The Washington Post has been teasing data out from the 2010 US Religion Census (N.B., not part of the US Government’s census), showing the state of religious affiliation and participation in America. The map above indicates religious participation by county; the redder the county, the higher percentage of its residents go to religious services. The Post has lots of great maps, including interactive ones, so please click through if you’re interested. Two surprises (to me) from the map above: 1) despite the stereotypes of laissez-faire Catholicism and hard-shell Southern Baptist piety, the Cajun Catholic parishes have a higher overall rate of religious participation than the Southern Baptist parishes of north Louisiana; and 2) despite the overall national weakness of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the ELCA heartland — the upper Midwest — has one of the highest participation rates in the country.
Again, click through to the Washington Post for an interactive map. But the redder the colour, the more “participants” there are – meaning people who identify with a particular religion. I just checked the Boston area and it’s about 60 per cent, falling sharply in neighbouring counties. So 40 per cent of people in Boston have no religion at all, and it’s more than half in many counties. As for the 47 per cent of Bostonians who are Catholic “participants” – well, there isn’t much participation going on come Sunday morning. We’re talking about 17 per cent Mass attendance these days – and it was only 20 per cent before the clergy scandals broke. The story is the same in many other supposedly Catholic cities – fewer than one in five Catholics go to church regularly. Compare that to the 70 per cent in the 1950s (itself much higher than in the 19th century.)
Let’s put this simply: America is secularising just like Europe – and all that talk of “American exceptionalism”, the free market in religion that kept it thriving, has turned out to be hogwash. We can discuss why on another occasion. But some of us saw this coming a long time ago. And, please, don’t kid yourself that Pope Francis, wonderful man that he is, can do more than add a percentage point here or there.
That statement — “hogwash” — may be overbroad. But the trend really is hard to deny. And it’s having — and will continue to have — profound effects in law and public policy.