We’ve already seen how younger adults are more likely to go to church once they are married. We also need to consider, though, how church attendance may influence decisions about marriage. Church attendance and valuing marriage go hand in hand. Little has changed statistically regarding these two actions.
Not surprisingly, high attenders and low attenders are polar opposites on the question of premarital sex. Since 1977, high attenders have become more disapproving of sex before marriage, while low attenders have become more approving. Behavior does not always follow convictions, though, as 63 percent of those who thought premarital sex was already wrong acknowledged having committed the sin in the previous year.
Regarding weddings, Catholics have the largest, with Jews close behind. Those with no religious affiliation have the smallest attendance at weddings. Church-attenders who attend almost every week have the largest weddings.
Those who participate regularly in religious services are significantly more likely to claim they are happily married.
Regarding parenting, those who attend church are more likely to see the ideal family as having 3 or more kids. Still, the ideal is not identical to people’s personal desires. Most people want less than what they consider “the ideal.” Those who go to church often believe obedience and helping others to be important values to instill in children. Religiously conservative parents want their children to obey them, while liberal parents would rather their children think for themselves. (What about those of us who want both???)
Questions of right and wrong regarding a number of ethical issues (homosexuality, claiming government benefits to which you are not entitled, cheating on taxes, abortion, etc.) elicited surprising results. Young adults have shifted towards a relativistic stance. People are more likely to ignore what the church says about money, while they listen to what the church says about sexuality and life. Perhaps this is because church teachings have concentrated on a narrower sphere of activities.
Religious participation increases the likelihood of people to feel empathy (the ability to identify with and act on behalf of people less fortunate than oneself). Religious involvement encourages empathy.
Wuthnow believes that one of the least understood dimensions of young adulthood is fear. In fact, he sees this fear playing itself out in the mindset among young people that the mass media is actually hostile to their moral and values. Even a significant minority of those who are not religiously affiliated believe that the mass media is a threat to families. Wuthnow suggests that faith communities should provide emotional and social support.
Young people are more accepting of the possibility that their child might marry someone of another faith. Still, this idea of tolerance plays out differently when the hypothetical situation becomes a reality. If we have learned anything in this chapter it is this: faith matters, but behavior does not always conform to beliefs.
Tomorrow we look at religion and public life…