A new survey says about half of all American adults have changed their religious
affiliation at least once during their lifetime. The survey indicates a fluid
and diverse religious life in the United States marked by people moving among
faiths and denominations.
The poll, conducted by the Pew Forum on
Religion and Public Life, says Americans change religious affiliation early and
The survey found that most people who change their
religion leave their childhood faith before age 24, and a majority joined their
current religion before turning 36.
John Green, a senior fellow at the
Pew Forum, says those surveyed reported many different motivations for changing
their religious affiliation.
"Overall, most people reported just
gradually drifting away from their childhood faith," said John Green. "Another
common reason was that the respondents stopped believing their religion's
teachings. Specific complaints about religious leaders and religious
institutions also mattered to many people who changed."
The new report,
titled "Faith in Flux: Changes in Religious Affiliation in the U.S.," seeks to
answer questions about widespread religion changing identified in a 2007 Pew
poll of 35,000 Americans.
The latest survey is based on interviews of
more than 2,800 people from the original survey and is focused on religious
populations that showed significant movement, such as former Catholics, former
Protestants or Protestants who have changed denominations.
Greg Smith, a
research fellow at the Pew organization, says many people who are currently not
affiliated with any denomination have stopped believing in the teachings of
their former religion.
"And many also become unaffiliated due to
disillusionment or disenchantment with religious people or organizations, saying
that religious people are hypocritical and judgmental rather than sincere or
forgiving or that religious organizations focus too much on rules and not enough
on spirituality," said Greg Smith.
According to the poll, the reasons
behind decisions to change affiliations depend largely on whether a person grows
up kneeling at a Catholic Mass, praying in a Protestant pew or occupied with
Smith says two-thirds of former Catholics who are
not currently affiliated with a denomination say they left the church because
they stopped believing in its teachings.
"More than half expressed
discontent specifically with Catholic teachings on issues like abortion and
homosexuality," he said. "About half expressing displeasure with the religion's
teachings on birth control and one-third expressing dissatisfaction with
Catholicism's teachings about divorce and remarriage."
Smith says among
those surveyed who switched denominations within the Protestant church, beliefs
were less important as a reason for change.
"Instead we see people
reacting and changing, either in reaction to particular congregations,
especially styles of worship and we also see people changing in reaction to
changes that take place in their life, like getting married and moving to a new
community," said Smith.
The survey indicates religious commitment as a
child and teenager appears to be related to later decisions to change
Catholics and Protestants who have left the church were far
less likely to have regularly attended services or Sunday school when they were