Pew Survey – Religion in Everyday Life

This April 2016 report says that “highly religious Americans are happier and more involved with family” than others. But self-reported happiness does not really measure what it purports to. This is true in many contexts. In the present case, we know that suicide rates in the Bible Belt are above average. Since the Bible Belt is easily the most religious region of the country, this seems to contradict that claim that religiosity increases happiness.

Pew prefers to ask about subjective, non-verifiable matters rather than facts. For example, the survey asks, “Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with your health?” Normally, you’d ask people how healthy they are, but Pew avoids that. On nearly every measure of health, such as diabetes, coronary health, and even venereal disease, the Bible Belt is the least healthy region in the country. My guess is that even if Pew had asked people to assess their health, rather than their satisfaction with their health, religious respondents would have reported at least average results. Asking a factual question doesn’t guarantee a valid response. Religious folk often confuse faith, fact, and wishful thinking.

Pew also reports: “Majorities agree to disagree when discussing religion.” When Pew asks, “What do you personally think is the best thing to do when someone disagrees with you about religion?”, they find that about 70% of Christians “agree to disagree.” About 20% actively avoid discussing religion. Less than 10% actually try to persuade others. This is true of evangelicals as well, though Pew didn’t feel it was worthy of mention. That is, evangelicals overwhelmingly avoid evangelizing. When faced with an opportunity to persuade someone of a matter of faith, only 10% make any attempt to do so. About twice as many actively avoid discussing religion, and 70% simply agree to disagree without even attempting persuasion. In any case, evangelicals, much like other Christians, are remarkably ignorant of the Bible, and a good deal of what they think they know is wrong. I suspect this is part of why they are reluctant to evangelize.

Pew also asked, “How much do you look to each of the following for guidance on difficult moral questions?” Over 70% of Catholics rely “a great deal” on their own conscience, and almost 20% relying on it “some.” Over 20% rely a great deal on the Catholic Church’s teachings, with almost 45% relying on it “some.” Fewer Catholics rely on the Bible – 15% a great deal, 26% some. The Pope fares even worse: only 11% rely on him a great deal, and 30% “some.” In other words, about half as many Catholics rely on the Pope as on Church teachings. Apparently Catholics perceive a considerable disparity between the two. In any case, when it comes to moral matters, American Catholics overwhelmingly place more weight on their own consciences and moral values than they do on the Church or the Pope. In the good old days, this was considered heresy. Many burned at the stake for less.