Pew Forum Survey Shows Unitarian Universalism Wandering Deeper Into Irrelevance
Yesterday, I wrote about one particularly odd finding in the latest survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life: In New York State, the survey says that there are less than half as many atheists as people who don’t believe in God.
Today, I want to focus on another finding by the survey. This subject of this finding is rather fuzzy as well, but the finding itself is quite clear. The fuzzy subject is Unitarian Universalism, and the clear finding is the denomination’s continuing decline.
The number of Unitarian Universalists found by the Pew Forum survey was so small that they had to be lumped into larger group, called “Unitarians and other liberal religious faiths”. Even after being lumped together in this way, this group consisted of just 1.2 percent of the people surveyed. Unitarian Universalism has always been small, but it’s now shrinking down to a microscopic level.
Even those Unitarian Universalists that remain don’t seem very engaged. According to the Pew survey, only 23 percent of Unitarian Universalists say that they participate in study groups or religious education programs more than once or twice a year. The portion of Unitarian Universalists who say that religion occupies a very important place in their lives has diminished by 20 percent. At the same time, the percent of Unitarian Universalists who say that they never bother to attend any events put on by the congregations they belong to in name has gotten larger.
What’s more, the liberal nature of Unitarian Universalists seems to be in decline. Over the last eight years, the number of Unitarian Universalists who believe in a hell where people are subjected to eternal divine punishment for failing to adhere to divine law has risen by 60 percent. So, what’s the point of joining a congregation that claims to be liberal, but where hellfire and brimstone types are an increasing presence?
There are plenty of Americans who are disenchanted with the religious groups that are available to them, and could join an alternative organization. Religiously unaffiliated Americans have grown from 16 percent to 23 percent of the population just in the last eight years.
It seems that, as much as Unitarian Universalists like to claim to be an alternative to traditional modes of religious life, they are now perceived by more Americans as a part of the traditional modes of religious life. Unaffiliated Americans aren’t buying what the Unitarians are trying to sell.