Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Why Are African-Americans So Religious?

I work in a city of predominantly African-American residents, which one can describe as sub-par in living and economic standards.  While nail salons, barber shops, and chicken restaurants abound the extensive number of Churches is what catches my attention on my morning drive to my office.  So I asked my self, why do I personally notice more churches in African-American residential areas than other areas?  Why does it seem that the Church is an important social gathering point to African-Americans more so than any other race im America? 

Source: Pew Forum U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, conducted in 2007, released in 2008

According to the Pew Forum U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, conducted in 2007 and published in 2008, almost 80% of African-Americans view religion as very important in their daily lives, while 56% of the rest of the U.S. adult population have the same views.  Nearly 90% of African-Americans polled say that they have 'absolutely certain belief in God' compared to only about 70% of the U.S. adult population. About 55% of African-Americans say they attend religious worship at least once a week, while only about 40% of the U.S. population do the same.  At least, the great people at the Pew Forum support my informal observations.  But, why? Why do we see these numbers in the African-American population?

Since the link between extreme religious adherence and poor economic status is correlated at a significant statistical level as shown by numerous studies from around the world, I would have to assume that the reason for the relevant difference in religiousity is due to the fact that African-Americans, especially those of Southern states, are poorer and less educated.  In fact, according the Pew Forum Survey about 63% of African-Americans who did not graduate from highschool belong to an historically predominant black church as compared to 53% of those with college degrees.  One would assume that if the economic and educational status of an individual is highly correlated with religious adherence then the 10% difference observed here is not satisfactory. I would have liked a larger difference.  So while these reasons might explain the religiousity of African-Americans in the U.S. to a certain point, there must be another reason.  Something that might not be easily quantifiable.

I ran across a blog post from 2007 by Masala Skeptic, in which he asks the very same question but travels down a different path for the answer; a socio-historical line of reasoning.  Blacks were never allowed to attend white churches, espeically in southern states, so they built their own.  These black churches quickly became the social and educational centers of the black community, especially since blacks were never allowed to read any books except bibles.  I found this very interesting and enlightening.

According the Pew Forum study about 55% of African-Americans interpret the scriptures literally as compared to only 30% of the rest of the U.S.!  Since the church is the cultural beacon for the black community, what chance do their impressionable young have in breaking this cycle of intellectual and economic oppression?  The way I interpret the statistical and historical facts would suggest that it does not matter if young African-Americans graduate from college and emerse themselves in intellectual endeavours.  As long as their community is tightly built around their churches, they stand no chance at breaking free from religious beliefs.  And since more than half believe in the scriptures literally, their educational endeavours might as well be a waste of time.  There has to be a cultural shift away from the church, and not just an educational one, for the African-American community to rise in the socio-economic ladder.

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