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Baylor Survey of Religion
September 11, 2006 7:34 AM   Subscribe

The Baylor Religion Survey (PDF) has been released, and - big surprise - Americans are religious. Just how religious? Although nearly a quarter of Americans believe in a "Distant god" - an essentially deist view - only 5.2% consider themselves atheist and 89% subscribe to some kind of organized religion. More stats: There are more evangelical Protestants (33.6%) than mainline Protestants or members of traditionally black churches put together. Of all people affiliated with a religion, 93% are Christian. And those considering themselves biblical literalists are twice as likely to support a pro-military, anti-crime political agenda.
posted by Saucy Intruder (42 comments total)

 
IS there anybody who really supports a pro-crime political agenda?
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:40 AM on September 11, 2006


IS there anybody who really supports a pro-crime political agenda?

Yes, but they have a hard time finding a candidate who will run an honest election.

Oh, wait, that's everybody...nevermind.
posted by thanotopsis at 7:45 AM on September 11, 2006


pro-military, anti-crime political agenda

all kidding aside, this phrase is so vague as to be meaningless.
posted by jonmc at 7:48 AM on September 11, 2006


…biblical literalists are twice as likely to support a pro-military, anti-crime political agenda.

So I guess they aren't taking the "turn the other cheek" bit literally.
posted by Jatayu das at 7:52 AM on September 11, 2006


"And those considering themselves biblical literalists are twice as likely to support a pro-military, anti-crime political agenda."

Wasn't Jesus literally a criminal convicted of sedition and executed by the soldiers of an occupying power?
posted by orthogonality at 7:53 AM on September 11, 2006


Belief that some forms of "alternative medicine" can sometimes be effective rather far from a belief in "paranormal phenomena". It's bizarre that this is placed in the same category with belief that "Some UFOs are probably spaceships from other worlds" or that Ouija boards can predict the future, etc..
posted by jam_pony at 8:01 AM on September 11, 2006


Is there anybody who really supports a pro-crime political agenda?

I guess SaucyIntruder is looking at page 26. The phrases actually used are "spend more on the military" and "punish criminals more harshly". Which isn't really anything like the "support a pro-military, anti-crime political agenda" phrasing in the FPP.
posted by ninebelow at 8:01 AM on September 11, 2006


Isn't Baylor a Southern Baptist school?
posted by QIbHom at 8:02 AM on September 11, 2006


Man, I've been wondering where all the atheists are.
posted by danb at 8:04 AM on September 11, 2006


It's some kind of Baptist.
posted by jam_pony at 8:04 AM on September 11, 2006


I'm probably anti-military. I think armies are, at best, a necessary evil.
If I can disagree with it, it's probably not meaningless....
posted by Richard Daly at 8:05 AM on September 11, 2006


Shouldn't biblical literalists, you know, follow the instructions in the bible? Like peace and love and forgiveness and all that?
posted by Kickstart70 at 8:06 AM on September 11, 2006


Pagans, Hindus, Shinto, Buddhists etc. are even more obscure in this survey.

I do like the heading "America's Four Gods" - nice unintentional nod to polytheism.
posted by jam_pony at 8:07 AM on September 11, 2006


only 5.2% consider themselves atheist

Gosh, ya think atheists are more likely than other folks to select themselves out of a 400-question phone survey about religion?

Ya think?
posted by mediareport at 8:09 AM on September 11, 2006


I think there are enough contradictions in The Bible that literalists would explode or something if they weren't selective.
posted by jam_pony at 8:09 AM on September 11, 2006


After reading in that 2nd link the non sequitur evidence for their belief that getting atheist participation "didn’t seem to be a problem," and getting a laugh out of the fact that they tested the questions on Unitarians (is that supposed to help?), it seems even more obvious to me that atheists are going to be underreported in this kind of survey, which almost always result in inflated estimates of "piety":

Poll data on religious behavior and practice are notoriously unreliable. Individuals often describe their own behavior inaccurately; they answer questions according to what they think they should be doing. For example:

17% of American adults say that they tithe (give 10 to 13% of their income to their church). Only 3% really do.

Many polls indicate that the percentage of adults who regularly attend a religious service is about 40% in the U.S., 20% in Canada, and perhaps 10% or less in Europe. But when noses are actually counted, the true figures are about half the stated figures (about 20% in the U.S. and 10% in Canada.)


I find it very telling that in their introduction, the researchers make a point to call out previous studies for allegedly "overcounting" people unaffiliated with a specific religion, but (as far as I can see after a quick read of the first half) fail to mention the over-reporting of religious behavior that's a well-documented feature of this kind of survey. I mean, jeez, they put their study's agenda right there in the first line:

Some European observers dismiss American religiosity as “a mile wide and an inch deep.” For example, the late Oxford sociologist Bryan Wilson claimed that “everyone” recognizes the “superficiality of much religious commitment in American society,” contrasting this with the complexity of worship in British churches, albeit among a much smaller clientele. To support such views, Wilson and others point to survey findings that appear to suggest a monolithic, uncritical American religion.

Really? Monolithic? Is that the issue the folks who notice vast over-reporting of church attendance across the board have really focused on? Er, no. It's just the easy straw man the Baylor folks have set up to knock down with this study.
posted by mediareport at 9:21 AM on September 11, 2006


Poll data on religious behavior and practice are notoriously unreliable. Individuals often describe their own behavior inaccurately; they answer questions according to what they think they should be doing. For example:

17% of American adults say that they tithe (give 10 to 13% of their income to their church). Only 3% really do.


Even that poll data is up for grabs. In my work on the Southern Baptists (16 million adherents) and the Mormons (no data available), it can be suggested that the poll should work out to 5% of the US population.

Unfortunately, the poll does not seem to include Muslims, which would push the total up perhaps another percentage point.

Many polls indicate that the percentage of adults who regularly attend a religious service is about 40% in the U.S., 20% in Canada, and perhaps 10% or less in Europe. But when noses are actually counted, the true figures are about half the stated figures (about 20% in the U.S. and 10% in Canada.)

This sounds true enough. It's down to semantics, and seems as though phone polling has soured as we make our way to cell phones and VoIP, which pollsters have yet to crack.

However, if we ascertain that 46% of Americans believe in God; then we can make the assumption that at least half of those people attend church at least once a year for any given reason.

I wonder whether anyone has done any work on polling recently married couples on their church activity. As we know from MassOb reports that the first two years of a couple's relationship decides how they will spend their religious life together.
posted by parmanparman at 9:48 AM on September 11, 2006


Were agnostics excluded from the survery?
posted by Brian B. at 10:18 AM on September 11, 2006


My show will be having two of the pollsters from Baylor on this weekend's show (Sept. 16). What's funny about the poll is that it says 17% of Americans believe in Bigfoot. What's interesting is that the overwhelming majority of Christians of all denominations claim God favors a certain political party. This will definitely shed light on many media claims over that last eight years.

If people want to submit questions to ask, my e-mail is on the website or post here and I will get it.
posted by parmanparman at 10:18 AM on September 11, 2006


Parmanparman: What's interesting is that the overwhelming majority of Christians of all denominations claim God favors a certain political party.

I think you misread that. "Over four fifths of Americans believe that God does not favor a political party (see
Figure 18)."

posted by Snerd at 10:56 AM on September 11, 2006




I misread that. Thx.
posted by parmanparman at 11:05 AM on September 11, 2006


This poll smells. For example, from Table 2. Belief about Jesus. Two options are presented. Jesus is the son of God. Jesus is a fictional character. - How hard would it have been to write a third choice on that? Or, just below: Belief about Bible. Two choices. Literally true. Ancient book of history and legends. This sounds like a dichotomy that exists only in the minds of evangelicals and a poll written to get a Baptist college view of the world in print.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:14 AM on September 11, 2006


It would be amusing (yes, not surprising) if we found out that some brilliant Baylor researcher only called local numbers on campus. "Hey, let's do some research that will come up with results that will back our own beliefs. That would be cool!"

When will the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ back MY PARTY?!
posted by smallerdemon at 11:17 AM on September 11, 2006


If I can disagree with it, it's probably not meaningless....

Would you disagree that colorless green ideas sleep furiously?
posted by owhydididoit at 11:17 AM on September 11, 2006


A poll question's options should be collectively exhaustive. Typically, a pseudo-poll will contain mutually exclusive questions instead of collectively exhaustive ones, presumably because the pollsters don't know the difference.
posted by Brian B. at 11:29 AM on September 11, 2006


What's funny about the poll is that it says 17% of Americans believe in Bigfoot.

And 7% of Americans believe Bigfoot is God. They're the ones who watched Harry and the Hendersons.
posted by pracowity at 11:45 AM on September 11, 2006


I am trying to use this survey to better understand America but I'm not sure what to make of this. In Table 9, 72.6% said extra-marital sex is always wrong while 57% said gay marriage is always wrong. So infidelity is a hotter button topic than gay marriage? 41.4% said viewing pornography is always wrong. Doesn't sound like America (and not that far off from gay marriage numbers.) I also wonder how they came up with zero African American atheists. Sounds like sample skew, what mediareport suggested above.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 12:09 PM on September 11, 2006


Me again. Table 19. Along with some poorly worded phrasing on alternative beliefs, there's this:

Those who agree/strongly agree that Astrology impacts one's life and personality. East 19.7%, Midwest 14.3%, South 13.7%, West 13.8%, Total 12.3%. Since they divided the country into four parts, how did the total end up being lower than the parts?

As for the poor wording. "Some alternative medicines are at least effective as traditional medicines." Absolutely, I doubt you'll get a doctor to disagree with that. "Dreams can sometimes tell the future or reveal hidden truths." As for revealing hidden truths, few would disagree with at least the potential for associations made through dreaming. "It's possible to communicate with the dead." Absolutely. They don't talk back though. "Witnessed an object in the sky you could not identify." (Only 17% said yes - everyone else was able to identify every object they've seen in the sky?)
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 12:34 PM on September 11, 2006


This poll smells. For example, from Table 2. Belief about Jesus. Two options are presented. Jesus is the son of God. Jesus is a fictional character. - How hard would it have been to write a third choice on that?

You should look at the survey, which is duplicated at the end of the PDF. It's more detailed than the paper itself lets on; for whatever reason, all of the survey's results aren't presented in the paper. Perhaps there's another publication that has more complete data (which I imagine would be book-length).

For instance, question 24:

Which one statement comes closest to your personal beliefs about Jesus?

1. Jesus is a fictional character
2. Jesus probably existed, but he was not special
3. Jesus was an extraordinary person, but he was not a messenger of God
4. Jesus was one of many messengers or prophets of God
5. Jesus is the son of God
6. I have no opinion
posted by Prospero at 12:48 PM on September 11, 2006


Baylor is wacky right wingish. This survey is crap.

Thus spoke balrog.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 1:35 PM on September 11, 2006


You're right, Prospero. My bad. I assumed in their Tables they would have something more than a summary of the two extreme answers.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 1:40 PM on September 11, 2006


The reason there are so few athiests is they are killed after escaping the cube.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:19 PM on September 11, 2006


Of all people affiliated with a religion, 93% are Christian

Even if it was 99.999% that still wouldn't mean that your religion should influence our laws. Too many don't know that, or if they know, they don't care.
posted by amberglow at 3:33 PM on September 11, 2006


I was blown away by the figure that less than 5% of the US population was religious, but not mainstream Christian or Jewish. Then I looked at the breakdown by race, apparently they managed to only poll "whites" and "african americans."

Where the other half of the country was, I have no idea.
posted by slm303 at 4:18 PM on September 11, 2006


Yes, this survey is crap. Their participation rates are significantly higher than those found in other surveys of American religous life.

But I'd just like to comment on something peripheral that bugs me, both in the Baylor question, and in the comments here:

There is NO SUCH THING as "alternative" medicine.

If it IS effective - if clinical trials show that it actually WORKS - then 'mainstream' medicine will pounce upon it, and put it to work saving lives. It will BE "medicine", and not "alternative" medicine.

If it is NOT effective, then it's not "alternative medicine" - - it's quackery.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 6:51 PM on September 11, 2006


If it is NOT effective, then it's not "alternative medicine" - - it's quackery.

That's a bit simplistic. It ignores the difficulties non-Western treatments have encountered just getting studied, let alone accepted, for one thing.
posted by mediareport at 8:30 PM on September 11, 2006


Man, I've been wondering where all the atheists are.

They all moved to the UK. 50-60% atheist or agnostic. And I thought Jesusland was a joke description for the the US...
posted by ArkhanJG at 9:22 PM on September 11, 2006


“IS there anybody who really supports a pro-crime political agenda?”



posted by Smedleyman at 9:18 AM on September 12, 2006


While many of the critiques of the survey seem valid, I'm also skeptical of the possibility of creating an unbiased survey about religion. First of all, certain groups are probably more likely than others to agree to take the survey (who will opt out probably depends on who runs the survey, how it's conducted, etc.). Additionally, I can't imagine a way to craft the answers that wouldn't either be biased or have so many different choices as to make the results meaningless. Religious beliefs are so personal and individuated that it would be hard to capture them in any multiple choice test.
posted by Amy Phillips at 9:39 AM on September 12, 2006 [1 favorite]


IS there anybody who really supports a pro-crime political agenda?

Yeah, some economists think that a certain level of crime is often necessary for a properly functioning economy and some stripes of anarchists and such advocate certain crimes as a neccessity of a functioning state. Lots of spooks think crime is neccessary to carry on statecraft.

Google 'assassination politics' for one really extreme example, the author is in prison for stalking federal officers or something like that.

But a pro-crime political party is a little harder to imagine.
posted by sonofsamiam at 9:43 AM on September 12, 2006




Not so very hard: we have one in power today. "President" Bush stood up last week and announced that yes, he has been holding people prisoner outside the legal system, and yes, he has been having them tortured.

That violates so many laws it's hard to know where to start.

So the Republicans are proud of being the "pro-crime" party.

mediareport: It ignores the difficulties non-Western treatments have encountered just getting studied, let alone accepted, for one thing.


And mediareport, not, it's not really "simplistic": it's just a very simple question of semantics.

If it can be shown to work, it's called "medicine". If it can't be shown to work, it's quackery - - also known as "alternative medicine".

It really is that simple. There are thousands of medical researchers beating the bushes looking for treatments that can save lives. Medical researchers work on things that are promising. If it's not promising, it's not medicine - - it's quackery, tricking sick people who are desperate for hope. If it is promising, it very rapidly becomes simply "medicine".

The term "alternative medicine" is nothing more than a polite term for quackery.

Sorry to derail the thread, but the idea that scientific medicine is deliberately ignoring live-saving treatments out of narrow-mindedness, or out of some hypothetical "not invented here" prejudice, just annoys the hell out of me.

posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 5:48 PM on September 12, 2006



My new survey.

Q1 Do you consider yourself religious ?
Q2 Would you be prepared to answer a long survey about your religion.
posted by matholio at 7:44 PM on September 12, 2006


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