Many years ago, when I was offered a scholarship to a nondenominational college, friends and family feared that I would lose my religious faith to secularism.
The hand-wringing was unnecessary.
Challenged to justify my faith, I was forced to examine it. In college, I had lots of help. On campus, there were centers devoted to the major denominations. Off campus, local churches not only extended a welcome to collegians but also offered social and educational programs that appealed to our minds.
In a new study, researchers report that religious faith is actually strengthened by education. University of Virginia sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox reveals that it is the least-educated Americans who are more likely to turn their backs on religion.
Only 23 percent of white high-school dropouts ages 25 to 44 worship at least monthly, whereas 46 percent of college-educated whites of the same age are frequent churchgoers.
Churchgoing among blacks and Latinos is more consistent regardless of educational attainment. Wilcox notes that least-educated white adults are likeliest to drop out of churchgoing and the job market.
Johns Hopkins University sociologist Andrew Chertin, who co-authored the new study, is concerned that such a large group of religiously disconnected Americans "is troubling for our society."
The American Sociological Association explains that "religious institutions tend to promote a family-centered morality that values marriage and parenthood," as well as "traditional middle-class virtues such as self-control, delayed gratification and a focus on education."
The study, based on the General Social Survey and the National Survey of Family Growth, is titled "No Money, No Honey, No Church: The Deinstitutionalization of Religious Life Among the White Working Class."
Wilcox notes: "Religious congregations may be one of the few institutional sectors that less-educated Americans can turn to for social, economic and emotional support in the face of today's tough times, yet it appears that increasingly few of them are choosing to do so."
David Yount is the author of 14 books, including "Growing in Faith: A Guide for the Reluctant Christian" (Seabury Books). He answers readers at P.O. Box 2758, Woodbridge, VA 22195 and firstname.lastname@example.org