We are going to meet to discuss this excellent empirically-based book about the role of religion in American life, by the sociologist Robert Putnam (famous for the book Bowling Alone).
I know this book is very long, but you can actually get the salient points just by skimming through the book. I will try to summarize the salient points before the discussion for those who have not at least skimmed through the book.
Here is the "most helpful" customer review from Amazon.
I for one was blown away by the contents of this book. Once I started reading, I found it difficult to put down and fascinating. I am now convinced that we are all walking around with presuppositions about religion and religious beliefs in America that are just plain wrong. Think about it. You're a smart, educated, well-read adult. You try to keep an open mind throughout your life, and then along comes this 550 page book and smacks you, and your belief systems right in the face. Everything I thought about our country's religious status is now subject to re-interpretation. Here's why:
The authors did very substantial research, over a period of years. It was painstaking, and brutally honest. They approach this project the way you would do a massive pharmaceutical drug research study. They did not inflict their own belief systems on what they found. There has been no study like this, anywhere approaching this effort in more than 50 years. At the same time, they made the book highly readable which for a research study is more than surprising.
If I had to compare this study to anything comparable, it would be the Master's and Johnson study on sexual practices in America published many decades ago. That study revolutionized our thinking about sexual mores in this country, and this study will do the same thing for religion. You do not have to follow this book in sequence. Go into the table of contents, find a chapter that interests you and you will be able to go into whatever depth you like. Read a few pages or read the whole chapter, just be prepared to realize that what we think is not necessarily what the rest of us are thinking, and believing.
Here are a few concepts straight out of the book that should pique your interest in reading more.
* One third to one half of all marriages in America are interfaith marriages. Wow, this is surprising. It is difficult to stay married to someone if you do not respect that person. These marriages are producing a powerful respect for other religions, and that's probably good for all of us.
* One third of all Americans have switched religions in their lifetime. I would never have dreamed the number was so large.
* The young are more opposed to abortion than their parents, and more accepting of gay marriage. I would not have believed the abortion statistic, but research is research.
* Fervently religious Americans believe that people of another faith can go to heaven. This is another mind blowing statistic because it implies that people are starting to treat other people's religions with the same respect they accord their own.
* I was completely taken aback with the following. I knew that in 1960 a number of Protestants (30%) said they could not bring themselves to vote for a Catholic (John Kennedy) for President. I was alive then, I remember. Did you know that in 2004 John Kerry, a Catholic took only half the Catholic vote in this country? The other half went for George Bush, an evangelical Protestant.
* Jewish people are the most broadly popular religious group in America. Statistics are clear on this, regardless of what the news media would have you believe. What's interesting also is that Mormons tend to like, and are most comfortable with other people's religions, and yet are the least liked religion themselves. This would imply that Mormons are the most accepting, and yet least accepted of the religions in America.
In summary I believe that you should be prepared to be amazed at your new understanding of who and what America believes in. It turns out we are the most religious country in the industrial world. Over 83% of us belong to a religion. More than 40% of us go to church almost every week, while 59% pray weekly, and one third of us read the scriptures every week, and 80% of Americans say that they absolutely believe there is a God. By way of comparison, 54% of the people in England never pray, that is true for only 18% of Americans. More than anything else, I was taken aback by the following. Almost 40% of Americans belong to a church or church group versus 9% for Italians, and 4% for the French. If you watch CNN when the Vatican elects a Pope, you see a million people in Vatican Square, you would think that 100% of Italians belong to the church.
Read this book and be prepared to be amazed at what you will learn. The authors did a superb job at wringing out their personal biases, and portraying religion in America in an honest, respectful fashion, and they deserve to be read for what they have accomplished in this highly readable book. Good luck, and thank you for reading this review.