January 16th, 2013

Repeating It Does Not Make It True: Robert Putnam and relative religiosity

My husband send me a link.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/01/14/169164840/losing-our-religion-the-growth-of-the-nones

Within the article is this quote from the professor at Harvard (and people wonder why I say that Harvard is overrated as a place to get an education) who wrote _Bowling Alone_ (right there -- you should be worried):

"The average American is slightly more religious than the average Iranian, so we are a very religious country even today."

That reeks. It doesn't fail the sniff test. It takes the sniff test, roofies it, rapes it and then hides the mutilated body in the backyard where cadaver dogs will later find it. How long has Putnam being saying this? At least two years.

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/religion/july-dec10/americangrace_10-11.html

"We're way more religious than most other advanced countries. The average level of church attendance in the United States, for example -- there is a little bit of controversy, but it's probably about 30 or 40 percent a week, roughly something like that.

In England, it's 5 percent. We're -- Americans -- the average American is more religiously observant and its religion is more important in their life than for the average Iranian. So, we are -- America is a more religious country -- I don't mean we're a theocracy, but we're more religious at the grassroot levels than many, many, even countries that look like they are pretty devout, like Iran."

But my guess is considerably longer, because I feel like I've been getting pissed at this particular idiot making this particular ridiculous statement for longer than two years. I could easily be wrong.

(1) Church attendance on a weekly basis is a _terrible_ way to measure religiosity, especially across major theologies. Regular church attendances means different things to a Jew than a Muslim than a Christian. Duh. You have to be a special kind of nutjob to think that the Xtian measure of religiosity is reasonable to apply universally.

(2) Church attendance on a weekly basis in the United States is NOT 30% (much less 40%). Gallup getting people to say they attend church at those rates does not mean they actually do. Here's a better metric of what people are really doing:

http://www.npr.org/2012/10/24/163527979/what-we-say-about-religion-and-what-we-do

You should read it; it's enlightening. Here are some relevant bits:

[When you ask time diary questions] "it turns out only about 24 percent of Americans actually report attending religious services in the past week."

"Americans significantly over-report their church attendance, and have consistently done that since the 1970s. But we don't see substantive over-reporting in Western Europe."

Basically, all of us people NOT going to church in the United States feel significantly more pressure to pretend we are going to church than comparable people in Western Europe. And then idiots like Putnam come along and reify this social pressure and lying into An Actual Truth and pretend we're somehow like Iran.

Total, unadulterated bullshit. I don't understand why anyone lets this crap slide by, especially since NPR in particular has reported better. But that's probably why Putnam, between 2010 and 2012 quit citing the basis for his bullshit assertion. The evidence was blown up on him -- but that apparently didn't get him to stop making the assertion. It just stopped him from supplying any support for it.

If that isn't solid evidence of massive intellectual dishonesty, well, I'm really confused.

ETA: Also, weekly church attendance in England, if counted in a way somewhat comparable to the time diary approach that gets you 24% here in the US, is at least 10%.

ETAYA: I'd like to see someone map group participation against labor force participation. It seems to me that they probably do a pretty good job of explaining each other (non-work group participation increases when fewer people are in the work force and vice versa). Someone else can deal with causality, but some of the groups mentioned (Elks) primarily existed to provide something that money/a job/life insurance through employment did better.

ETA Still more: Will blog about this separately, but Olson gets 17.7% of the population attending a Christian church on any given weekend (includes Catholics, likely does not include LDS). Hadaway and Marler in 2005 get 52 million (around the same percentage).

From http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/139575-7-startling-facts-an-up-close-look-at-church-attendance-in-america.html

Church Attendance Link-fu: will be updated repeatedly

http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=237

Oooh, this is tantalizing, but I'm not paying $25 for it.

http://poq.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2011/02/11/poq.nfq068.1

If you have access, perhaps you will enjoy reading it.

Summary to be found here:

http://epiphenom.fieldofscience.com/2011/01/americans-not-as-religious-as-they.html

http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/the_hidden_brain/2010/12/walking_santa_talking_christ.html

A lot of this stuff is pointing at the work of Hadaway, Marler and Chaves. I can't find any data collection like what they did that occurred after the late 1990s/early 2000s -- that is, nothing post recession. Pew doesn't think that attendance ticked up in 2009. The usual suspects took the usual sides as to whether they think it did or not. None of it is based on the kind of research that the HMC research suggests would be necessary to get a good picture.

I used to _regularly_ attend religious services 3 days a week -- until 1994. But even after I quit being a JW, I was still going to Xtian churches several times a year (holiday stuff, going with a friend, going to a historic church while on vacation that you cannot get into on a tour but can attend a service at, music services, etc.). It was only after I got married to a man whose aunt is ordained by one of the mainline churches that my church attendance finally dropped to actual zero. I do, however, retain several friends who attend with some degree of regularity (a small number weekly or more often, several who attend 2-3 times a month, another group that go for holiday services). The ones who attend most often generally hold some sort of deacon or elder type position within their congregation and/or participate in the musical part of the services. I'm not saying I think no one goes to church regularly any more from the perspective of someone who doesn't know anyone who goes to church.

Quite the contrary.

ETA: I should add -- I _adore_ my aunt-in-law. She officiated at our wedding. I even like her denomination better than almost all others. It's purely a coincidence that I quit going to churches.