TURES COLUMN: Why college students aren’t ‘Losing Their Religion’

Published 10:30 am Saturday, August 19, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

When I was a college student, R.E.M. had a hit song “Losing My Religion.” But it wasn’t about going atheist. Neither was the college experience anti-religious. In fact, evidence shows that those with the most college education are the ones least likely to be atheistic.

This will undoubtedly shock a number of readers. But that’s because we’ve been fed a combination of anti-university propaganda and poor data analysis. When actually focusing on the direct connection between religious beliefs and higher education, the connection is there.

For answers, I turned to a professor of religion at our college (that’s right, we have those). He sent me some data analysis on the subject of one’s education and one’s religion, from Ryan Burge.

“Turning to surveys of Americans can be helpful in understanding the relationship between education and religiosity. The bar graph below displays the percentage of each educational group that identifies as a religious “none” (atheist, agnostic, or nothing in particular). Educational attainment serves as a very good proxy for economic prosperity and provides a solid test of secularization theory. Note that each of the six waves of the Cooperative Congressional Election Study contain between 30,000 and 65,000 respondents.”

Burge adds “The results are unambiguous: those with the least amount of education are consistently the most likely to identify as religiously unaffiliated. The far-right bar in the graph, indicating those with a graduate level education are almost always the group that is the most likely to be religiously affiliated. If one would like to argue that education is related to secularization, there is no evidence to support that conclusion to be found here.”

But that won’t stop the naysayers. Just this past month, I’ve read a slew of articles, claiming “Over one-quarter of young Americans ‘never attend church:’ poll,” from ChristianPost.com. Then there’s this one: “Declining Church Attendance and The Future of Christianity: Unraveling Gen Z’s Shifting Views in America.” Here’s another from the Washington Examiner.

Well, it’s the same for older Americans too. “Gen X church attendance is declining,” another headline claims. Evidence inside also shows it’s an issue for all age groups, not just the young.

Despite this, people have concluded it’s the fault of colleges. There’s even a movement where Bibles are provided for every student going off to college. It’s not a bad idea, but it won’t solve the problem. That’s because only about a third of all Americans go to college. Moreover, in columns I have written for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, I wrote about evidence I found that those who go to college keep their faith far better than those of the same age who don’t go to an institute of higher education. Sounds like those are the folks who could use a Bible.

If you’re still concerned about colleges and Christianity, maybe you might think about where the kids are going to school. At LaGrange College, you’re required to take a religion class, and we’ve had great faculty here. You can also discuss religious issues, in class! And I bring those up in my political science classes. We’ve even been able to research religious issues for projects, finding that religion has dramatically declined as a source of war. Moreover, students are eager to talk about such issues, and have thanked us for the ability to do so. We have religious services, on campus, as well as field trips and service. It’s certainly preferable than having someone so young skip college, and join those most likely to really lose their religion.