Last week the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life published the findings of an analysis of religious converts. The “Zeal of the Convert”: Is It the Real Deal? reports:
“A common perception about individuals who switch religions is that they are very fervent about their new faith. A new analysis by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life provides quantitative support for this piece of conventional wisdom often referred to as the ‘zeal of the convert.’ The analysis finds that people who have switched faiths (or joined a faith after being raised unaffiliated with a religion) are indeed slightly more religious than those who have remained in their childhood faith, as measured by the importance of religion in their lives, frequency with which they attend religious services and other measures of religious commitment.”
The six areas of analysis the Pew Forum employs are:
- Religion is very important
- Attend religious services weekly
- Absolutely certain of belief in God
- Pray daily
- Share faith/views on God weekly
- [Believe theirs is the] One true faith
The findings from the survey generally hold no surprises. In the 12 religions surveyed, there is a consistent but small difference between lifelong members’ commitment to their faith and that of converts, with the converts exhibiting a mildly stronger devotion. Except for one church.
“The analysis reveals only one striking exception to this pattern: Lifelong Mormons are significantly more religious than converts to the faith on two measures. Nonconverts are, for instance, more likely to attend church regularly and to believe that theirs is the one true faith than are converts to the Mormon faith. Outside of Mormonism, however, the analysis finds no instances where lifelong members of a particular faith exhibit significantly higher levels of religious commitment than converts on any of the six measures.”
Indeed, lifelong Mormons show more commitment than converts on five of the six measures. The only area where the commitment levels are reversed is in the sharing of the faith. On this, 19% of lifelong Mormons share their faith weekly as compared to 38% of Mormon converts that do so.
To me it makes some sense that converts–those who choose their religion for themselves–might exhibit a little more zeal than those who have remained in a particular faith initially chosen for them by their parents. It’s puzzling that Mormonism is the other way around.
The Pew Forum publication offers no suggestions regarding the underlying causes for the findings of the analysis. What do you think the reasons for this “striking exception to the pattern” might be?
Comments within the parameters of 1 Peter 3:15 are invited.