Sunday, March 21, 2010

Episcopalians Are Becoming Indistinguishable from the Culture

Over at the wonderful statistical blog Floating Sheep, they have been conducting some very interesting analysis using the relative frequency of certain terms used on Google search engines around the world. For example, they took the four terms "Jesus", "Allah", "Buddha" and "Hindu", and plotted the relative frequency with which those four terms showed up in searches from any one particular location. Where one term was more prominent than the other three, they placed a colored dot for that term at that point on a world map. (You can read more about their analysis technique here and here.) The result was a map that looked like this (click to enlarge):

Note that the paucity of circles in Africa reflects only the lack of Internet presence there, and not a lack of religion as such. In contrast, however, note the dominance of Hinduism reflected in the dots of technologically advanced India -- here is a close-up map of the data for just Asia (again, click to enlarge):

The bloggers at Floating Sheep make these comments with regard to what can be seen on the above map:
The United Arab Emirates is a particularly interesting example. While officially a Muslim country, Indians make up the largest demographic presence and the dominance of references to Hindu (rather than Allah) is likely a reflection of this fact. Likewise the Malay Peninsula and the Indonesian archipelago (particularly the island of Java) illustrate the complexity of religious practice in this region. References to Buddha, Allah and Hindu are all in evidence on Java. Other examples include the predominately Buddhist nation of Sri Lanka with some Hindu areas to the North and the difference between Pakistan (more Allah) and India (more Hindu).
And here is a similar magnification of the map just for Europe, with the bloggers' comments below:

Looking at the [above] map of user-created religious references in Europe, it can been seen [that there] are a significant number of places (e.g. parts of Switzerland, Germany, the UK) in which there are more references to Buddha than any other religious terms. Likewise there are parts of Belgium and France with a dominant number of references to Allah, and parts of the UK with a dominant number of references to Hindu. (The cluster of Hindu references on the Estonian islands of Saaremaa and Hiiumaa is tied to a village named Hindu rather than religious practice). Also of note is the transition of religion as one moves eastward and southward with references to Allah becoming more prevalent in Muslim North Africa and Turkey. However, one can also see how this is far from monolithic with references to Jesus also sprinkled throughout this region as well as strong clusters in Israel/Palestine as well as within Armenia.
Having surveyed four world religions, the statisticians then began a closer examination of just Christianity itself. This time, the (admittedly somewhat arbitrary) search terms they used for the analysis were "Catholic," "Protestant," "Orthodox" and "Pentecostal." The resulting world map looks like this (click to enlarge):

One sees in this map how Catholics dominate the global scene of Christianity, including most of the United States, with Protestants predominating mainly in just the traditional areas that went with the Reformation. The anomaly of mostly-Catholic Brazil showing a significant number of Pentecostals and little Catholics is probably best explained by the fact that only English-language terms in Google searches were analyzed. ("Catholic" is spelled differently in English than it is in Portuguese and Spanish, while "Pentecostal" is not.)

The same analysis was broken out for a closer look at the branches of Christianity in Europe:

Here again, the arbitrary choice of search terms most likely skewed the visual presentation of data. Protestants in England refer to themselves as "Anglican", not as "Protestants", and so the map gives Catholics in England far more apparent prominence than they actually have.

Realizing that the same four search terms alone would not produce a satisfactory analysis of the data just from America, the researchers decided to broaden their categories significantly. They analyzed the American data from Google by using the following search terms: "Catholic", "Baptist", "Lutheran", "Methodist", "Orthodox", "Presbyterian", "Latter Day Saints", "Adventist", and then, just to test the validity of their technique, they added the two terms "Amish" and "Anglican" as well. (Why not "Unitarian", "United Church of Christ", or "Episcopal"? you ask. Well, wait and see.)

Here is the resulting map, which in many ways I find even more fascinating than the others:

Notice that the colors now are different: green no longer identifies Catholics, red is no longer the Orthodox, and blue is no longer Protestants (per se). Instead, on the above map, the Catholics are the light-blue circles, the Methodists are the red circles, and the Lutherans are the deeper-blue circles. It is the Baptists who are represented by the green circles -- and they show up mostly where one would expect, as do the Lutherans (deep blue) and the Mormons (bright lavender). Comparing this map to the one of America shown in the global map of Christianity above, where the use of just four categories gave an overwhelming visual advantage to the Catholics, shows the wisdom of the decision to break America down into many more sub-categories of Protestantism.

For example, look at how the Methodists (red) appear as a sort of buffer between the Baptists (green) to the south and the Lutherans and Catholics (deep and light blue, respectively) to the north. And under this technique, even the (light orange) Amish show up (they have computers?? -- apparently so, or else their computer-owning neighbors are just curious about them), in small pockets of Pennsylvania, Indiana and Iowa. Finally, look at what are shown to be the most religiously diverse States of all, with all kinds of colors: Washington, Oregon, California, and Colorado (the latter even having some Amish, as well).

And the Unitarians? The United Church of Christ? Well, let me quote the response of one of the researchers to that same question:
. . . we did do searches on Unitarian and UCC but did not include them in the final map as they had a lower number of hits overall in the U.S. and we were stretching the color palette with ten denominations. Apologies. When included you do see a cluster in New England.
But where are the Episcopalians? No longer is there any category of "Protestants" as such; instead there is this category called "Anglican" (shown in pale lavender). Would that pick up "Episcopalians"? Perish the thought -- "Anglican" is the term used by those groups who are breaking off from the Episcopal Church (USA) -- or who are realigning with the true Anglicans, depending on your point of view. (The term also would appear, of course, throughout Canada, in references to the Anglican Church of Canada -- and the map reflects this fact, showing pale lavender dots stretching all the way from Labrador to British Columbia.)

Notwithstanding this qualification, it is very interesting to discover the States of the United States where dots representing "Anglican" appear. By zooming in on the image, I find them (from East to West) associated with Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, (western) Massachusetts -- and then, significantly: nothing, from the Hudson River all the way to the Pacific Coast.

But then I started thinking: if the search terms had included "Episcopal", what difference would that have made to the results as shown? (I even posed a question to that effect on the Floating Sheep blog, but they have not had time to answer yet.) And then I realized: I already know the answer to that question. For after religion became truly free in America -- that is, after the Revolutionary War -- Episcopalians have always been a minority sect, wherever they situate themselves, and in recent years, they have found a way to decline even more. Given that the criteria for a colored dot is that there be more references to a given term at that spot than to any of the others, it became evident that for the word "Episcopal" to predominate over words such as "Catholic" or "Baptist" or "Presbyterian", one would have to be examining just a few blocks within Washington, D.C. -- and perhaps even then, the dominance might not hold. At any rate, the scale of the map does not go down to the level, anywhere in America, at which the registration of the term "Episcopal" could be significant.

So I came away from this particular experience of the Internet a bit humbled, and a bit wiser for having thought my way though it. We Episcopalians, for all of our seemingly monumental strifes and controversies, supposedly requiring the expenditure of millions and millions of dollars on attorneys' fees, are really rather insignificant on the scale of global -- or even national -- religious experience. We are barely a blip on the religious radar screen, so to speak. And yet we are expending millions and millions of dollars as though it would make some difference in who we are (in fulfillment of "fiduciary duty", "obligations to earlier generations", and all those other magic buzzwords that come so easily to 815's lips, as they betray and undermine those very principles).

Look again at the reality of America as currently expressed on the Internet, and as seen through the above maps. Even had they been measured by their own descriptive term, Episcopalians would be completely insignificant in mapping the religious life of America. All the more so, then, do their various internal strifes and bickering pale into insignificance beside the reality of what religious people are actually professing (and confessing) in America.

And if what has been shown and said above does not yet convince you of the fact, let me try again, with one more of the maps available from Floating Sheep. For in this map, and using the same analytic techniques applied to data derived from Google searches, the researchers compared their search terms for the world's four greatest religions ("Jesus", "Buddha", "Hindu", and "Allah") with one additional search term. That additional term is identified this time by the purple dots (see the legend below), and notice particularly, please, the proportion of purple dots to blue dots (now representing, as in the first maps above, references to "Jesus") in the regions of America and Europe, compared to the rest of the world.

In short, if one wanted a graphic picture of how the current culture stacks up against traditional religions, one has only to look at this map. One should focus in particular on where the map shows the current culture as exercising the strongest sway: in America and Europe (as opposed to Asia, Africa and South America). Compared to the purple areas covered in both of those regions, the remaining blue areas are completely insignificant -- and look particularly at the areas of the East Coast and the West Coast of America. Now imagine how well the purple dots as shown in the United States above would coincide with any representation that could be gleaned of the churches in those areas whose agenda coincides with that of the culture shown at that point (as represented by the one factor shown by the purple dots), i.e., such as the Episcopal Church (USA).

Ladies and gentlemen, I submit that the above map, considered with the factors as stated, and as we ourselves know them to be, is an accurate depiction of the degree to which the Episcopal Church (USA) has managed to make itself indistinguishable from the prevalent culture (as identified with the Google search term "sex") in modern America. The above map, in other words, shows far more than its creators intended it to represent. The purple dots represent that current culture, to be sure; but buried within them, and completely submerged by that culture, are all the dots that could ever represent the Episcopal Church (USA) on the same map.

Nothing more need be said. In the words of our Lord (Luke 22:38), "It is enough." When a church vanishes into the culture, it ceases to be a church.


  1. That last map showing the purple dots for "sex" vs the other colored dots for the religious references shows where our priorities lie.

  2. The paucity of "Anglicans" in middle America might have something to do with our present lawsuits. Though no one around St. Vincent's uses the "E" word much anymore, our sign in front and much of our on-line presence still says "St Vincent's Episcopal Cathedral." And we are still part of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth despite our membership in ACNA. I doubt either will change until the lawsuit is over as we don't want to cloud the issue. I eagerly await the day when that will change!

  3. While I think that your final point is certainly well-made, it's probably also true that the same effect that made Brazil look Pentecostal is relevant to the purple-dot phenomenon; the choice of search term is not only cognate among many languages but also relevant to the lives of most adults, religious or not.

  4. The map for US Catholics is very inaccurate, because most Catholics would not use "Catholic" as the predominant search term. For Catholics the main search term would be "pope" or "pope francis" followed by Catholic. In fact, Pope Francis was the most commonly searched person in Google in a fairly recent study.