It’s often said that Americans are a deeply religious people. It has also been said (by me, if no one else) that one of their favorite forms of worship is self-worship. An AARP survey of people age 45 and up lends support to both of these opinions. Fifty-six percent of those polled said they regularly attend religious services—63 percent of the women and 48 percent of the men, which portends gender gaps in the afterlife. Thirty-four percent said they’re “very religious,” while slightly more (42 percent) classified themselves as “very spiritual.” Of course, people define the terms to suit themselves, sometimes in ways that make their religious practice seem as much self-expressive as devotional. When people were asked to cite their “most satisfying spiritual or religious experience,” prayer (picked by 20 percent) won just a shade more mentions than “living a good moral life” and “helping others” (19 percent apiece). Also scoring in double digits were “being with family members” (13 percent) and “attending services in a house of worship” (10 percent). Five percent chose “communing with nature”; 3 percent cited “meditation.” Even when it comes to attending services, people’s motives vary (see the chart). Meanwhile, the term “blind faith” (tossed around by contemptuous blue-staters) is decidedly inapt in describing the religious sensibility of the 45-and-ups. Thirty-six percent have “experienced dissatisfaction or unhappiness” with their religion or church. When these people were asked to choose among possible reasons to explain this dissatisfaction, 70 percent said they disagree with some of the views their religion/church propagates.
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