Finding Meaning

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Excuse Me, Mr. Gallup

By Skip Hellewell

One of the benefits of hometown newspapers like the Indy is their support of local institutions, including Laguna’s churches. By contrast, the executive editor of the New York Times candidly acknowledged a while back that, “We don’t really get religion.” The Gallup Poll folks don’t appear to “get religion” either, based on the negative spin on poll data released during Easter week, of all times. The Associated Press passed the Gallup release along with the lede: “Church membership plunges!” Really?

Looking around Laguna the evidence says no, it’s not real. If so, how do the polling firms with all their technology fail to “get religion” right? Maybe the problem is they’re trying to make a story out of something they don’t understand. There’s a complicating issue, the so-called “halo effect”—people telling pollsters what’s politically correct, though believing differently. Here’s the real story.

About 80 percent of the population say they believe in God, but less than 20 percent consistently attend church. The 60 percent in the middle—believers who aren’t church goers—express their belief in other ways. The numbers may vary—religiosity increases in hard times and relaxes when the good times roll—but this is a long-standing historical pattern.

You hear a lot about the rise of the “nones”—it’s taken from “none of the above,” the last choice when the pollster lists the denomination options. Another polling firm, Pew Research, uses this growing group to suggest that religion is dying in the U.S. Here’s another interpretation: The “nones” are simply non-church-going believers who are just being more honest about their non-participation. It doesn’t mean much—there hasn’t been a big drop in church going.

There has been some decline in U.S. church attendance, mainly among Millennials (those born between 1980-2000) and that deserves a comment. There’s a historic pattern of youth dropping out of church when they leave home for college or work. They generally return to church after they start their own family, thus a phrase among preachers that “babies bring parents back to church.” Well, the Millennials have been putting off marriage and family formation, a trend reflected in our currently low birthrate (1.8 births per woman, below the 2.1 replacement rate). Conclusion: This isn’t a church attendance problem, but a family formation problem. It’s a serious concern for our country, one that religion actually alleviates.

Some suggest Europe’s religious decline, noting the empty churches, will surely happen in the U.S. A simple response is that America is not Europe. Our Constitution wisely placed a separation between church and state. European nations have a history of state-sponsored churches with a monopoly on the market. What did you think would happen to a church when it’s run by the equivalent of government bureaucrats? Religion in America is a furiously competitive free market, thanks to our Constitution. Churches will evolve, there will be winners and losers, but faith will endure. There’s meaning in that.

Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip. He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach.” Email: [email protected]


Places to worship (all on Sunday, unless noted):

Baha’i’s of Laguna Beach—contact [email protected] for events and meetings.

Calvary Chapel Seaside, 21540 Wesley Drive (Lang Park Community Center), 10:30 a.m.

Chabad Jewish Center, 30804 S. Coast Hwy, Fri. 7 p.m., Sat. 10:30 a.m., Sun. 8 a.m.

Church by the Sea, 468 Legion St., 9 & 10:45 a.m.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 682 Park Ave., 10 a.m.

First Church of Christ, Scientist, 635 High Dr., 10 a.m.

ISKCON (Hare Krishna), 285 Legion St., 5 p.m., with 6:45 feast.

Jehovah’s Witnesses, 20912 Laguna Canyon Rd., 1:00 p.m.

Laguna Beach Net-Works, 286 St. Ann’s Dr., 10 a.m.

Laguna Presbyterian, 415 Forest Ave., 8:30 & 10 a.m.

Neighborhood Congregational Church (UCC), 340 St. Ann’s Drive, 10 a.m.

United Methodist Church, 21632 Wesley, 10 a.m.

St. Catherine of Siena (Catholic), 1042 Temple Terrace, 7:30, 9, 11, 1:30 p.m. (Spanish), 5:30 p.m.  There are 8 a.m. masses on other days and Saturday 5:30 p.m. vigils.

St. Francis by the Sea (American Catholic), 430 Park, 9:30 a.m.

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, 428 Park Ave., 8:00 & 10:30 a.m.

Unitarian Universalist, 429 Cypress St., 10:30 a.m.



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