Faith at Altitude

Religion and spirituality in the shadow of Pikes Peak

Monday, September 11, 2006

Faithful fall?

A new religious survey conducted by Baylor University indicates the nation's "nones" -- folks who don't claim any religious preference -- may not be growing quite as quickly as previously thought. But the conclusions are, frankly, a little confusing.

The survey, titled "American Piety in the 21st Century" and partly unveiled at the Religion Newswriters Association conference in Salt Lake City, says less than 11 percent of Americans express no religious preference, down from the 14-16 percent other surveys had tallied. Why the difference? Professors from Baylor said it was because of the way the survey was conducted: It asked participants to identify their religious preference (if any), their religious denomination (if any) and the religious congregation they attended (if any).

Most polls stop at the first two questions, but folks at Baylor say that many folks who said they didn't have a religious preference still went to church services at least once a week, and prayed, and generally lived overtly spiritual lives.

The folks at Baylor haven't quite figured out what it means, and it is a head-scratcher. Are these nonfaithful churchgoers covering their theological bases in case they kick the bucket? Are congregants losing their faith long before they relinquish their spot in the pews? What's going on?

While scholars from Baylor -- a Christian university -- played up the fact that "nones" aren't as large a slice of the pie as previously thought, the study did suggest the nation may be growing more secular. Nearly a fifth of respondents 30 and younger said they were "unaffiliated," compared to just 5.4 percent of respondents 65 and older. Time will tell whether these 20-somethings gravitate to a specific faith.


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