Losing their religion: More women join the unspiritual set

(RNS) Nadia Bulkin, 27, the daughter of a Muslim father and a Christian mother, spends “zero time” thinking about God.

And she finds that among her friends — both guys and gals — many are just as spiritually disconnected.

Losing their religion: More women join the unspiritual set Surveys have long shown women lead more active lives of faith than men, and that millennials are less interested than earlier generations. One in three now claim no religious identity.

What may be new is that more women, generation by generation, are moving in the direction of men — away from faith, religious commitment, even away from vaguely spiritual views like “a deep sense of wonder about the universe,” according to some surveys.

Michaela Bruzzese, 46, is a Mass-every-week Catholic, just like her mother, but she sees few of her Gen X peers in the pews.

“For me, Catholicism is a verb — it is the action of being in the world and trying to live the gospel,” said Bruzzese, who teaches theology at a Catholic high school in Albuquerque, N.M. Many of her students go home to parents who no longer observe the faith.“I have women friends who grew up Catholic who think my choice to stay Catholic is like I choose to keep believing in Santa Claus. They just don’t get what is in the church for me,” said Bruzzese.

That fits with the findings of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, which tracks Catholic faith and practice.

Losing their religion: More women join the unspiritual set In 1974, CARA research found 46 percent of men and 45 percent of women considered themselves to be “strong Catholics.” By 2012, both groups had dropped significantly on that question — men to 24 percent and women to 30 percent.

On the rise: Those who call themselves “not very strong” Catholics. That self-description by men climbed to 67 percent in 2012, up from 44 percent 1974. Among women, 57 percent said their faith was “not very strong,” up from 43 percent 40 years ago.

Senior researcher Mark Gray, director of CARA polls, sees “some evidence of a closing ‘gender gap’ but I’m not sure how to disentangle this from life-cycle effects. It may be as women age they become more religious or spiritual and men do not (as much).”

Another survey — one that asked questions about spirituality — found significant differences between men and women and marked change between generations.

Respondents were asked how frequently they sensed “a connection to all life”; a “deep inner peace or harmony”; ”a deep connection with nature and the earth”; and “a deep sense of wonder about the universe.”In the fall of 2014, the Public Religion Research Institute asked four spirituality questions as part of a larger survey on attitudes toward climate change.

Almost a third of Americans said these spiritual experiences were not a regular part of their lives. And each age group described themselves as experiencing less wonder and connection than the age group before.

While 49 percent of seniors (ages 65 and older) rated high on the spirituality index, only 29 percent of young adults (ages 18-29) did likewise.

And 44 percent of women scored high on the index but only 36 percent of men.

Bulkin scored especially low on those PRRI questions. “To talk about the attachment to the universe for me means thinking about science — it’s an intellectual connection,” she said.

Bulkin was born in Indonesia then moved to Nebraska when she was 11. Today, her mother, a self-proclaimed atheist, attends a Unitarian Universalist congregation. But Bulkin, a consultant in Washington, D.C., is more inclined to use her Sunday morning for a calming yoga class.

“Sometimes I do say I’m spiritual but not religious, but it depends on your definition,” said Bulkin. “I’m more an agnostic when I think about it. But I spend zero time thinking about it.”

Her male friends who do claim a religious identity are more culturally attached than religious, she said. “I know more girls who are religious Christians who struggle to find a guy who is the same.”

Juliet Vedral, 33, a pastor’s daughter who is active in her Christian faith, is enrolled in the Young Adult Life and Leadership Initiative at the Shalem Institute in Washington, D.C.

Vedral said her friends fall into roughly three groups: Religious (mostly women); spiritual but not religious (more women than men) and folks who are “not into it at all” (definitely more male).

At Shalem, most participants in its contemplative prayer and leadership programs are women “in the second half of life” said Leah Rampy, the executive director. Older women may have more time to participate, or they may be more willing to be part of institutional religion.

“Young people want their spirituality to be very personal, not corporate. It might be yoga or mindfulness or chanting but it has to be authentic and it has to work for them,” said Rampy.

This may be in part because “young men and young women are experiencing the world with less difference between their lives in the workplace and in education,” said sociologist of religion Cynthia Woolever.  “All the same forces that would move men toward the ‘none’ category (away from brand-name religion) are present for women, too, now that whatever fence was around women is removed.”

Woolever also points to the marriage rate as an influence in religiosity, if not necessarily spirituality. “It’s married women who go to church and they take their kids. Certainly single women go to church, too, but at a much lower rate,” said Woolever.

“In evangelical and even in some progressive parts of Christianity, women are getting very mixed signals,” said Tickle. “There is a view that a woman should be subordinate on Sunday, equal to men the five workdays of the week and Saturday is up for grabs. She’s told at home and at church the man is to be the ‘servant leader,’ but then she goes to work where she has to be as tough as the guys to succeed.”Protestant scholar and author Phyllis Tickle, 80, who has observed American spirituality for decades, also cited the changing cultural context of women’s lives.

Tickle called it “religiously imposed schizophrenia. My generation didn’t have the pressure to be the perfect wife and the perfect professional. It doesn’t leave you any time for spirituality — or any internal time at all. Whatever the female of the 22nd century is going to be spiritually, we just don’t know,” Tickle said.

When Bruzzese looks ahead, she has no benchmarks for how her three young daughters might one day connect to a Catholic life as adults.

“I hope they live lives of faith that reflect the joy and the liberation promised by Jesus,” she said. But how they express this, and whether they follow her and their grandmother into Catholic church pews as adults, Bruzzese said, “is not up to me.”

YS/AMB END GROSSMAN

Religion News Service

RNS is owned by Religion News LLC, a non-profit, limited liability corporation based at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Its mission is to provide in-depth, non-sectarian coverage of religion, spirituality and ideas.

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42 Comments on "Losing their religion: More women join the unspiritual set"

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 
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Julie
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It is sad we must put labels on ourselves which can exclude others.

george Nixon Shuler
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Cully, do you believe your bullying me is ethical?

Cully
Guest

one thanks Mr. Shuler for making ones point………………………

Kevin
Guest

He can be entertaining. I will bet his mom really lights up when she gets that tolerance card on Mother’s Day.

george Nixon Shuler
Guest

I could ask you the same thing I asked Cullybut I think we both know the answer.

Cully
Guest

one wonders if in the United Methodist Church one is allowed to participate and be heard only if one embraces an extremely liberal and progressive belief. if that is so–one responds “how sad,” with a very heavy heart.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest
Well, Cully, one may “wonder” such, but where’s the evidence to justify the “wonder”? I’ve never seen anyone excluded for being too far right. However, if a member of my church goes out of the way to personally attack the lesbian couple and their children who sit on the pew next to ours you can bet the bank I will be escorting that person out the door. I may be 63 years old and not as fast as I used to be but I still know the training I received as a sailor who made the finals in our Golden… Read more »
Cully
Guest

one makes a casual observation that if Mr. Shuler is any way crossed or disagreed with, he reacts like a spoiled child.

Kevin
Guest

Picked up on that did you? You will soon learn that exchanges with him are pointless.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

They’re pointless to such as you because you are unable to support your position, dear fellow. Such bullying as the post you made to which this is replying only show your weakness here. How sad for you that you are unable to argue your position. In part that’s because there is so little to back it up.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

My friend you have stated your judgment against me, but failed to show how such is so. In that your comment is revealed for what it is, an unprovoked and unkind attack unrelated to facts. My friend, many disagree with me – my own mother has more in common with Michelle Bachmann than Jane Fonda. We tolerate one another. It appears however you have difficulty tolerating opinions at vairance with your own. .

Sandy Wylie
Guest
James, I’m a soon-to-be 71 year old male Sandy who had a 44 year career as a UMC pastor. I’ve always stuck up for younger folks and identify with them–and I’m sympathetic to the “radical feminism” that you mention in a negative light. In my 7 years as a district superintendent I got to see churches from the perspective of an outsider. The majority of churches I observed would be shocked if they saw themselves as others see them. They are not warm, inviting centers of hospitality even though they think they are. They are judgmental and shortsighted and unable… Read more »
Paul W.
Guest
I agree with Kevin’s comment above. I’m not surprised at all that you found most congregations were “not warm, inviting centers of hospitality even though they think they are”. This is a general problem not specific to any particular denomination. Many churches seem to think that if an usher bothered to say, “Hi!”, that they’ve succeeded in “checking the friendliness box”. (The worst for me are the churches you visit where folks actually give you dirty looks during the service because you didn’t realize you were sitting in Joe’s regular seat. :)) However, I disagree with the rest of your… Read more »
George Nixon Shuler
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Paul W says in part, “However, I disagree with the rest of your post which seems to state that presenting a Biblical stance on morality is part of the problem. All churches should be welcoming, but at the same time, all churches should also preach the complete Word of God in a loving but honest manner. I have to question how much of your own biases are coming into play when you talk about churches that are “judgmental and short-sighted and unable to relate to young adults”; in my experience, several of the most theologically conservative churches that I am… Read more »
Paul W.
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I was addressing Sandy, George, not you. I, and most here, have no interest in the what you post since you refuse to be civil. Be civil and, over time, that will change.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

My friend, I have never been uncivil – what you see in me is what you see in the mirror. You members of the right-wing brigade here have never been civil to anyone to the left of Genghis Khan. Your whine there merely shows your inability to articulate an argument and in desperation issue a personal attack against the person who bested you on a level playing field.

TD
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Yes, and when the church compromises Christ’s redeeming blood, then it is no good to anyone. Our pastor recently felt a need to instruct us. He stated that we were not there to socialize, eat, play basketball, make quilts, et al. He said that we are there to WORSHIP and to SERVE. In fact, he invited anyone who was not there to WORSHIP that Sunday to leave. Yea, he’s an ordained UM elder of all things. So, perhaps the younger and the older are too often looking for something other than church. If I’m not in church on Sunday to… Read more »
Kevin
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I hate to say it but you are right. Friendliness and warm welcomes are the exceptions not the rule.

Mark
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I have seen much more unfriendliness on the part of liberals in the UMC. When our new pastor discovered that we did not subscribe to her left-wing politics we were immediately ostracized to the outer realm in a most judgmental way. But what is missed by so many of these narrow-minded comments is the fact that the article associates membership loss with a generalized loss in spiritual interest. This is most curious given that we’ve been told the (supposed) more welcoming, non-judgmental nature of leftist spirituality would increase membership in the churches that subscribe to it. Even this liberally-biased article… Read more »
George Nixon Shuler
Guest

I am when I do wrong. By fighting for what is right within the UMC however, I am doing what needs to be done. I apologize to you for whatever it is you think I owe you an apology for, but I will not stop challenging the categorical assertions made by opponents of inclusion, progress, and justice.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest
I don’t doubt you were ostracized. If you behave there as you do here, it’s no wonder. I’ve yet to meet a Methodist pastor with “left-wing politics,” and I’ve known hundreds. Liberal, yes, but that’s very different. Right-wing, about three, but one left to start his own church which failed and now sells real estate and the other two were near retirement. George W. Bush attended a UMC in the Virginia D.C. suburbs which was pastored by the wife of his one time Chief of Staff, Andrew Card. He was good at pretending to be right-wing and developed that skill… Read more »
Mark
Guest

George, if you had any shame you’d be ashamed.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

Thank you for your contributions. Those who think some fake “renewal” is the answer are woefully deceived. The articulation of the hatred of women and of LGBTs is ndone publicly, because the speakers of same feel no remorse for it.

Sandy Wylie
Guest

Many in the younger generation are obviously turned off by the church. I’ve heard that scarcely 1 in 7 United Methodist youth stick with the church after they leave home. In the church they encounter lots of narrow-mindedness and judgment, including judgment directed at LGBTs. They hear lots of Bible verses thrown around to justify prejudices. Older adults don’t seem interested in connecting with younger adults, and they wonder why their churches get older year by year. Younger folks aren’t dumb. They know when they and their friends are unwelcome.

james
Guest
Older adults, Ms. Wylie, yes, have very much stumbled in their obligation to younger folks who may have been blessed to grow up in a home where the Holy Writ was read and shared and talked about. “We” have not passed on to younger folks–nor have impressed up on their minds how a living faith in a loving/saving/caring/grace-filled Heavenly Father can sustain one through ALL of life’s ups and downs. Older adults have been remiss is teaching younger folks that not all will go their direction–that there will be troubles and heartaches and deep canyons of life that WE all… Read more »
George Nixon Shuler
Guest
James says: ““We” have let political correctness/radical feminism/if it feels good do it mentality rob younger folks of the example of a firm and intense faith in Father/Son/Holy Spirit…” Let’s break that down: 1. ” political correctness/radical feminism/if it feels good do it mentality…” Here are three separate and distinct concepts James seems to conflate, though how that could be done, he utterly fails to provide any facts which indicates similarities. I do not think it is unkind to say I do not believe he understands what he is talking about. Let’s break it down further: 2: “political correctness”: It… Read more »
james
Guest

Ah, Mr. Shuler. You are a past master at reading between the lines. It is very doubtful that one who does not believe “just exactly” as you dictate could even begin to have a conversation with you. You have no idea–from the brief comment(s) I made what or how I believe. It is amazing that you can “spin” my post and take up 3-4 more times the space………………………………..

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

Maybe, but I say what I mean and mean what I say. You, however, speak in riddles. You must be a reincarnated Delphic priestess.

james
Guest

Ah, Mr. Shuler!! Thanks so much for the chuckle. I’ve a hunch that if we could visit eyeball to eyeball as opposed to keyboard to keyboard, we might find more common ground than you would like……………..

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

Why not just say what you mean? I have no problem with disagreement. Here my problem is I win right-wing buzzword bingo whenever you post nonsense like that. If I said something inaccurate, state it, don’t whine. I believe you have no idea what “radical feminism” is, and your effort to conflate it with unrelated things makes you sound like a member of the tinfoil hat brigade.

George Nixon shuler
Guest
Those are certainly valid points. A hundred years ago, in the U.S. with exceptions for such as Chinatown in San Francisco or the heavily Jewish sections of New York (where other similar demands were expected of neighbors) people were mostly expected to be church members. Those who refused suffered economically, being denied business if in business for themselves, or denied a job. Nowadays, such business practices are mostly illegal. But back then people joined churches like the Methodist church out of an economic survival mode. That no longer being a community expectation, we have lost such members. The right-wing within… Read more »
Paul W.
Guest

For drawing any conclusions from a Christian perspective, the article provides very little useful information. The “Charting the Unspiritual” graphic is an example — the questions asked were about spirituality using non-Christian “New Age” “Mother Nature” definitions and were asked as part of a survey about “climate change”: ‘Respondents were asked how frequently they sensed “a connection to all life”; a “deep inner peace or harmony”; ”a deep connection with nature and the earth”; and “a deep sense of wonder about the universe.”’

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

So, to you, “a deep sense of wonder about the universe” is a “non-Christian” value? Why? One suspects speaking positively of the antithesis would be indicative of smugness or narcissism. For us regular Mainliners, those are not Christian values.

Paul W.
Guest

Set up a strawman. Knock it down. How clever of you, George.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

Actually it was you who set it up, and knocked it down by your refusal to show your work. I’m just the play-by-play guy in the booth.

George Nixon shuler
Guest
I believe Paul’s comment above, reconsidered, is quite revealing as the beliefs of reactionary United Methodists and their ideological allies: He identifies all of the following as somehow Non-Christian: 1. ‘“New Age” “Mother Nature” definitions 2. “climate change”: 3. “a connection to all life” 4. “deep inner peace or harmony” 5. ”a deep connection with nature and the earth” 6. “a deep sense of wonder about the universe.”’ After contemplating that list, I’m trying to conceive of what spiritual value, if any, is contained in what is left if all of those are by definition excluded. One does not appear… Read more »
james
Guest

poor them. they have NO inkling how wonderful a godly spouse would treat them.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

As they say, YMMV. (“Your Mileage May Vary”) Evidence is clear that religiosity is among several characteristics which positively correlate to being an abusive spouse.

Richard Hicks
Guest

All of these studies are flawed because they depend on us humans to tell the truth about our selves. AND, these studies equate attendance in a certain building with being “religious.” Religions is best defined as sinews and shackles. Sinews help hold us together and allow us control. Shackles bind, restrict and control. Sinews and shackles are present during each moment of life. How a person responds to the S&Ss of life is one’s “religion.” Thank you, Richard Hicks, OKC

Mark
Guest

One more step toward gender “equality!” The left will be most proud.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

You are probably right in a general sense, but the caveat is that in the U.S., what constitutes “the left” could fit in a restaurant booth.

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