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Lyman Expand the House Stone, AKA 石來民
So as y'all know I do a bunch of work on historic American religious statistics. Here's a (still work-in-progress) graph of what share of Americans have been members of any religious community, back to 1700.
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Lyman Expand the House Stone, AKA 石來民 Sep 9
Replying to @lymanstoneky
Now recall, when Tocqueville visits in 1831, his impression of Americans is they are highly religious and heavily involved in community activities and social societies, including churches.
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Lyman Expand the House Stone, AKA 石來民 Sep 9
Replying to @lymanstoneky
AND YET-- in 1831, all church bodies collectively could probably only claim about 22% of the population as members. Now, some of this is gimmicky: enslaved people were often not counted as members. Traditions vary on counting children, as well as to a lesser extent women.
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Lyman Expand the House Stone, AKA 石來民 Sep 9
Replying to @lymanstoneky
PART of the rise in membership share is an artifact of increasing homogeneity of reporting. However, I have tried to account for glaring variations in membership reporting.
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Lyman Expand the House Stone, AKA 石來民 Sep 9
Replying to @lymanstoneky
But still, even if you assume a huge undercount.... it's just not plausible that the "not formally a member but still an adherent" share of the population was higher than like 45% of the population.
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Lyman Expand the House Stone, AKA 石來民 Sep 9
Replying to @lymanstoneky
Now today, we can successfully allocate almost 60% of the population to some religious body! Compare that to about 75% of Americans who identify with some religion in surveys.
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Lyman Expand the House Stone, AKA 石來民 Sep 9
Replying to @lymanstoneky
So in America today, adherency of all faiths equals about 125% of membership. Yet there is widespread agreement that Americans today are largely DETACHED from bodies like churches, right?
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Lyman Expand the House Stone, AKA 石來民 Sep 9
Replying to @lymanstoneky
That is to say, Americans today are highly *unlikely* to be "joiners," whereas, stereotypically, 19th century Americans were habitual association-founders-and-joiners.
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Lyman Expand the House Stone, AKA 石來民 Sep 9
Replying to @lymanstoneky
That is to say, there's a PLAUSIBLE STORY where membership counts in the 1800s OVERESTIMATE religiosity due to the strong social emphasis on being part of a church body. SOme states had mandatory membership laws!
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Lyman Expand the House Stone, AKA 石來民 Sep 9
Replying to @lymanstoneky
(Sidenote: I should mention that pre-1870 statistics are often imputed from physical architecture of churches, number of clergy, reported size of gatherings, and comparison to other denominations with reported memberships)
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Lyman Expand the House Stone, AKA 石來民 Sep 9
Replying to @lymanstoneky
(Which is to say, "early" statistics might actually more-nearly-approximate "adherents" than statistics 1870-1945)
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Lyman Expand the House Stone, AKA 石來民 Sep 9
Replying to @lymanstoneky
But more to the point, it is MOST CERTAINLY THE CASE that something like 55-60% of Americans today are in a meaningful sense part of an actual religious community.
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Lyman Expand the House Stone, AKA 石來民 Sep 9
Replying to @lymanstoneky
In 1790, it was around 18%. To get to an equivalent amount of religiosity as we measure today, you'd need to assume that all known denominations covered just 1/3 of actual believers.
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Lyman Expand the House Stone, AKA 石來民 Sep 9
Replying to @lymanstoneky
You'd also then need to explain why moral reformers of the day repeatedly treated Americans as a loutish, immoral people desperately in need of any number of improvements in life conditions.
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Lyman Expand the House Stone, AKA 石來民 Sep 9
Replying to @lymanstoneky
And you'd need to explain why this putatively religious people spawned so many New Religious Movements in the late-17th and early 18th centuries which then succeeded in spreading widely with apparently little effort or disruption to existing religious bodies.
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Lyman Expand the House Stone, AKA 石來民 Sep 9
Replying to @lymanstoneky
(Sorry that should be late-18th and early 19th centuries)
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Lyman Expand the House Stone, AKA 石來民 Sep 9
Replying to @lymanstoneky
It is *far more logical* to suppose that the church membership statistics are *basically correct*. That America in the late-18th and early 19th centuries was *just not a very religious place*.
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Lyman Expand the House Stone, AKA 石來民 Sep 9
Replying to @lymanstoneky
Now, it IS true that non-religious-ness was different back then. "Secular materialism" was not as dominant a paradigm. The nonreligious of 1810 probably still inhabited a basically spiritual world; they were likely some kind of theist.
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Lyman Expand the House Stone, AKA 石來民 Sep 9
Replying to @lymanstoneky
That is to say, Thomas Paine-style-freethinking did not make up 80% of Americans! But most of that unchurched 80% was probably not in any meaningful sense "religious." They were most likely "nothing in particular."
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Lyman Expand the House Stone, AKA 石來民 Sep 9
Replying to @lymanstoneky
The widespread interest in a variety of spiritual, cult, mystical, and other philosophical movements in the 19th century also suggests they probably weren't believing "folk Christianity" either.
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Lyman Expand the House Stone, AKA 石來民 Sep 9
Replying to @lymanstoneky
That is, they probably were not "basically believeing Christian things but not going to church." More likely they were believing some kind of generic theism, lots of not-very-Christian other things, and not part of a community.
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Lyman Expand the House Stone, AKA 石來民 Sep 9
Replying to @lymanstoneky
Some folks responding with questions: 1. How much of this is about low population density? Hard to say! Frontiers were definitely less churched. However, as mathematical principle, most people live in relatively dense places.
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Lyman Expand the House Stone, AKA 石來民 Sep 9
Replying to @lymanstoneky
More to the point, frontiers were less churched, but research suggests frontiers also attracted more individualist/nonconformist individuals, who may also have been less religious, especially through formal affiliation.
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Lyman Expand the House Stone, AKA 石來民 Sep 9
Replying to @lymanstoneky
2. Does this mean America was NOT founded on Christian values? Hmmm... well... if you go back to the 1600s, probably a majority of Americans were part of a Christian community, and a supermajority were probably Christian-identifying.
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Lyman Expand the House Stone, AKA 石來民 Sep 9
Replying to @lymanstoneky
So it depends on when you think America was founded! America as founded in 1776 or 1789 seems like it was probably not all THAT Christian. America as founded in the 1600s probably WAS very Christian.
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Lyman Expand the House Stone, AKA 石來民 Sep 9
Replying to @lymanstoneky
But perhaps most importantly, there is absolutely no period in my data where Christianity is not the largest religious community.
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Lyman Expand the House Stone, AKA 石來民 Sep 9
Replying to @lymanstoneky
3. Does this mean the CULTURE was more secular? Nope. ELITES were probably more religious in the past than today. One way to see this is that religion-relevant words are more common in texts from the past than texts today, in nonfiction, fiction, and case law datasets.
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Lyman Expand the House Stone, AKA 石來民 Sep 9
Replying to @lymanstoneky
That is to say, much of our history appears to have been characterized by a general public which was not in any meaningful sense Christian, but elites who were, all things considered, fairly religious.
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Lyman Expand the House Stone, AKA 石來民 Sep 9
Replying to @lymanstoneky
Virginia is a neat example of this! Records from the established state church on attendance, communion, and membership reveal a society where participation in any tangible religious community was extremely low; like in some places under 5% of the population.
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Lyman Expand the House Stone, AKA 石來民 Sep 9
Replying to @lymanstoneky
This despite the fact that Virginia had laws requiring church attendance and restricting independent church bodies! So the general population was NOT very religious.
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Lyman Expand the House Stone, AKA 石來民 Sep 9
Replying to @lymanstoneky
And yet historians of Virginia planter elites can probably recount off memory a dozen historic cases of planters endowing huge churches, or having priests on retainer, or having entire communion sets in their home kitchens for visiting priests.
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