Religious Americans Are More Afraid Than Secular Ones

Photo Credits: The Sleuth Journal

At the time of corona virus pandemic, many people panic; but fears are always more or less present. Are religious people less likely to be fearful than the religiously unaffiliated? Even in the matter of fear, frequent church attendance does not seem to help but complicate it.

The Association of Religion Data Archives just released the annual “Chapman Survey of American Fears” which asks people about their fears. It was a survey of just over a thousand people per year from 2014 to 2018. In the 2018 wave, the survey asks how fearful respondents are of fifty-three different things. This battery included threats like nuclear attack, needles, flying, an economic collapse, and even a pandemic. It also included a host of quests about religious belief, behavior and belonging that helps us understand how religion mitigates or exacerbates feelings of fear.

Ryan P. Burge from the Eastern Illinois University asks, “Where are the large gaps between the religious and the non-religious?” Clearly, spiritual matters are not a source of fear for many “nones.” The largest gaps appear on items like “Hell” and “Satan.” It’s notable that the overall fear for the nones really doesn’t shift on spiritual items — they are just as afraid of God as they are of demons. It does look like Christians are not that concerned with armageddon, though.

Beyond this, the data paints a clear picture – Catholics are more afraid in almost every scenario compared to Protestants or the religiously unaffiliated. I cannot find a single instance when Catholics are significantly less afraid of something than a “none.” And there are many instances where Catholics show a much higher level of fear than Protestants (Hell, Satan, Technology). For reasons I can’t fully explain, Catholics are a concerned bunch.

On the other side, Secular Americans are more afraid than religious people when it comes to things that involve the actions of humans, such as being embroiled in a world war, civil unrest, a pandemic.

The Chapman University Survey of American Fears Wave Five (2018) also finds that the extent to which Americans are afraid, in general, appears to be on the rise.

In 2016, the highest level of fear reported by our respondents was for corrupt government officials at 60.6%. From there fear dropped precipitously, with number two on the list in 2016 (terrorist attack) down to forty-one percent and the rest of the 2016 top ten list were all under forty percent.

By 2017, the top fear (corrupt government officials) was up to 74.5% and five of the top ten fears were expressed by more than half of the population.

By 2018 all the top ten fears were held by more than half of Americans. Put another way, the top ten fears have ranged over three years:  In 2016 it ranged 35.5% to 60.6%.  In 2017 it was 9% to 74.5%.  In 2018 it ranged from 9% to 73.6%. Their conclusion is - Americans are becoming more afraid.

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