A Pew Survey entitled “I know what you did last Sunday”
got a lot of attention last week. In separate telephone and on-line polling, the survey shows that more people claim to attend religious services when asked by a person (36%) than online (31%).
Mark Silk looks more closely at the numbers. First, he points out that the Pew survey seems to over-report attendance. A number of studies in the 1990s that used polling, self-reporting, and actual counting of people in the seats, showed actual attendance to be in the 20s. In other words, unless attendance has increased in the last twenty years, Pew is still getting results that suggest people exaggerate their religious involvement.
Second, Silk makes another very interesting observation. The same gap between phone and online responses exists for atheists, agnostics, and nones that exists for religious people. That is to say, they feel guilty about not attending services and over-report their involvement when responding to a telephone interview.
Perhaps most interesting of all, however, is this: “more respondents told the telephone interviewers that they had no religion than said so online.”
What it suggests it that, as of today, Americans believe there is nothing socially undesirable about saying you don’t have a religion. To the contrary, we may be entering an era when identifying oneself as having a religion is less desirable than identifying oneself as belonging to one. And that’s true even as it remains socially desirable to go to church and believe in God.
In other words, there are more people out there there who are Catholics and Southern Baptists and Episcopalians than are prepared to admit it to someone on the telephone.