Fascinating US religious data

How did I miss the Association of Religion Data Archives so long? Forgiving a moment that they don’t include the District of Columbia in national data breakdowns, there’s lots to love here. They’re based at the Sociology Department of Pennsylvania State University, which is the kind of credentials I would want to use the information comfortably.

A few things I liked

  • Belief in hell, as of 2005, broken down demographically, including by 2004 voting habits.
  • Ditto, belief in UFOs. (Or just look at all the surveys.)
  • A “family tree” of selected American Reformed denominations, which is helpful for teaching the denominational relatedness between the Unitarian Universalist Association, the United Church of Christ and other groups.
  • State maps with religious and denominational statistics. Did you know South Carolina has the highest proportion of Baha’is — almost three times that of the next most concentrated — of any state?  And that they are clustered in the eastern counties?

7 Replies to “Fascinating US religious data”

  1. Interesting. Traditionally US Baha’is used to be found around the Chicago area (where the first groups were organized, and where the continental House of Worship is located). Now Illinois is in a humble 25th place in the ranking. I would expect high rates in the NY and California areas. I have no idea why South Carolina, of all places, has the highest proportion of Baha’is. These stats, however, are difficult to track, because the Baha’i bodies keep records of affiliations, but they rarely disclose data about disaffiliation or just inactivity…

    BTW, Baha’is are universalists. They do not believe in any kind of Hell but in “further development of the soul in higher planes”.

  2. SC has been in the lead since the late 60’s or early 70’s I think. I’m not surprised at it’s ranking. The high rates in the western states seem more about the lower populations I think. I believe data on Baha’i affiliation is cumulative (not just additive.) Additionally children of Baha’is are not automatically counted as Baha’is – children are counted as youth or some other subgroup but being a Baha’i is a matter of taking a positive step. Inactivity is discussed here and there but there are various issues to distinguish and aren’t easily distinguished. For example a Baha’i wife may be inactive for some period because of family disunity about her choice of religion but her faith remain firm and she may become “active” later (not picking on wives – just a random thought.)

    As for universalist – well maybe more or less. The point isn’t empty headed open minds. We’re not just “open”. We do have a predisposition to find out how God’s truth became to today in still existing religions or even lost religions. And accepting Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism as divinely based is a short list that happens to cover over 90% of the religionists of the world but doesn’t automatically mean that every religion claiming to exist is accepted by the Baha’i Faith. Not that the above is a finished list but you get the point. There are also formal indirect and informal indirect affirmations of generally aboriginal faith traditions among the Native Americans and others.

    As for hell – I’ve not heard expressed that way and I think that under plays the gravity of hell. For Baha’is hell is about a crippling lack of spiritual development, even rejection of God’s will. If you are painfully unable to trust or love or share or give or reason or imagine or hope or similar, appropriately (rather than recklessly) then hell will feel like an eternity even if it’s not. There are infinite steps in progress but hell is more than just starting out on one step or another – it’s about the ability to take a step. One doesn’t progress solely on one’s own abilities – praying for eachother, doing service in memory of others, in this world and, it is said, in the next, are of ways of spiritual progress too.

  3. St, I meant “universalist” in the classical sense of the word, i.e. the belief that salvation is universal. I know that Baha’is are not strictly “open to all faiths”, although I would say that the original list of accepted revelations is being implicitly expanded to include as many cultures and civilizations as one possibly can, so that is an inclusive trend that I appreciate. That would explain its famous success among Native Americans and Polynesians, for example. Their traditional beliefs were not ridiculed or dismissed, but the Baha’is missionaries were clever enough to be inclusive while not disguising or renouncing to their own tradition (something we UUs should learn to do, being inclusive without losing our identity in the process).

    OTOH I am aware that the Baha’i Faith is not a syncretistic religion, as it is often misrepresented, but a religion based upon a specific revelation, and that the authority of your Scriptures is higher (or, if you prefer to put it that way, “more fitting for the current era”) than those of older religions.

  4. Just to clarify my explanation, I mean that the authority of Scriptures is regarded *by Baha’is* (not by me) as more fitting for this era.

  5. In that classical sense I guess it fits then, ie that what matters is the development of personal spiritual qualities, matters of personal character as might be exemplified under duress, that are available despite any faith or no faith as accepted by the generality of humanity.

    As for “missionaries” it might be splitting hairs but Baha’is don’t use or like that word. It implies a person who’s sole purpose for being in a place is to advocate for the religion and it implies a person who is being supported from the outside, or who is going to leave their job as soon as they can if they find their situation changes. What Baha’is do is pioneer – we move into places and lands where we are not, and do so generally for the long haul. It’s another aspect to that respect for the way things have come down from the elders.

    As for the scriptures of the Baha’i faith being somehow better there are a number of issues related. Part of the problem is the passage of time – so for example humanity isn’t largely agriculture based so some analogies along those lines don’t carry the same immediacy. God knows this, if you will. There is also a factor that at some point contradictory interpretations, even real antagonism, can get caught up in the fractions that wish to advance one or another interpretation and ignore the meaning that could have been there all along. For about a thousand years there was really only one Christianity with some diversity of practice or emphasis. Now there are denominations and committees which can arrive at any furtherest understanding with no one to pull them back. Another issue is that if religions really do succeed one another – Judaism to Christianity for example. If Jesus was really the fulfillment of some prophecies of Judaism, then Jews must continue to interpret those passages in ways that aren’t, at least, as true as they should be. Ditto for Hinduism and the Buddha and so on. Over time if actual milestones in religious history actually have taken place then interpretations must push further and further afield if they do not accept what really happens.

    If you approach the religious teachings and scriptures from this perspective there is a much to be gained in understanding. For example 666 years after Jesus was born (scholars tend to accept 4-10BC and if you pick 5BC) a catastrophe with repercussions down to today – literally – are still responsible for death and mayhem. It’s the split that broken Shia and Sunni apart – but if you only look in Christianity for such answers you’d never even consider it.

    Now all that aside there is a very sincere, centrally mandated and eloquent testimony of, even advocacy for, all the Founders of the well known religions, and as you said implicitly expanded to others. This cannot be dismissed or belittled or ignored. It is in the same spirit as that very implicit expansion in respect – but given direct quotes. We lament as our own Jesus’ suffering for example. While we hold the Bible sacred text, we also have significant textual reference to Jesus, the Apostles, and all that period (enough for a kind of New Testament of our own if you will) but it’s layered through a much vaster body of work. In some places it amplifies the text of the Bible – for example no where in the Bible does it say the three wise men were the Magi (at least any translation I’ve looked at.) The Baha’i references say exactly they were Magi. Acknowledging they were Magi allows for understanding they came from somewhere and it matters. People may ponder Zoroastrian affect on Judaism and Christianity – Baha’is turn the whole context around. It was the same God that spoke through Zoroaster and Moses – historically they had opportunity to relate but the theological influences are not second hand (well, at least only second hand.) Instead they are from the other side – more than first hand….

    anyway… sorry if I write too much….

  6. As for SC and Baha’i, well they used to have about the only decent radio station (other than NPR) in the lower FM dial in at least my part of SC. and the dj would mention Baha’i in a nice calm way – I expect that helped some….

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