“You know who I pray to? Joe Pesci. Joe Pesci. Two reasons; first of all, I think he's a good actor. Okay. To me, that counts. Second; he looks like a guy who can get things done… I noticed that of all the prayers I used to offer to God, and all the prayers that I now offer to Joe Pesci, are being answered at about the same 50 percent rate. Half the time I get what I want. Half the time I don't. Same as God 50-50.” George Carlin
It’s no surprise to me that a new study released by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life shows that Americans are not sticking with their childhood faith. Is it because we are as capricious about our religion as we are about the shoes we buy? Are we looking for the message that pleases us most? Are we on a search for comfort and a sense of belonging in our increasingly topsy-turvy world?
“For the first time, a large-scale study has quantified what many experts suspect: there is a constant membership turnover among most American faiths. America's religious culture, which is best known for its high participation rates, may now be equally famous (or infamous) for what the new report dubs ‘churn.’”
“According to Pew, 28% of American adults have left the faith of their childhood for another one. And that does not even include those who switched from one Protestant denomination to another; if it did, the number would jump to 44%.”
“For some groups, their relatively steady number of adherents over the years hides a remarkable amount of coming and going. Simply counting Catholics since 1972, for example, you would get the impression that its population had remained fairly static — at about 25% of adult Americans (the current number is 23.9%). But the Pew report shows that of all those raised Catholic, a third have left the church. (That means that roughly one out of every 10 people in America is a former Catholic, and that ex-Catholics are almost as numerous as the America's second biggest religious group, Southern Baptists.) But Catholicism has made up for the losses by adding converts (2.6% of the population) and, more significantly, enjoying an influx of new immigrants, mostly Hispanic.”
I’m also not surprised to learn that 1/3 of Catholics are have moved away from the church. Most of the people in my age group (early 40s) and younger are no longer attending Catholic mass and few have moved on to other denominations. They don’t attend any organized services at all.
I went to the funeral of a dear family friend last week and attended a Catholic mass for the first time in several years. The priest was not consoling in his tone or manner and the mass was not personalized to include anything more than the name of the person who died. By the end of the mass, I experienced the feeling of relief I always had when I went as a child, “Thank God this is over!” It was the same prayers, the same routine, the same bored detachment from the proceedings. Older folks may find reassurance in that sameness but I think younger people are unmoved by the stuffy ritual.
“The single biggest ‘winner,’ in terms of number gained versus number lost, was not a religious group at all, but the ‘unaffiliated’ category. About 16% of those polled defined their religious affiliation that way (including people who regarded themselves as religious, along with atheists and agnostics); only 7% had been brought up that way. That's an impressive gain, but …churn is everywhere: even the unaffiliated group lost 50% of its original membership to one church or another.”
I am in the group termed “unaffiliated” and I do not anticipate being part of this group’s churn. My years as a Catholic have moved me away from wanting to participate in organized religion.