Benjamin Knoll, a political scientist at Centre College, shared some interesting insights at the Sunstone symposium, ones that he gained for delving more deeply into Pew data from 2011. Jana Riess from Religion News Service shares some highlights from these findings.
For his presentation yesterday, Ben decided to take a deeper look at the existing Pew data from 2011 to determine what we can know about faith and doubt within Mormonism:
Who are the doubters? How many are there? Is this a large group or a small isolated set of a few hundred individuals who are active in the Mormon blogosphere? Just how different are doubters from TBMs (True Believing Mormons) in terms of their religious behavior and attitudes?
For starters, about 22% of those Mormons surveyed could be classified as “doubters” by Pew’s wording—meaning that they agreed with the statement “Some teachings are hard for me to believe.”
However, this number is a little misleading because the Pew survey already favors active Mormons. You know how at church, as many as two-thirds of the folks on the rolls rarely or never show up? Well, in the Pew survey most of those folks were not included in the sampling because 85% of the respondents self-reported as being active in the Church. We’re already going to be skewing toward belief here.
So the 22% rate is actually kind of low, given the sampling. What this means is that more Mormons than 22% have doubts—possibly a lot more. But a lot of those people have already stopped self-identifying as LDS.
What can we learn about doubters?
It’s older Mormons, not younger ones, who doubt at higher levels. There’s almost a ten-point jump, in fact, in the over-50 crowd. But we have to remember that it may simply be that some of the younger folks may have already “taken themselves out of the pool,” so to speak. In other words, it might be generationally more common and acceptable for Millennials and Gen Xers who doubt to simply stop being Mormon, whereas older Mormons who doubt might be more likely to quietly stick it out. Interesting question.