The Pew Forum on Religion in Public Life have just published findings from a new survey. Here's a taste of the information:
Americans change religious affiliation early and often. In total, about half of American adults have changed religious affiliation at least once during their lives. Most people who change their religion leave their childhood faith before age 24, and many of those who change religion do so more than once. These are among the key findings of a new survey conducted by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life. The survey documents the fluidity of religious affiliation in the U.S. and describes in detail the patterns and reasons for change.
The reasons people give for changing their religion - or leaving religion altogether - differ widely depending on the origin and destination of the convert. The group that has grown the most in recent years due to religious change is the unaffiliated population. Two-thirds of former Catholics who have become unaffiliated and half of former Protestants who have become unaffiliated say they left their childhood faith because they stopped believing in its teachings, and roughly four-in-ten say they became unaffiliated because they do not believe in God or the teachings of most religions.1 Additionally, many people who left a religion to become unaffiliated say they did so in part because they think of religious people as hypocritical or judgmental, because religious organizations focus too much on rules or because religious leaders are too focused on power and money. Far fewer say they became unaffiliated because they believe that modern science proves that religion is just superstition.
You can experience a nice interactive graphic of the data here.
I'm reminded of a couple of selections from the Baha'i Writings that I've been pondering recently:
"...Without the spirit of real love for Bahá'u'lláh, for His Faith and its Institutions, and the believers for each other, the Cause can never really bring in large numbers of people. For it is not preaching any rules the world wants, but love and action..."
(Shoghi Effendi, Directives from the Guardian, p. 72)
"Conveying the message is merely the first step. We must then ensure that it is understood and applied, for, as we read in one of the letters written on behalf of the Guardian: "Until the public sees in the Bahá'í Community a true pattern, in action, of something better than it already has, it will not respond to the Faith in large numbers." When people embrace the Cause, they should then, through the Teachings, develop their relationships with each other and with their fellow-citizens to gradually produce a truly Bahá'í community, a light and haven for the bewildered."
(The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 151, 1994)
Furthermore, those who enter the Faith must be integrated into vibrant local communities, characterized by tolerance and love and guided by a strong sense of purpose and collective will, environments in which the capacities of all components -- men, women, youth and children -- are developed and their powers multiplied in unified action.
(The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 153, 1995 p. 2)
As members of a "growth oriented" religion, there is much for Baha'is to ponder in the results of the Pew Survey and the selections from the Baha'i Writings cited above. Simply put if souls do not find in the Baha'i community what they are looking for, they will keep looking. Thankfully, we are learning that collective worship, the spiritual education of our children and youth and providing opportunities and building capacity for individuals to serve are the means to create the kind of community that many Americans are searching for.