Education's Effect on Church Attendance

Education's Effect on Church Attendance

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Steven Miner, Social Policy Contributor

Every religious person has at some point heard the idea that religion and education simply doesn’t mix. Educated people just don’t believe in God anymore. As three psychology professors (Zuckerman and colleagues.) wrote in a 2013 paper, “religious beliefs are irrational, not anchored in science, not testable and, therefore, unappealing to intelligent people who ‘know better.’” Basically, if you believe in God or are religious in any sense, you’re an idiot.

Several people who argue that education leads to less faith point to basic polls to support their point (if their super brain power hasn’t been evidence enough). One of them is a 2002 Gallup national survey, which shows plainly that the more education someone has, the less likely he is to believe in God. Professor Zuckerman’s study alone purports to prove that religious people are “less intelligent than non-believers” (although this study has been pretty heavily critiqued). I guess that’s it, then. We might as well admit that we’re a bunch of fools who just don’t “know better.”

Before giving up, though, it’s worth looking into those reports on education related to religious involvement. That same Gallup survey referenced earlier actually found that the more educated a person is, the more likely he is to actually attend church. This same trend is shown through several studies over time. A 2011 study by University of Nebraska-Lincoln sociologist Philip Schwadel and surveys from Pew Research Center released in April of this year both resulted in similar findings as the Gallup survey. 

The results of the Pew survey were particularly interesting. Similar to the other surveys, it finds that education indeed has an inverse relationship with general religious beliefs while conversely strengthening church attendance. However, it only found the latter to be true for Christians. It found that, while “Americans with college experience are overall less likely to attend services, pray on a regular basis, and say religion is very important to them,” the same isn’t true for Christians. In fact, Catholics, Mormons, and Protestants all had increased rates of Church attendance at higher levels of education, results that did not hold true for non-Christians.

These finding certainly put a dent in the argument of critics who claim that religious believers are ignorant or uneducated. Some have sought to explain the findings, arguing that church attendance is a luxury that the less educated sometimes don’t have. They argue that, for the educated and wealthy, attending church isn’t so much about spiritual fulfillment, but about “communal involvement.” Certainly, the communal aspect of church is appealing to many. I believe it is intended to be that way. However, to quickly point to that as the sole reason educated Christians go to church is missing the point and, in my opinion, somewhat condescending.

Perhaps, and this may come as a shock, but perhaps the reason that educated Christians continue to go to church is that they find their education and their beliefs are mutually reinforcing. I’m college educated and I certainly find this to be true. I do find great benefit in the communal aspect of my religion, but it’s not the reason I continue my involvement. The main reason is that I actually believe in God and in my religion. In fact, I’m generally pretty reserved, so I find the communal aspects to, at times, be a hassle. Despite this, I believe Christ intended for us to have strong communities where we reach out to our neighbors with love and service, so I do my best to interact with fellow church-goers.

There may be those who feel the opposite as I do, who love the community and don’t particularly believe in the actual religion, as some have implied. Many of them might be educated. However, I have a hard time believing community is the only reason educated people attend church. There are numerous ways people can feel part of a group without attending church. In addition, plenty of highly educated and intelligent people have held sincere beliefs in God. Here is a quick list of Christians in the fields of science and technology (I could put a list of almost any profession, but science is the one that seems to be a sticking point for). Some of the most intelligent people who live or who have ever lived claim to be religious. Therefore, those who mock the religious as uneducated are, themselves, ignorant. Perhaps they should do some better research. 

Follow Steven on Twitter @StevenMiner14

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