Compared to other first-world countries and Western nations, American religiosity is a notorious outlier. A recent study by University of Toronto sociology professor Scott Schieman confirms this. Using data from two recent national surveys of Americans, he found:
Overall, most [Americans] believe that God is highly influential in the events and outcomes in their lives. Specifically:
* 82 per cent say they depend on God for help and guidance in making decisions;
* 71 per cent believe that when good or bad things happen, these occurrences are simply part of God’s plan for them;
* 61 per cent believe that God has determined the direction and course of their lives;
* 32 per cent agree with the statement: “There is no sense in planning a lot because ultimately my fate is in God’s hands.”
Whether these professed beliefs have much influence on actual behavior is another question altogether.
In his presidential address to the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, Duke University professor Mark Chaves discusses what he calls “the religious congruence fallacy”:
Religious congruence refers to consistency among an individual’s religious beliefs and attitudes, consistency between religious ideas and behavior, and religious ideas, identities, or schemas that are chronically salient and accessible to individuals across contexts and situations. Decades of anthropological, sociological, and psychological research establish that religious congruence is rare, but much thinking about religion presumes that it is common. The religious congruence fallacy occurs when interpretations or explanations unjustifiably presume religious congruence.
We cannot assume, in other words, that because most Americans report that God is heavily involved in their daily lives, they make decisions based on this involvement.
When people fill out surveys, they have had time to think about how they should or ought to respond. If one claims to be religious, it should come as no surprise they say God is involved with their daily lives. This presents something of a dilemma for sociologists who rely on survey data.