By Margarita Nahapetyan
Nearly half of adults in the United States have changed religious faith at least once during their lives, most of them in their early twenties, according to findings of a huge new survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public life.
The survey, "Faith in Flux: Changes in Religious Affiliation in the U.S.," is a follow-up to another major study that was carried out last year by the Pew Forum. According to 2008 analysis, 44 per cent of American adults have switched religious affiliations or were no longer members of a specific religion they were brought up in.
"You are seeing the free market at work," said Gregory Smith, a fellow researcher at the Pew Forum. "If people are dissatisfied, they will leave. And if they see something they like better, they will join it." Many Americans switch because they move to a new location, join new community, and others because they marry someone of a different faith, he explained. In some cases people make a switch because they are not happy with their ministers or pastors; some like the pastor at another church better. And many individuals just have more than reason for changing, Smith said.
The new survey was based on follow-up interviews with nearly 3,000 U.S. adults. It took a deeper look into the reasons behind the religious "churn" among Roman Catholics, Protestants and the unaffiliated. Jews, Muslims and other groups were not included in the survey because their numbers were too small to provide any reliable results, the researchers said.
The findings demonstrated that most Americans who left the faith they had been brought up in, did it by the age of 24 years, and many changed religions or denominations at least once in their lifetime. The reasons for leaving varied depending on the origin and destination of an individual. For example, Roman Catholics, were more likely to leave because they no longer believed in God or accepted certain religious teachings. Some surveyors without religious faith also said that to them religious people seemed very hypocritical, judgmental and insincere.
Protestants, who are the ones to most frequently switch Protestant denominations, often do so due to life changes such as relocation or marriage, or also because of not being comfortable with certain religious institutions or practices. The study found that of those individuals who grew up as Protestants, 80 per cent still remain so, with 52 per cent in their childhood religious faith. 28 per cent have switched to another Protestant following, for example, changing from Presbyterian to Episcopalian, 13 per cent do not belong to any religious denomination, 3 per cent have converted to Catholicism, and 4 per cent joined other religion. Of those Americans who were raised in Catholic traditions, 68 per cent still belong to their church, 15 per cent have become Protestant, 14 per cent do not belong to any religion, and 3 per cent joined other religious groups.
It was revealed that, in general, while 56 per cent of American adults remain in their childhood faith, 16 per cent of the adult population reported not to belong to any religion. However, despite of all this, many of the unaffiliated said they were considering the possibility of one day finding a religion that would suite them the best. Nearly 35 per cent said they were still looking for the right one. The most surprising finding was that most of Americans who were raised unaffiliated said that they now had a religious faith and belonged to this or that religious group based on 2 reasons - either because they were spiritually unsatisfied or found religious services attractive.