Monday, September 23, 2013

Denominational doubt and devotion

Agnostic's insights into hair color and heaven (lots of blondes in half-hearted denominations like Episcopalianism, relatively fewer among the more committed, like Baptists) got me wondering about certainty of belief among members of major religious institutions in the contemporary US. And it's not like I need even that flimsy a segue to report as much, because the results fit the blog's tagline quite well. The following table shows the percentages of members of each major religious denomination* who assert that "I know God exists and I have no doubts about it":

1. Mormon88.1
2. Jehovah's Witness87.9
3. Baptist82.6
4. Church of Christ80.4
5. Non-denominational Christian70.8
6. Muslim68.3
7. Methodist64.1
8. Catholic63.7
9. Lutheran62.0
Entire US population61.3
10. Presbyterian60.1
11. Episcopalian 52.6
12. Unitarian44.6
13. Jewish35.7
14. No religious affiliation21.3
15. Buddhist16.0

No big surprises. The only variations between my own predictions and the results are the marginal edge Mormons have over Jehovah's Witnesses (I guessed Witnesses would be the most zealously theistic), Muslims being further down the list than anticipated (I thought they'd be neck-and-neck with Mormons), and Jews coming in under even Unitarians. So obvious even an epigone could call it.

Neither my fiance nor I are religious, but my inclination is to give my kids some exposure to organized religion during their formative years. Her family is Episcopalian, mine Lutheran. If you're going to commit to something, take it seriously! Consequently, I think Lutheran is the way we'll go--it's at least in the respectable middle. Better yet, maybe we'll become Baptists. What we might lose in social connections we'll more than make up for by instilling some earnestness in our offspring.

* Yep, even though only 51 Muslim respondents fell within the relevant parameters, making them the smallest sample represented in the table, they're inclusion is mandatory. After all, Islam has always been part of America and American Muslims have made extraordinary contributions to our country!

GSS variables used: GOD(6), RELIG(2)(3)(4)(6)(9), DENOM(10-18)(20-28)(30-38)(40-48)(50)(70), OTHER(34-35)(58)(61,64)(80-82,95), YEAR(2000-2012)


MC said...

If you want to raise your kids in a faith and actually want to see it stick, you'll have to get SOME religious feeling of your own. Your kids will be able to tell if you think it's all BS, and they'll act accordingly.

Aeoli Pera said...

You should also know that I checked religious preference vs. IQ in the NLSY and Baptists underperformed considerably. Yes, race, I know, but if I remember correctly only one of a few thousand scored in the 2SD+ range.

You'd be better off raising them Jewish or Catholic. Family Guy trashed the former, but it's not a bad idea. Plus, premium victim status!

Audacious Epigone said...


Don't think I'll have much issue approaching it cerebrally, playing the scriptural apologist.


Inductivist used GSS wordsum conversions to estimate average IQ for white Protestants and found Baptists lower than other mainstream denominations, but not as low as pentecostals. The range may be narrower, however, and the NLSY obviously provides more accurate intelligence measurements.

How about Mormonism? I think I'd feel guilty for being an impostor, though.

MC said...

"How about Mormonism? I think I'd feel guilty for being an impostor, though."

We'd be glad to have you, just as soon as you marry your baby-mama.

More so than with Protestantism, there's plenty of room for less-than-literal belief in various historical tenets of Mormonism; BUT I can simply guarantee you won't stick with and neither will your kids unless you have some conviction that what's going on is more than the work of men. There are doubtless some atheists among active Mormons, but virtually all of them would have grown up in the faith, with all the social costs of leaving that implies.

Depending on what denomination you join, it will either be too much of a commitment to stick with in the absence of conviction, or too little of a commitment to matter to your progeny. Unless all your looking for is to give your kids fond feelings about Jesus up to age 7, cerebral just won't cut it. Get some Holy Ghost power, man. It doesn't have to be a CS Lewis conversion, just enough that when you tell your kids that God knows when they're lying, they're pretty sure you mean it.

MC said...

Also, no beer in Mormonism. I have a feeling that's a problem.

Audacious Epigone said...


Gracious and accomodating you are. I've come to expect nothing less from Mormons.

No smoking or drinking in the epigone household. Well, before pregnancy the lady had an occasional glass of wine, but I've never touched alcohol. It's another reason to admire Mormons.

Dan said...

AE said re Mormonism --
"I think I'd feel guilty for being an impostor, though."

What I want to know is, how long after you 'convert' are you really in. For example, supposing a guy realizes at age 25 that Mormonism gives you the best odds for having a good-sized clan that looks like you 100 years from now.

Is it still possible to get a nice wholesome Mormon wife or would you still be an outsider as far as the 'real goods' are concerned?

My ship has already sailed -- I'm 34 with four kids, but I'm still curious about a road not taken.

I thought about such things when I was younger but figured I wouldn't properly be 'in' the way born Mormons would be.

Dan said...

"We'd be glad to have you, just as soon as you marry your baby-mama."

Friggin' do it already, bro! Jump over a broom if you have to. After all your data crunching, don't put your kid in the prole 'born out of wedlock' statistical column.

MC said...


Good question. If the guy acts in every way like a thorough-going Mormon (difficult to pull off unless he is one), hardly any Mormon girl would turn him down for being a convert. There are a handful of girls who claim they won't marry a guy unless he serves a mission, but they are few in number, and, hey, you can actually still serve a mission at 25 yrs. old, though it's rare. Even though we do better than most churches at retaining young men, the active single ladies still outnumber the guys, so really he'd be in good shape. Assuming, again, that he acts the part of a genuine Mormon.

My Dad joined when he was 20 and married my Mom the next week.

Audacious Epigone said...


Yes, for tax reasons I think we'll go ahead and get a marriage license ahead of the ceremony... and because I'm more at home in Belmont than in Fishtown.

Anonymous said...

It does not surprise me in the least that Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses score so high. Both are very demanding religions that affect one's daily life in many respects, rather than something that's relevant only for an hour each Sunday. Only those people who are completely resolute in their beliefs will identify as being Mormons or Witnesses.* If you were raised in either faith but your beliefs are slipping, you're not likely to identify yourself as a member when taking a survey like this.

The relatively low figure for Muslims may seem odd, given that Islam is also a very demanding religion. What might be the case is that because Islam is in many respects an ethnic identity in addition to "just" a religion (true for Judaism too), you might identify as a Muslim even though your religious beliefs are shaky. It no doubt helps that outsiders will see you as a Muslim regardless of your devoutness or lack thereof.

* = it's not surprising that the Mormons and Witnesses do such heavy recruiting, they have to, in order to replace all the people who drift away


MC said...


The phenomenon you describe is much more true of the JW's than the Mormons. If you look at the Pew Religion Survey, what you see is that the Mormons lose maybe 25% of our kids each generation, which we replace through conversion, while the JW's replace two-thirds of their population each generation. (see chart on page 26 "Percentage of Adults Entering and Leaving Each Group":

The Mormon retention rate is actually better than most of the Christian denominations on that list, though we are manifestly not as good as the JW's at making converts. Mormon missions, which last only two years, are not as effective at getting new members as the lifelong door knocking that the JW's do, but the LDS mission experience probably does a better job of keeping ambitious, fully modern young people in the fold.

Anonymous said...

Four kids, Dan? I think it will take more than legitimacy to keep them off the prole, but HYPS for four is a tall order.