Be Nice, Don’t Talk About Faith: a New Pew Poll Looks at the Absence of Religious Conversation April 13, 2016

Be Nice, Don’t Talk About Faith: a New Pew Poll Looks at the Absence of Religious Conversation

Talking about faith is largely off-limits in America, but the highly religious didn’t get the message. That’s one of the conclusions in the latest study by the Pew Research Center.

Emma Green at the Atlantic summarizes:

According to a new Pew Research Center study, only a third of Americans say they talk about religion with people outside of their families at least once or twice a month. Evangelical Protestants and people who attend historically black churches are far more likely than other religious groups to talk about faith with friends, colleagues, and strangers, but only about half of each of those groups tends to do so with regularity. Jews, Catholics, and mainline Protestants don’t talk about religion much — only a quarter or slightly more of each group said they did so once or twice a month.

And the non-religious?

Atheists, agnostics, and non-religious people were the least likely to discuss religion, with only a tenth or slightly more of each of those groups doing so regularly.


In fact, people who are atheists, agnostics, or “nothing in particular” are roughly three to six times less likely to discuss religion than the next most-reticent group.

The highly religious are also far more likely to talk about faith with people who are not blood relations than they are with members of their extended family. 68% of them are willing to have that conversation, compared to 20% of the not highly religious.

The pollsters didn’t ask why most people avoid talking about religion, but the answer isn’t hard to guess. Even more than money and just as much as politics, faith is a social minefield of a topic, fraught with possible friction.

What the Pew team did ask: How should people behave when they don’t see eye to eye on religion?

Two-thirds said the best thing is to “try to understand and agree to disagree.” But the results get more interesting when they’re broken down by religious groups and denomination.

Forty-one percent of Jews said it’s best to avoid talking about religion with people who have different views, compared to a quarter of all Christians. People who don’t identify as any particular religion were even more likely to skip the topic: 44 percent said it’s better to stay away from disagreements about faith. And of all Christians, Catholics, at 31 percent, were the most likely to say the same. In general, religious minority groups, or those for whom religion is not a big part of their lives, are the most reticent to get into conflicts over belief.

Pew’s results appear to be about people discussing religion in person, face to face. It would be interesting to see what happens to the numbers if the company polled respondents about digital tête-à-têtes, too, especially on social media. For instance, most “open” atheists I know don’t often bring up religion in conversation, but we’re not too shy about discussing it here, or on Reddit, or Facebook, or Twitter.

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