Why Would the Greatest Increase in Belief in Miracles Be Among Those Who Infrequently Attend Services?

While the available data does not permit me to test hypotheses about why we see this across-the-board strengthening in the belief in miracles among those who infrequently attend religious services, I can offer some thoughts as to why we see this.

The nature of this strengthening suggests many people are being convinced that miracles exist by sources outside the doors of organized religion. One possibility is the widespread discussion of miracles in the media, namely in television programs like The Oprah Winfrey Show and in popular literature. What is significant about the tone of these discussions is that they often are not linked to any particular theology or set of religious dogmas—people are told that miracles happen but aren’t required to agree about where they come from. In other words, the dialogue about the existence of miracles in popular culture has been increasingly nondenominational, and it’s this type of dialogue that would naturally appeal to Americans who consider themselves spiritual but don’t commit themselves to frequent religious service participation.

Because of the nature of the data I’m analyzing, I can’t rule out the possibility that many people who attended religious services frequently two decades ago are now attending fewer services but still retain strong degrees of belief in miracles. However, the overall strengthening of this belief at the national level over the last 20 years—and the fact that we can’t explain this strengthening by the aging of the U.S. population—suggests to me that there’s more going on than just people who attend services less frequently maintaining their earlier strong levels of belief in miracles. More study is needed in order to make more definitive claims about why we see this upward trend in belief in miracles among infrequent service attenders, but the fact that this trend is not confined to nominal members of any one faith suggests that our national dialogue about miracles may be more inclusive of those for whom weekly religious attendance isn’t a necessary part of their spiritual lives.

Robert Martin is a graduate student in the Department of Sociology & Crime, Law and Justice at Pennsylvania State University.

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