UUs are a Praying People

So says the Pew U.S. Religious Landscape Survey. The last blog post suggested that UUs affirm the importance of religion but don’t practice it all that much–but that’s if you take group worship as your model. If you look at more individual practices, a different pattern emerges. A huge majority–77%–of Unitarian-Universalists answered that they engage in prayer. Naturally, the frequency ranges quite a bit, with the largest group (41%) praying daily, and a majority praying once a week or more (57%). Frequency of prayer can correlate somewhat to belief in the importance of prayer as a practice, but not fully–after all, some people only pray when they have something specific to pray about (such as an illness), which is not necessarily indicative of their overall feelings about prayer. Overall, 93% of Americans engage in some level of prayer.

What are all these UUs praying for, and what are the effects? Among those who reported praying with some frequency (i.e. the majority), about half reported receiving answers to specific prayers they had made, and about half did not. So many UUs are praying for specific things or about specific issues and having their prayers answered, while other are praying in a more generic fashion, without expectation of specific responses to their prayers.



Filed under Liberal Religious History, Unitarian-Universalism

7 responses to “UUs are a Praying People

  1. The results of this poll depress me. I’d guess the US easily surpasses countries like Iran or Yemen. Fact is: Prayer does not work. The boisterous claims of Jesus (Matthew 21:21 If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.) are rubbish and obviously false. Dying, tortured, and cancerous people are praying all the time with the reasonable request to stop their murderer, torturer, or to cure their cancer. Nothing happens. Unless you theorize that God decided to prefer the murderer’s prayers over those of the innocent victims. What the pollsters probably do measure are instances like this one: Some born again housewife prays for a parking spot and miraculously a Hummer pulls out in front of her. Praise the Lord! Having prayers ‘answered’ is nothing except counting the hits and ignoring the misses. In addition, for prayer to work requires a responsive, listening deity (or a bunch of them). There are plenty of people in the US who have grown up and have discarded the idea of a personal God in favor of a more nebulous, distant creator, who are deists rather than theists. These folks should not be praying! At least, they should call it something else as do ministers who find different words to describe well wishing, compassion, and commiseration. In my town there’s an African immigrant who founded a prayer center in his home. Instead of doing something effective all he does is pray all day (when he does not go to the bank to cash checks). Douglas Adams invented the Electric Monk for just that purpose. Are we indeed in the 21st century?

  2. Petition is only one kind of prayer. Many who pray do not ‘pray for’ things…Prayers of gratitude and longing are more experiences of spirit, and nurture one’s connection with the world and with oneself. If I answered this question, I would have said “Yes, I pray everyday.”…yet, prayer for me is more an outpouring of the heart, not an expectation that MY will be done! “Prayer” is a central part of my life, and I certainly do not intend to get rid of it just because I do not “believe in God” (another ambiguous phrase that means a million things to different people! My personal issue here is with the word “believe”, not the word “God”.). Strange how the Pew Study can sum things up so succinctly… getting one word yes’s and no’s to questions i’ve been wrestling with most my life…

  3. I’ve long wondered about how our views of these things are skewed by people who are like “My 50 person church in the middle of nowhere is really religiously intolerant.”

    I tend to read those and go “Wow, that sucks, I guess UUism has a way to go,” not thinking about the suburban churches around me that have hundreds if not a thousand people where everybody prays together in reasonable harmony.

    whose last two churches have been slight majority theist, but with mostly humanist services that provide for the possibility of a God yet don’t force the issue. This works for her, and apparently works for lots of people.

  4. Well, yes, but keep in mind my church, and several in my area, have more people than ten of those little congregations put together. In some cases, more than twenty of the little congregations put together.

    In fact, if you know a dozen different 50-person-churches where people complain of intolerant humanists, all those churches put together aren’t as many people as attend my one church.

    There are seven churches in my district with more than 500 members, and the biggest church in my district doesn’t even make the top 5 UU biggest UU churches. My church, the size of more than a dozen of your little ones, doesn’t make the top 25 biggest UU congregations.

    I think you WAY discount the importance of the big churches that are doing things reasonably well.
    At the very least, what the big churches are doing is affecting a lot more people than what the tiny churches are doing.


  5. Paul Oakley

    Would you please direct me to the link where these UU statistics are available? Maybe I just missed it, but the prayer statistics I find in the Pew report has an “Other Faiths” category comprising 1.2% of the population. At first look it appears that the statistics you cited were for that group rather than for the Unitarian (Universalist) subgroup of that group. [Those are Pew’s parentheses. May we assume that it includes non-UU Unitarians?] U(U)s comprise just 0.3 % of the population. And I do not find any breakdown to show how the U(U)s reported their prayer life, but if those specific figures are not reported, we have no way of knowing how prayerful U(U)s are compared to the larger group, let alone how prayerful UUs are. If I’m just looking in the wrong place, please send me a link to the UU info.


  6. Transient and Permanent

    Paul, you need to look in the Full Reports section to get breakdowns that include information specifically about UUs. There are a LOT of such reports on the Pew site with a wealth of data relating to UU beliefs and practices. Unfortunately, because of the way Flash is utilized on the Pew site, it is impossible to link directly to the tables that this post is referencing.

    Also, see this post for a few more details on the study, such as the inclusion of non-UUs in the UU data.

  7. Pingback: GA bloggers, Olbermann's roots, Pew report on beliefs, and more « uuworld.org : The Interdependent Web

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