First they did a poll, then they did a head count.
Many have suspected it, but now there's proof: Americans are not as religious as the polls report.
Only half of those who say they regularly attend church actually do!
According to the traditional polls, 40% of the United States population reports attending church regularly. This Þgure has held remarkably constant for decades. Responding to a 1992 Gallup poll asking, "Did you, yourself, happen to attend church or synagogue in the last seven days?" 42% of adult Americans said "Yes."
But a new study questions this prevailing wisdom. "What The Polls Don't Show: A Closer Look At U.S. Church Attendance" was published in the December 1993 American Sociological Review, casting serious doubt on the supposedly high rate of regular church attendance. The authors are C. Kirk Hadaway (United Church Board for Homeland Ministries and Adjunct Faculty at Hartford Seminary), Penny Long Marler (Assistant Professor of Religion at Samford University), and Mark Chaves (Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Notre Dame).
"In the sociological literature," the three scholars write, "this high participation rate [40%] is prominently and widely cited to bolster attacks against the secularization hypothesis." They give widespread examples of this "social fact" in sociology texts, history texts, and journalism.
But many observers have doubted this characterization of high American religiosity--it doesn't seem to square with reality. This is especially true among many "old-line" Protestant denominations that have experienced membership losses and slowing growth rates the past few decades.
"Consistently high levels of church attendance and a growing U.S. population suggest that most major denominations should be thriving and growing," the authors point out, "[y]et most are not. Claims that losses in old-line denominations are more than offset by gains in evangelical denominations . . . do not sufÞce. In addition to the fact that evangelical gains simply are not numerically large enough, Americans in declining denominations still claim high levels of membership and attendance."
Church members appear to be "over-reporting" (to phrase it politely) their attendance. It has long been known that people tend to make themselves look better than they are in surveys. Overreporting (or underreporting) is often due to "social desirability" factors. Many people, for example, tell pollsters that they vote regularly, although their names are absent from voting records. Many youths underreport deviant behavior, such as substance abuse.
Suspecting that poll respondents "substantially overstate actual church attendance," Hadaway, Marler, and Chaves hit upon a novel idea. First they did a poll, then they did a head count.
Then they compared the polls to the pews. Using a variety of data sources and strategies, they estimated count-based church rates among Protestants and Catholics in a rural Ohio county (Ashtabula) and among Catholics in 18 dioceses nationwide.
To be as accurate as possible, the authors located every single church in the county, driving the length of every road. They found 172 Christian churches, 44 more than the 128 listed for Ashtabula County in Churches and Church Membership in the United States 1990. Some congregations were counted physically, and average attendance counts were received from other churches through denominational yearbooks, telephone interviews, and letters. (It is not to be expected that churches would underreport their attendance.)
"The results are dramatic," they write. Church attendance rates "are approximately one-half the generally accepted levels."
Although 35.8% of Protestants said they regularly attend church, only 19.6% showed up. The 35.8% survey result is consistent with 1991 statewide and 1992 Cincinnati polls yielding 36%.
Only 25% of Catholics were counted in church, compared to 51% reported. The 51% survey result is similar to polls in New York (44.8%), Chicago (48.5%) and Cincinnati (59.3%).
One of the harshest attacks on this new study came from Catholic priest/sociologist Andrew Greeley, who called it "a sloppy piece of work," according to Christian Century. But Gerald Marwell, the review editor who decided to publish the study, said he was not surprised by Greeley's reaction: "To some extent he [Greeley] was one of the people who is argued against in the research." Marwell pointed out that the ASR study was reviewed before publication by a panel of noted sociologists.
"To generalize from a county in Ohio to all of Protestant America is irresponsible," said Greeley. Marwell responded that the burden of proof is on the critics to demonstrate how the county in this study is out of line with the rest of the nation.
Jay Demerath, professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, responded to the survey's conclusion that Americans have been inßating church attendance. He said: "I think the study needs to be taken very seriously indeed. . . . Gallup and other pollsters are aware of this. It's kind of a dirty little secret."
The implications are obvious. If church attendance reports are unreliable, what about other "facts" of American religiosity? What about belief in God?
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has asked University of Wisconsin football coach Barry Alvarez to end his team's "chaplain" arrangement with a Catholic priest. The Foundation has asked that Rev. Michael Burke no longer be allowed to accompany the football team as its "chaplain," ofÞcial or de facto.
Burke is referred to by athletic department employees as the team's chaplain and ßew with the team to the Rose Bowl, also accompanying them to a celebration after their Rose Bowl victory in Milwaukee with Vice-President Al Gore. A recent Wisconsin State Journal article identiÞed Burke as the team's chaplain, and staff members at the Athletic Department and the football division conÞrmed that he is "the Badger chaplain."
"The University of Wisconsin-Madison is a secular institution," said Anne Nicol Gaylor, Foundation president. "This is not Notre Dame!" Alvarez, a Catholic, was recruited several years ago from a position at Notre Dame.
Following a similar Foundation complaint in 1985, the Wisconsin's Attorney General at the time, Bronson LaFollette, issued a formal opinion in May, 1986, ending an unconstitutional practice by former football coach David McClain of telling players to kneel, and leading them in pre-game prayers.
"Now we apparently have a football team chaplain, surreptitiously anointed," Gaylor said. The Foundation has requested information from the University's accounting department, yet to be answered as of publication time, including:
The Foundation has asked University of Wisconsin Chancellor David Ward for an investigation, and to sever the inappropriate arrangement.
Wisconsin Director of Athletics Pat Richter, on January 27, issued a "clariÞcation on Burke's role." Although his Department had identiÞed Burke as the Badger chaplain in a phone inquiry from Freethought Today on January 25, in this release Richter wrote:
"Burke's role with the football players and staff is that of supporter and friend. Under no circumstances can his relationship be characterized as a 'chaplain for the team.' "
Richter revealed that the priest "has volunteered to be available for personal guidance and counseling for the past 17 years."
He added: "At the request of the last Þve head football coaches at the UW, Burke has accompanied the Wisconsin football team on road trips." He said the priest's expenses are covered by the Mendota Gridiron Club, which he described as "the school's football fundraising organization."
To other media, Richter pledged that "Burke will continue to be invited to be part of the football program in his informal role as counselor and supporter."
No figures or documentation of the UW's claims were available at press-time.
"Prayers were unheard of at sporting events in Wisconsin until the last couple decades. It seems incredible that a secular University would countenance them in any form, but especially ludicrous in connection with football games!" Gaylor said.
An inkling of the caliber of Burke's "counseling" to football players may be gleaned from a report of his prayers by the Wisconsin State Journal on January 23. Pat Simms reported that Burke was invited to pray at a recent fundraising birthday party for Republican Congressman Scott Klug, and intoned: "God, you said to ask You if we ever need anything. Help all of us to re-elect Scott Klug to Congress. Amen."
We thought Freethought Today readers would enjoy the "inside scoop" about the initial claims made by Sun Productions in defending "The Incredible Discovery of Noah's Ark," which aired on CBS in February, 1993.
The following is excerpted from the ofÞcial news release sent out by Sun Productions last summer, following a leak by TIME Magazine that "The Incredible Discovery of Noah's Ark" featured a phony story of the Ark's "discovery" by George Jammal. Since then, Jammal, a Foundation member, has gone public to expose CBS and the series.
Following his speech at the 15th annual Freedom From Religion Foundation convention last October, The Los Angeles Times publicized Jammal's revelations, resulting in cancellation by CBS of future religious programming by Sun Productions. (See Freethought Today, November 1993).
The following is our research staff's response to the article in the July 5th issue of Time magazine, and to a similar story released by Associated Press on June 29th. Both articles asserted that George Jammal, one of our 50 expert interviewees used in The Incredible Discovery of Noah's Ark, fabricated his eyewitness account of seeing Noah's Ark on Mt. Ararat.
In examining the controversy generated by these articles, four issues must be addressed. First, who is making the claim that Mr. Jammal fabricated his Noah's Ark account? Secondly, did Sun perform due diligence in its research to determine whether Mr. Jammal's account was reliable? Thirdly, was the alleged Ark wood shown at the end of Mr. Jammal's interview authentic or a piece of doctored California pine? And fourth, is Mr. Jammal's expedition account of seeing the Ark still factual?
Who is making the claim that Mr. Jammal fabricated his Noah's Ark account?
Dr. Gerald Larue, professor emeritus of biblical history and archaeology at the University of Southern California says in Time that he "coached George Jammal, an acquaintance, to perpetrate the hoax, intended to expose the shoddy research of Sun International."
It seems from this statement that Dr. Larue is probably conducting some type of a vindictive campaign against Sun. This may be the result of his appearance as a skeptic in our show, "Ancient Secrets of the Bible I" which aired on May 15, 1992. According to Time magazine, Dr. Larue felt he was "set up as a straw man."
Dr. Larue, despite having taught both biblical history and biblical studies at USC, is a very outspoken individual on a number of controversial issues including being a frequent Bible critic. . . .
Did Sun perform due diligence in its research to determine whether Mr. Jammal's account was reliable?
One news interviewer went so far as to say we pulled Mr. Jammal off the street swallowing his tale without investigating the account for reliability. This is certainly not true as we investigated all of our Noah's Ark eyewitness accounts with due diligence before using them in the show. This is the investigative procedure followed in the Jammal eyewitness account:
1. We examined his Þrst and only known interview account given on June 10, 1986, to geologist and Ararat explorer Dr. John Morris. We then made our own extensive search to locate Mr. Jammal for a research interview. . . .
2. After locating Mr. Jammal in Long Beach, California, we conducted our own two-hour, audio taped, interrogative interview. We asked him a wide range of questions looking for ßaws and inconsistencies in his account.
3. We compared Mr. Jammal's 1986 and 1992 interviews and found excellent consistency between the two accounts, although the interviews were given six years apart.
4. We then gave Mr. Jammal's interview tapes to Dr. Paul Meier, a well-known California psychiatrist, co-founder of the 28 Minirth-Meier clinics across America, and author of 40 books on human behavior. Dr. Meier, who also served as the Þeld physician on Astronaut James Irwin's Noah's Ark expedition to Mt. Ararat, was asked to provide a psychiatric and content analysis of Mr. Jammal's account.
Here are Dr. Meier's comments from a July 10, 1992 letter addressed to Sun's Chief Researcher, David W. Balsiger:
"I have listened to the tapes you sent of the interviews you did with Ed [Davis] and George [Jammal]. I Þnd both of their accounts totally believable; and having been there myself, I know that their descriptions of the customs of the people and of the precise locations are all extremely accurate.
"Ed and George deÞnitely have different personality types and yet are very credible. Given George's personality type, I Þnd it logical that he would keep his discovery of Noah's Ark a secret after the death of his guide and after his disillusionment with God for allowing that to happen. . . ."
Dr. Meier also gave us the following on-camera interview regarding Mr. Jammal's account which ended up not being used due to show time restraints:
". . . So, he craves attention and when he and his friend Vladimir found the Ark, they were absolutely delighted. They felt special--special to God. George's childhood dream of being acceptable and deserving his father's attention was fulÞlled because God chose him to Þnd the Ark.
"They were delighted and they took pictures of each other. George took pictures of his friend Vladimir and then Vladimir took both cameras and moved back as far away from the Ark as he could to get a full view of the landscape so that if there was avalanche, they could still Þnd it and get back to the Ark.
"They made plans to secretly go down the mountain and not tell anyone until they got a Þlm crew because they wanted credit for Þnding it -- which you and I would too. Let's be honest! But, while Vladimir was taking a picture after backing up, he slipped and there was a rock slide and I know this is accurate. George wept while he was talking about it--and this was eight years later. Losing his friend Vladimir was devastating for him.
"Vladimir was crushed by a rock slide and fell into a crevasse and George was able to avoid [falling in] even though he was hit by some of the rocks. He lost his friend. I believe that on an unconscious level, George then, decided, 'I was right the Þrst time. I don't deserve my father's attention. I don't deserve to be a chosen one. Why me? Why did God choose me to Þnd the Ark? Maybe God doesn't want me to tell anyone it's here.'
"He became bitter and depressed. He developed anxiety and withdrew into himself for years. Then, he went to a debate a number of years later where he saw people arguing about whether or not the Bible was true and he thought: 'This is bigger than me. I need to get out and let people know that I saw the Ark and not just be withdrawn into myself any longer.'
"I Þnd this to be extremely credible. He felt ecstatic, special and overwhelmed with joy when he found the Ark. Then, when Vladimir died, he felt depressed for years afterwards.
"Professionally, the impact of Vladimir's death on George Jammal Þts a post-traumatic stress disorder and with therapy, he could work his way out of this. But he still has a lot of buried emotions which showed in his weeping during the interview and his very honest grief over the loss of his friend.
"Some of his descriptions were especially remarkable. His description of the Ark Þts exactly what I know to be true about the Ark from the secret government reconnaissance photos.
"I found Jammal's account to be very detailed, very accurate and very humble. He was vulnerable. He was honest and said he wanted the fame and yet he feels like he's wasted his life searching for fame.
"I just Þnd his story extremely credible and of the four accounts I analyzed, I believe his to be the most credible. His descriptions of the customs of the people, of the Ark itself and its location, are very accurate. These are things he could not have known from outside sources. He had no access to the reconnaissance photos and prior to that year, this information was not well-known. So, I totally believe George Jammal's account."
5. We also had Mr. Jammal's hand drawn map of his three Ararat expedition routes studied by Ararat/Ark expeditioneers and climbers. They conÞrmed the accuracy of it, and assured us that it could not have been drawn by anyone who did not have experience with the mountain.
Regarding Mr. Jammal's account of his eyewitness encounter with Noah's Ark, we as a production company did far more investigative research than normally undertaken by "reality shows" or most news shows. Based on the outcome of our investigative research on Jammal account, we included it in the show. For the record, we also did the same type of background research on the other eyewitness accounts before including them in the TV show.
Was the alleged Ark wood shown at the end of Mr. Jammal's interview authentic or a piece of doctored California pine?
Frankly, we do not know the answer to this question as Mr. Jammal's show segment had to do with his visit to the Ark and not whether the wood was authentic.
It has not been the practice of Sun or other production companies to spend money or time testing and documenting artifacts shown on the air by interviewees. If Sun undertook to test every artifact shown by our various experts we would be out of the entertainment business and stepping into the news side of TV broadcasting. This was not the direction or directive for this television network special.
Dr. Larue somehow believes it should have been our obligation to run carbon-14 tests on the wood apparently expecting us to "create news" instead of entertaining viewers by telling them what people have to say about this ancient mystery. Besides the carbon-14 test would not necessarily have proven that the wood was a forgery or anything else as the sample according to the Time article was contaminated by baking and juices. This would have prevented obtaining accurate carbon-14 dating results.
Is Mr. Jammal's expedition account of seeing the Ark still factual?
We still stand by Mr. Jammal's expedition account as being accurate based on the due diligence research we have conducted. . . .
We also take objection to the characterization by the news media that our entire Noah's Ark TV Special was a hoax. Mr. Jammal was only one of 50 experts that provided authoritative interviews on a wide range of subjects relating to the Noah's Ark mystery. Additionally, the TV Special told the Noah's Ark story as recorded in the Bible along with the presentation of historical data, scientiÞc experiments, and Ararat explorer accounts.
Furthermore, Mr. Jammal was only one of four Þlmed eyewitnesses who claimed to have had on-the-ground encounter with the Ark. Similar due diligence research was done on these other three Ark eyewitness accounts before including them into the show. No one has come forward with evidence that any of these remaining eyewitness accounts are perpetrated hoaxes on Sun International. We also stated at the end of the eyewitness accounts that it was up to the audience to decide whether their accounts were believable or not!
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which has been corresponding with Wynnewood Public Schools, Okla., over inappropriate actions by a teacher promoting religion in the classroom, is releasing its correspondence with Superintendent Raymond Cole, in which he preached at FFRF and indicated he rejects evolution.
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a Feb. 28 letter to Cole on behalf of parent complainants about a 6th grade teacher displaying posters with bible quotes and promoting Christianity to students at Wynne Middle School. The social studies teacher attacked evolution and misinformed students that the U.S. Constitution, an entirely secular and godless document, derives directly from the bible. A parent had complained to the principal, who is married to the offending teacher. The principal removed the posters but insisted it was the teacher's "First Amendment right" to talk about her personal religious views with her students.
Seidel's letter cited numerous Supreme Court cases showing that public schools cannot advance or promote religion. He cited case law that puts an affirmative duty on schools to make certain that "subsidized teachers do not inculcate religion." He added that "the First Amendment is not a license for uncontrolled expression at variance with established curricular content" and that courts have upheld the termination of teachers who violate the Establishment Clause.
This week, Seidel received an official email from Cole. Cole more or less conceded that the teacher should not have placed posters with bible verses in her classroom and has instructed her to "stay strictly with the information presented in the book." But he volunteered that student-led prayer is constitutional. Although he has a degree in science, he argued against evolution. Cole not only asked Seidel whether he is a believer, but sermonized: "What happens when you die, if you"re [sic] wrong? If I'm wrong, when I die I just die, but if you're wrong, when you die. . . ." He also said "the further we separate God from our schools the nearer we bring violence and evil."
Read Cole's full email here (pdf).
Seidel responded that "evolution is as much a fact as gravity," and called it "disturbing" that a superintendent does not "believe in" evolution. Seidel replied in part:
"Please understand that my personal beliefs have no bearing on the illegality of the Carters' actions. But since you asked, I believe in the First Amendment. I believe in protecting minorities from the tyranny of the majority. I believe that religion is the single most divisive force on this planet and that it has no place in our public schools. I believe that ideas should be subjected to reason, debate, and inquiry, not blindly accepted." Seidel also added, "I believe in love, in family, and in making the most of this life because it's the only one we have. In short, I am an atheist."
After calling Cole's assertion that secularism causes school shootings "appalling," Seidel noted:
"Murder rates are actually lower in more secular nations and higher in more religious nations where belief in God is deep and widespread. And within America, the states with the highest murder rates tend to be highly religious, such as Louisiana and Alabama, but the states with the lowest murder rates tend to be among the least religious in the country, such as Vermont and Oregon.'"
He also cited Supreme Court precedent against student-led prayer in public schools.
Read Seidel's entire March 6 reply here.
Incidentally, the school district's mascot is the "Savages."