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My Take: The myth and reality of the Catholic vote
The author argues there is not one Catholic vote, but three discrete Catholic votes.
February 20th, 2012
11:39 AM ET

My Take: The myth and reality of the Catholic vote

Editor's Note: Stephen S. Schneck is director of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America.

By Stephen S. Schneck, Special to CNN

For years, pollsters and political scientists have been stumped about Catholics.

On one hand, it’s been pretty clear that as American Catholics go, so goes the nation. George W. Bush narrowly won the Catholic vote in 2004 and won a second term. Barack Obama narrowly won the Catholic vote in 2008 and, with it, the White House.

It’s easy to see why Catholics are sometimes seen as the swing voters whose shifting political preferences swing elections.

Nevertheless, the idea of a Catholic bloc is patently ridiculous. As voters, American Catholics mirror the electorate as a whole, divided into Democrats, independents, and Republicans at about the same percentages as all Americans. And it’s hard to trace such political complexity to religious allegiance.

One explanation for why is the sheer number of Catholic voters and their now multigenerational assimilation into American society. About 35 million Catholics voted in 2008. That’s about 27% of all voters.

In the 19th century and for much of the 20th, Catholics self-consciously occupied a distinctive identity in America. Predominantly blue collar, they often lived in white ethnic neighborhoods, attended their own schools and colleges, established their own hospitals and charities, and experienced some level of discrimination.

In those years, Catholics associated overwhelmingly with the Democratic Party, which not only accommodated but promoted policies that advanced ethnic assimilation – everything from minimum wage laws to the GI Bill.

But by finally achieving that assimilation, Catholics in the last 50 years have lost much of their sense of special self-identity. For white Catholics, who are about 60% of the Catholic vote, their distinctiveness in class, education, income, and even ethnicity has grown increasingly ambiguous in America’s famous melting pot.

The melting pot has even transformed Catholics’ relationship to their church. Polling numbers released Friday by CNN about the White House contraception dust-up illustrate this: Only 11% of Catholics polled said they should always obey official church teachings on moral issues like birth control and abortion.

To put this differently, 88% of Catholics in the poll said that it’s OK for Catholics to make up their own minds about these moral issues. That represents a growing trend. In 1992 only 70% supported the “make up their own minds” argument. In 1999 it was 80%.

Today’s Catholics are picky and even suspicious about political signals from the institutional church.

Politically conservative Catholics bristle at do-gooder messaging from their bishops about climate change, immigration reform and Catholicism’s important “preferential option” for the poor. Politically liberal Catholics, meanwhile, are not much swayed by the righteous tone of church pronouncements about same-sex marriage and contraception.

And yet despite the pattern and consequences of assimilation, something Catholic is going on in politics. It’s evident when you drill down into the polling numbers. While there is not an obvious Catholic vote on the macro scale, there are three discrete "Catholic votes” that really matter in American elections.

The first of these is Latino Catholics.  Over the last three decades, Latino immigration has washed over the church in America like a flood.  From insignificant numbers 40 years ago, Latinos now constitute one-third of all American Catholics.

In the not-too-distant future, the majority of American Catholics will probably be Latinos.

Unlike the Italians, Poles, Irish and similar white ethnics, Latino Catholics have retained their distinctive identity as Catholics. Their voting behavior reflects that.

This is particularly true when considered from the perspective of the famous social teachings of the church, which emphasize social and familial solidarity, the common good, preference for the poor, tradition, and welcoming of the immigrant.

Latino American Catholics (excluding Cubans) strongly associated with the Democratic Party in 2008, with 67% of Latino Catholic voters supporting Obama. But the bloc includes swing voters, and turnout can be volatile. This vote can be critical in swing states like Colorado, Florida and New Mexico, and perhaps soon in states like Arizona and Texas.

A little deeper in the weeds are two other important groups of white Catholic voters, who might be called “intentional Catholics” and “cultural Catholics.”

An important social phenomenon for understanding intentional Catholics is what’s sometimes referred to as distillation. A study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life last year found that one-third of those raised Catholic have left the church. Fully 10% of the American electorate is formerly Catholic.

Because of assimilation, the glue of tradition and culture that previously inclined many to adhere to the church has lost its stickiness. Leaving is easy, whether by decision or atrophy, and little shame results.

Such disaffiliation happens for liberal reasons, conservative reasons, personal reasons and no reason at all. Some who leave still feel lingering allegiance to things Catholic, but many do not, and former Catholics do not have a distinctive political identity.

But as a result of disaffiliation, many Catholics who remain with the church are “distilled.”  More and more of those who remain are those who actively choose to embrace the church and its teachings. These “intentional Catholics” are the second of the three important groups of Catholic voters.

Largely white, with impressive education levels, mostly suburban and with moderate to high income levels, such Catholics are in evidence in weekly Mass attendance and parish activities. Politically active, intentional Catholic voters lean toward the Republican Party (with some youthful swing voters) and are motivated by economic issues and increasingly by opposition to abortion, same-sex marriage and illegal immigration.

“Cultural Catholics” make up the third important group of Catholic voters. They are a complicated mix of mostly white Americans with lower levels of Mass attendance and higher levels of ambivalence toward Church authority.

These assimilated voters have varying education and income levels, often hail from urban and suburban communities, are more female than male - often with blue-collar roots - and are not intentionally but culturally oriented toward the church.

Because of the relative size of the Catholic population in battleground states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin, swing voters in this group can be pivotal in presidential elections.

Many culturally Catholic voters are at odds with both conservatives and liberals on many issues. They are more socially conservative than the majority of Americans, but many are put off by the more intense social conservatism of intentional Catholics and evangelicals.

They are more economically populist than most Americans but are uncomfortable with the libertarian zeal of the tea party.  They are alienated from the lifestyle liberalism of many progressives but remain supportive of unions and governmental programs for the middle class.

The bishops may have little role in these voters’ personal faith, but cultural Catholics look to the church for the sacraments that mark the turnings of their lives and for the traditions that connect generations. Their religious sensibility might almost be described as ethnic.

Neither Obama nor any of the Republican candidates has clinched the deal for the voters in this group. Whoever does will probably win in November.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen S. Schneck.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Catholic Church • Politics

soundoff (1,205 Responses)
  1. JustWho

    What's the difference between a woman's birth control pill or a condom for the man?

    February 20, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • spiffy53

      $35 dollars each month

      February 20, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
  2. Emperor Vadik, CA

    We need a gulag, somewhere in the very North Alaska, so we can take religious freaks, put them there, isolate them and rid the rest of this country of them...

    February 20, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • Tko

      This kind of reply, as a troll or not, as humorous or not, feeds right into the right-wing "progressives are the real fascists" argument. Please don't say stuff like this!

      February 20, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • Emperor Vadik, CA

      Being intellectual with right wingers is pointless, they understand just one thing, a baseball bat to the knees, and a trip to the gulag...

      February 20, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
    • Eric

      And those that are bigoted against them.

      February 20, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
    • WDinDallas

      Ahhh, the retarded, gay marxist Empror Vadik returns to impart his wisdom. So, your shift down at Burger Doddle done today?

      February 20, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
  3. spiffy53

    Rick Santorum is the perfect example of the Vocal Minority within the Catholic Church. his time machine is stuck. i have news for him, the 1950's are not coming back. get over it and move on.

    February 20, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
  4. janelle

    While more and more Catholics feel questions of morality are private, individual choices, the Dems are making a major underestimation if they feel Catholics won't stand up for the Church if government is trying to force anything on the Church. This administration has already made a major miscalculation by pushing the issue now, they were surprised to say the least, by fact that there was opposition to it! They are just digging themselves in deeper now by continuing to make it an issue.

    February 20, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
    • spiffy53

      actually, i am sure catholic women are taking your comments to heart everytime they have to pony up money out of their own pockets for what every other health insurance pays for. if you think they won't remember that in November, maybe it is you who are making the miscalculation.

      February 20, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • Nick

      I disagree. Many Catholics believe that the Church has to stay out of their bedrooms. When the Church does not raise a hand to help the unfortunate poor, they have no say in anything else.

      February 20, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • Aviate

      The administration isn't continuing to make it an issue. Republicans, who could usually care less about what Catholic bishops have to say (see war, death penalty, concern for the poor, the environment) are trying to exploit this issue for their own good and taking the media along for the ride. In fact, the administration has gone out of its way to respond to the concerns of Catholic hospitals and universities, which now support the policy. But apparently the Bishops & White Evangelical churches (who are the ones who really are pushing this) have now confused religious freedom with getting veto power over neutral, scientific health care policy and the power to control women's lives.

      February 20, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
  5. Ewing

    I certainly hope that the average Catholic is not as wacko and as controlled by Rome as Santorum. That guy is out of the Dark Ages!

    February 20, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
    • remorse2

      They will not be "wacko" if they vote for Hussein obama ?

      February 20, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
    • No Holy Rollers

      I doubt if Pope Benedict would go along with much of what Santorum is saying and doing. I'm Catholic, but don't fit neatly into the three categories above. I'm Independent, but will vote for Santorum in the Ohio primary in order to stir the pot. There is no way in hell I'll vote for him in November. Romney's LDS Church concerns me as well with its secrecy, posthumous baptizing of non-believers such as Holocaust victims and even St. Joan of Arc so they may enter the top rung of the LDS heaven that contains three. Add spending millions of dollars spent to covert those who already Christian and that ends consideration for Romney for me.

      Barack Obama and the Democrat's actions over the past three years are just starting to bear fruit. Anyone who votes to put the same bunch of self-pious fools back in power ought to have their head examined. Bottom line is don't generalize on how mainline faith voters will vote. I'd gladly support a Jewish, Protestant, Catholic or other candidate who got most issues right. None of the GOP candidates fit that description.

      February 20, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
    • Tko

      "Hussein obama"? This very comments seals the deal: if you are actually a conservative, then conservatives such as you really are racists, or at the very least base their arguments on emotion, irrationality and silliness.

      February 20, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
  6. Charlie from the North

    I love Jesus, I like the idea of Saints watching out for you, I follow the "Golden Rule". But I think that the Church should lighten up on birth control (especially as a way to lesson abortions), I think priests should be allowed to be married,that women should become priests and that regular people should have more say in how the church is run.

    Well rather than keep hitting my head against the Catholic wall, I became an Episcopalian.

    February 20, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • longtooth

      Not too many generations ago, you would be tortured for such heresy. God is in your heart, not in a building or an organization.

      February 20, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
  7. FedUp2

    With The Pope promoting a bunch of new Cardinals and lining things up the first US Pope, it seems The Vatican is getting prepared to make a power play. Too bad all those illegals they got reproducing like good catholic bunnies without contraception or abortions can't vote. Maybe they should try to get Obama to convert instead. Then he can be more even like Kennedy when the nuts finally get him.

    February 20, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
  8. Tony

    In past presidential elections the catholic church had a touch of trying to sway their congragation into who to vote for public office. This time around the pope is stepping aside and letting now bishop Dolan (mandate) to women what the church expects from them. In the earlier centuries this was a common practice. Nowaday this does not fly. Women are not the meek bow your heads and do as you are told. Today women are more educated and use their own free will that God gave them.

    February 20, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
  9. Benjamin

    I am tired of the old argument "98% of Catholic women use contraception," therefore it's OK and the Catholic Church's teaching must be wrong. By the same reasoning, 100% of Catholic women commit sin in their lifetime, therefore, sinning is OK?

    February 20, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
    • gerald

      Good point. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Sin does not prove that sin is okay. Nonsense.

      February 20, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
    • Scott

      depends how you define "sin"

      February 20, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
    • Ewing

      Catholics, do what you want to each other, just stay the hell out of my life and my life choices!!!!

      February 20, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
    • EvolvedDNA

      Gerald. what is so important to the catholic church that it has a constant interest in the private parts of human beings. And why does god have such an interest in contraception? Is that the human drive for life far exceeds the need for belief in god.. so to demonize S-ex is just a another fear factor to add to the other sins invented by the CC.

      February 20, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
    • janelle

      Ewing, we are more than happy to stay out of your life and your choices! So, please stop inviting us into your life and choices by demanding that we pay for them!

      February 20, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
    • Nick

      It depends on the sin and sin is relative. People making derogatory remarks towards a group or fail to help a fellow human being has sinned more than the woman who is taking contraceptive pills to avoid children that she cannot afford to raise.

      February 20, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
    • Nick

      janelle, we don't expect you to pay for them. We expect the insurance to which we pay $600/month per month premium to pay for them. BTW, when do you get off your high horse?

      February 20, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
    • Ryan

      OK, speaking of required to pay for things, maybe I don't like my tax dollars picking up the tab for you religious organization. 100 billion a year for religion all told. This isn't persecution, you're just used to getting your way.

      February 20, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
    • Nick

      EvolvedDNA, I think it is because the church believes that sacrament of matrimony is for "reproduction" but they have no solution to babies that the parents cannot afford. That is why, in countries like in India, Catholic Church never talks about birth control.

      February 20, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
    • Tko

      According to Catholic theology, the Church is not the Pope, and the Pope's proclamations are not all infallible (a big Catholic misperception). The Church is the people of God–Popes, Bishops, priests are just as capable of anyone of saying and doing stupid things. To think otherwise is to misunderstand your faith.

      February 20, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
    • spiffy53

      janelle, i have news for you 1) you are not paying anything-it's the employer and the EMPLOYEE 2) the US government doles out $3 billion dollars each year to religious organizations-maybe they can just reduce that amount and subsidize this and 3) maybe we can also look at the religious TAX FREE status.

      February 20, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
  10. jokerster

    I'm a Catholic and also a woman....and I will vote the way I want...NO MAN is going to tell me what to do with my body....if I want to take birth control, I will....what's next, women going to loose the right to vote again????

    February 20, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
    • Ed

      It may be possible that no man cares what you do with your body.

      February 20, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
    • gerald

      You don't believe in mortal sin and hell? You aren't Catholic if you don't agree with the teaching and your communions are sacralidgous. Go to confession! REPENT!

      February 20, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • paintpaintpaint

      Don't listen to Ed OR Gerald. Vote with your heart. Vote for your sisters' rights, your daughters' rights. Vote how YOU want to vote.

      February 20, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
    • No Holy Rollers

      Gerald, ever hear "Judge not lest ye be judged"?

      February 20, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
    • Nan

      No one is telling you that you can't use birth control or abort your baby. Go ahead! But go to Planned Parenthood or your local health department and get the drugs for free. Just don't ask the Catholic church to pay for them.

      February 20, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
  11. Ed

    Here is where you may be wrong. To quote, "To put this differently, 88% of Catholics in the poll said that it’s OK for Catholics to make up their own minds about these moral issues". I accept this statistic (although I have no proof but your word). However I think the correct question would be how many accept the government trying to make up their minds. I personally have no objection to contraception (I guess I'm a bit of a naughty Catholic in this regard). However I object strongly to the government telling the Church to yield in an important matter of dogma, even if I don't agree with it.

    February 20, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
    • gerald

      Catholicism is not a smorgasbord of moralities and theologies to choose from. The Church has been around for 2000 years and is wiser than you. Submit to your leaders who have concern for your soul. Heb13:17

      February 20, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
    • spiffy53

      or maybe the correct question would be what in the world does my employer have to do with my health insurance? my employer does not dictate my car insurance or life insurance or even my homeowners insurance. so why do they dictate my health insurance? i think you are misunderstanding the gov't trying to even the playing field vs a fox news narrative you have in your head. health insurance needs to be taken out of the hands of the employers and given back to the people. that way no one makes our choices but ourselves.

      February 20, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
    • Nick San Diego

      Well Ed, you're like everyone else, Cafeteria style Religion (put in whatever denomination you choose). We pick what we like and discard what we choose to.
      Based on that I would say that Cahtolic women would vote more towards what they do and not what the Church says.
      Bottom line Santorum is toast.

      February 20, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • Scott

      Gerald, by your logic, you should not pay attention to the church, and instead listen to Hinduism, which finds itself at 3000-4000 years old.

      It was here over between one and a half and two times as long and is still around, so by your logic, it is wiser than the church. (I won't go into things like nature worship, or the thousands of other religions that have been around just as long)

      February 20, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
  12. Levi

    Like most votes, including the presidential election, yes it is a myth.

    February 20, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
  13. Dennis

    Republicans and the Catholic Church...out to screw the children.

    February 20, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
    • Ed

      These are the kinds of broad brush statements that some people are so confortable with. Lacking enough intelligence to actually participate in a discussion based on fact, they break out their crayons and make comments that seem awefully like graffiti.

      February 20, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
    • spiffy53

      Ed, let us know when you are done walking on water.

      February 20, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
    • Eric

      Dennis the troll...

      February 20, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
  14. Ken

    All that the article says is true,however the fact that all parishes have spoken on the alter concerning this matter has to have a major effect on all the Catholics in the pews. When is the last time the Church has spoken on the altar concerning a political issue...not in my recent memory.

    February 20, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
  15. Reality

    Only for the newbies:

    Why the Christian Right no longer matters in presidential elections:

    Once again, all the conservative votes in the country "ain't" going to help a "pro-life" presidential candidate, i.e Mitt Romney, Newton Leroy Gingrich, Ron Paul or Rick Santorum, in 2012 as the "Immoral Majority" rules the country and will be doing so for awhile. The "Immoral Majority" you ask?

    The fastest growing USA voting bloc: In 2008, the 70+ million "Roe vs. Wade mothers and fathers" of aborted womb-babies" whose ranks grow by two million per year i.e. 78+ million "IM" voters in 2012.

    2008 Presidential popular vote results:

    69,456,897 for pro-abortion/choice BO, 59,934,814 for "pro-life" JM.

    And the irony:

    And all because many women fail to take the Pill once a day or men fail to use a condom even though in most cases these men have them in their pockets. (maybe they should be called the "Stupid Majority"?)

    The failures of the widely used birth "control" methods i.e. the Pill and male condom have led to the large rate of abortions ( one million/yr) and S-TDs (19 million/yr) in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the Pill or condoms properly and/or use other safer birth control methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and S-TDs.

    February 20, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
  16. organically

    Religion is the biggest scam in the history of mankind and the greatest cause of hate and war

    February 20, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • Reality

      The Twenty (or so) Worst Things People Have Done to Each Other:
      M. White, http://necrometrics.com/warstatz.htm#u (required reading)

      The Muslim Conquest of India

      "The likely death toll is somewhere between 2 million and 80 million. The geometric mean of those two limits is 12.7 million. "

      Rank …..Death Toll ..Cause …..Centuries……..(Religions/Groups involved)*

      1. 63 million Second World War 20C (Christians et al and Communists/atheists vs. Christians et al, Nazi-Pagan and "Shintoists")

      2. 40 million Mao Zedong (mostly famine) 20C (Communism)

      3. 40 million Genghis Khan 13C (Shamanism or Tengriism)

      4. 27 million British India (mostly famine) 19C (Anglican)

      5. 25 million Fall of the Ming Dynasty 17C (Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Chinese folk religion)

      6. 20 million Taiping Rebellion 19C ( Confucianism, Buddhism and Chinese folk religion vs. a form of Christianity)

      7. 20 million Joseph Stalin 20C (Communism)

      8. 19 million Mideast Slave Trade 7C-19C (Islam)

      9. 17 million Timur Lenk 14C-15C

      10. 16 million Atlantic Slave Trade 15C-19C (Christianity)

      11. 15 million First World War 20C (Christians vs. Christians)

      12. 15 million Conquest of the Americas 15C-19C (Christians vs. Pagans)

      13. 13 million Muslim Conquest of India 11C-18C

      14. 10 million An Lushan Revolt 8C

      15. 10 million Xin Dynasty 1C

      16. 9 million Russian Civil War 20C (Christians vs Communists)

      17. 8 million Fall of Rome 5C (Pagans vs. Pagans)

      18. 8 million Congo Free State 19C-20C (Christians)

      19. 7½ million Thirty Years War 17C (Christians vs Christians)

      20. 7½ million Fall of the Yuan Dynasty 14C

      *:" Is religion responsible for more violent deaths than any other cause?

      A: No, of course not – unless you define religion so broadly as to be meaningless. Just take the four deadliest events of the 20th Century – Two World Wars, Red China and the Soviet Union – no religious motivation there, unless you consider every belief system to be a religion."

      Q: So, what you're saying is that religion has never killed anyone.

      A: Arrgh... You all-or-nothing people drive me crazy. There are many doc-umented examples where members of one religion try to exterminate the members of another religion. Causation is always complex, but if the only difference between two warring groups is religion, then that certainly sounds like a religious conflict to me. Is it the number one cause of mass homicide in human history? No. Of the 22 worst episodes of mass killing, maybe four were primarily religious. Is that a lot? Well, it's more than the number of wars fought over soccer, or s-ex (The Trojan and Sabine Wars don't even make the list.), but less than the number fought over land, money, glory or prestige.

      In my Index, I list 41 religious conflicts compared with 27 oppressions under "Communism", 24 under Colonialism, 2 under "Railroads" and 2 under "Scapegoats". Make of that what you will."

      February 20, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
    • WDinDallas

      Reality..the low figure on Mao is 100 million. It is as high as 300 million.

      Stalin is between 30-70 million.

      Quit low-balling your boys.

      February 20, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
    • Buzzer

      ALL carried by fallable human beings...completely at ODDS with what Christ taught, how he lived, what he is, and what he represents...stop trying to tie what a real Christian is to be with the actions of sinful humans actions...anyone with an ounce of common sense and and non biased pre-conceived notions knows this not creditable and probably one of the most "tired" arguments every put forth...

      February 20, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
    • Reality

      From the previous reference which apparently was not reviewed by some:

      •"There are basically two schools of thought when it comes to the number who died at Stalin's hands. There's the "Why doesn't anyone realize that communism is the absolutely worst thing ever to hit the human race, without exception, even worse than both world wars, the slave trade and bubonic plague all put together?" school, and there's the "Come on, stop exaggerating. The truth is horrifying enough without you pulling numbers out of thin air" school. The two schools are generally associated with the right and left wings of the political spectrum, and they often accuse each other of being blinded by prejudice, stubbornly refusing to admit the truth, and maybe even having a hidden agenda. Also, both sides claim that recent access to former Soviet archives has proven that their side is right."

      February 20, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
  17. Rufus

    I am a "cultural Catholic" to use this writer's terminology. This is a good article. I'm impressed. In my experience, he breaks down the current state of the Catholic population as well as you probably can in a brief article of this sort. I was raised in the church and I don't know one member of my family who adheres to all of the church's teachings. While most of my family is republican, I think that has more to do with region than religion. No self identifying member of either American political party can align with the Catholic church 100%, because neither party fits wholly under that umbrella. Funny how that works. As it should be, if you ask me. The day our government and politics fit so neatly under the teachings of one organized church, we will no longer be the country our founders intended.

    February 20, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
    • Reality

      “John Hick, a noted British philosopher of religion, estimates that 95 percent of the people of the world owe their religious affiliation to an accident (the randomness) of birth. The faith of the vast majority of believers depends upon where they were born and when. Those born in Saudi Arabia will almost certainly be Moslems, and those born and raised in India will for the most part be Hindus. Nevertheless, the religion of millions of people can sometimes change abruptly in the face of major political and social upheavals. In the middle of the sixth century ce, virtually all the people of the Near East and Northern Africa, including Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Egypt were Christian. By the end of the following century, the people in these lands were largely Moslem, as a result of the militant spread of Islam.

      The Situation Today
      Barring military conquest, conversion to a faith other than that of one’s birth is rare. Some Jews, Moslems, and Hindus do convert to Christianity, but not often. Similarly, it is not common for Christians to become Moslems or Jews. Most people are satisfied that their own faith is the true one or at least good enough to satisfy their religious and emotional needs. Had St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas been born in Mecca at the start of the present century, the chances are that they would not have been Christians but loyal followers of the prophet Mohammed. “ J. Somerville

      It is very disturbing that religious narrow- mindedness, intolerance, violence and hatred continues unabated due to randomness of birth. Maybe, just maybe if this fact would be published on the first page of every newspaper every day, that we would finally realize the significant stupidity of all religions.

      February 20, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
    • paintpaintpaint

      Yup, as a Catholic myself, I see a wide range under one umbrella. There should be no 'Catholic' vote, as we are all free, free thinking people. Our nuns told us to vote how our hearts told us to vote. Not how anyone else told us to vote.

      February 20, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
  18. Loathstheright

    Myth? I don't know, maybe we should ask some alter boys.

    February 20, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
    • Tim

      Wow, I hope you did have to fire up both brains cells for that one

      February 20, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
  19. justsayin

    Welcome to the United States of Purgatory

    February 20, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
  20. TSB8C

    What gets me is the number of people who claim to be Catholic but openly reject or fail to live by what the Catholic church teaches. If you don't believe it, then why stay a member of it or support it with donations and attendance? Find another group you better idenify with, or none at all if you do not accept organized religion as anything more than a cult.

    February 20, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
    • Mike

      That's easy. The Church gets so bogged down in nonsense, that it misses the point entirely on the most important stuff. What I can't understand are the people in the Church who want to be Catholic and then take issue with the preferential option for the poor. I really don't understand the concept of conservative Christianity...Jesus was put to death for his radical, liberal ideas.

      Honestly, I haven't attended a Church function outside of a Catholic wedding in years, and I must say I'm happier for it. I still try to live by the moral ideals that I learned as a young man, but I'm glad not to put up with the other stuff. I just wish I didn't waste four years at a Catholic college pursuing a theology degree, I'd be so much further along in my career I'd like to think.

      February 20, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • Nick

      Who are you to tell me what I should do as a Catholic. Probably, many of us go by Christ's teachings and not by what some old, out of touch clergy says. Even if Christ were to come today, he will disvow a lot of things that is happening in church.

      February 20, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.