Twain did say there are lies, damned lies and statistics
But that’s not the point. My only contention is that the sample size of 35,000 is too small (for a global study). But if the data is correct, then there is definitely a relationship between money and religious belief. That can be interpreted two ways:
For those who are of an atheist inclination, it is confirmation that religion is merely a sophisticated vestigial instinct born of ignorance. Once human life is elevated through the use of science it is apt to disappear.
For those who are of a theist inclination, it is confirmation that materialism is a great barrier to spirituality. Once physical needs such as health, well-being, shelter, etc. are fulfilled, humanity revels in decadence and drifts away from the non-physical needs which religion addresses.
Which one are you?
Is there a third way to interpret the data (assuming the study methodology is sound)?
Read the full report here: The Pews Global Attitudes Project (pdf format).
The report covers much more ground than people’s views of religion so it is worth a read. If you don’t have the time, here is a concise version.
There is a lot of fascinating stuff in there so look around. For example, here is a visual map of the United States showing the various faiths and traditions.