Science in Christian Perspective


Frank E. Houser

From: JASA 5 (December 1953): 18.

Are women more zealous Christians than men? Does being a parent rejuvenate one's interest in religion? Is an engineer or chemist more interested in religion than a doctor, lawyer, or college professor? And, do Pentecostals take their beliefs more seriously than Episcopalians?

To each of these questions there is empirical data now available which support an answer of YES. But, before summarizing this recent research, it should be noted what affirmative answers to these questions really means. Clearly evident is the fact that Protestant Christianity has a differential acceptance or impact in society. This is to say that individual interest in religion varies tremendously-from fanatical zeal at the one extreme to utter indifference at the other, And, their interest is related to key sociological variables such as sex, wealth, education, et al. In other words, we reach the startling (to some) conclusion that religion has a social component-that the free wheeling, unattached individual and religion issuing out of the "blue beyond" unrelated to life and history are inadequate formulations.

But, what is the evidence? In the October, 1953 American Sociological Review Gerhard Lenski reports a study of native white Protestant married couples in the city of Indianapolis. At the time of the study (1942) the couples had been married close to 13 years. Here are some of the findings:

1. Sex. Sixty percent more women than men expressed "much" interest in religion since marriage. Lenski suggests that this is true because the job world of the husband requires personality traits and behavior patterns which conflict with basic Christian ethics. On the other hand, the wife's successful adjustment to family life (her job world) requires just those altruistic attitudes and behavior patterns stressed by the churches.

2. Parenthood. Half again as many of the couples with children reported "much" interest in religion as compared with the childless couples. Here Lenski reminds us of the causality problem. Perhaps devout people are more concerned with having children. And, also, the situation of being parents ~ may quicken one's interest in transmitting the "priceless heritage" of Christianity. The two causes may reinforce one another.

3. Occupation. With respect to the problem of whether or not interest in religion in general (as opposed to interest in a specific congregation or denomination) varies with differences in occupational role of the family head, the evidence is unclear. Statistically significant variations between the gross categories of professional, managerial, clerical, skilled, semi-skilled, unskilled and others did not appear. However, when the professional category was broken into "technical" professionals (engineers, chemists, etc.) and such professionals as doctors, lawyers, and college professors, 43% of the former compared to 27% of the latter expressed ,'much" interest in religion. Of course, the number of respondents was small (44 and 36). But, Lenski believes adequate representation of these groups would reveal the same picture-although he states no post factum explanation. Well, what could the answer be? Is it that the training of "technicians" in the minutiae of nature may preclude their attention to disciplines critical or skeptical of religion-thus resulting in separate compartments for science and religion? And, do men of law and teaching deal more closely with the beliefs and aspirations of men-thus necessitating perusal of social and philosophical propositions often inimical to religion?

4. Vertical mobility. Lenski reports that the static aspects of the status system (e.g., net worth, income, education, and occupational status) are not pronouncedly related to religious interest. However, in the more dynamic aspect of mobility there are marked relationships. Those who had enjoyed the greatest income gain since marriage expressed the least interest in religion, while those who dropped in income indicated the greatest degree of interest. Lenski rejects the Marxist "opiate of the masses" dictum and reiterates that "job world" requirements of successful competition may be in conflict with Christian ethics.

5. Denominational preference. in Indianapolis those who Preferred Pentecostal groups ranked highest in interest followed by the Lutherans, the Evangelical and Reformed, and the Christian Scientists. At the other extreme the Episcopalians, Quakers, and United Brethren expressed the least interest in religion. Lenski suggests that, in part, religious interest is a function of social status. Elites and Episcopalians have been close to synonyms-hence interest in this world overshadows interest in "other worldly" matters. But, theological emphases are also different in Pentecostal and Episcopal churches. "Getting the joy" may be regarded as rather Proletarian behavior by the more formalistic Episcopalians.

We are indebted to studies of this type which give us such Suggestive statistics. Enough hypotheses have been suggested in this one article to keep the sociologist of religion too busy to go to church.