Thursday, March 11, 2010

God's Role in American Lives

A University of Toronto researcher, Scott Schieman, is publishing an article in the journal Sociology of Religion exploring religious attitudes among Americans. Specifically, he wanted to know to what degree Americans believe that God is directly involved in their lives. Here are some of his results:
  • 82 per cent say they depend on God for help and guidance in making decisions;
  • 71 per cent believe that when good or bad things happen, these occurrences are simply part of God's plan for them;
  • 61 per cent believe that God has determined the direction and course of their lives;
  • 32 per cent agree with the statement: "There is no sense in planning a lot because ultimately my fate is in God's hands."
  • Overall, people who have more education and higher income are less likely to report beliefs in divine intervention.
  • However, among the well-educated and higher earners, those who are more involved in religious rituals share similar levels of beliefs about divine intervention as their less-educated and less financially well-off peers.

According to Schieman: "Many of us might assume that people of higher social class standing tend to reject beliefs about divine intervention. However, my findings indicate that while this is true among those less committed to religious life, it is not the case for people who are more committed to religious participation and rituals." (Source)

82 Percent say that they depend on God's help and guidance in making decisions! Wow. Now if only 82 percent went to church! Figuring out what percentage of Americans (or Canadians, for that matter) regularly attend church in somewhat difficult, but one of the better studies ("Millennium Study," Taylor Nelson Sofres Intersearch, 1999) put the number for "Attend at least weekly" at 43% for Americans and 20% for Canadians. Most studies that rely on self-reporting come out with a number near that 43%, but recent studies have challenged the data. You can read a very good article about the problem of measuring church attendance here. The truth is probably that the number is less than 40% attend weekly, but no one knows the real number (except God and the choirs of angels, of course).

The implication is that the number of people who rely on God to help make important decisions is probably exaggerated, also. But the mere fact that most researches believe there is a "social desirability bias" inflating the numbers shows how powerful theism remains as cultural force. Americans think that God is important. Whether they live out the implications of that believe is another matter!


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