‘Social believers’ among our survey respondents

Posted on: April 7, 2023 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: From Tom

‘Social believers’ among our survey respondents

Social believers
While researching and writing about atheists a decade ago, I began using the term ‘social believer.’  Those people in the pew next to you who don’t believe in god but come to church only conform to family and community expectations? Those are social believers. In the vernacular of ex-Adventists, these individuals are commonly referred to as PIMO or ‘physically in, mentally out.’

It was sociologist Judith Butler that popularized the idea that gender is performative. I will posit that perhaps, for example, sexuality is as well. There are many social heterosexuals among us who live a heterosexual lifestyle, getting married and even having children, all while doing so only for social reasons, in their authentic self being attracted to those of the same sex. Sexuality is performative.

So, is religiosity performative and if so to what extent? Here are the current results to the first question on our survey, “What is your current relationship to Seventh-day Adventism?”

As you can see from our data above, nearly 12% of our respondents could be described as PIMO or social believers. Though the wording our response options is not precise, I will argue that we are not far off the mark in helping to capture an important phenomena. I feel confident in saying that the number of Seventh-day believers is far less than the number of people in the pew and those on the official records. How far less is impossible to say given the  impossibility of looking into people’s hearts and minds.

Mark 9:24
How many of any religion in their hearts actually believe in the teachings of their religion or in their god … or any god? Famously in Mark 9:24 we read, “I believe; help my unbelief.”  Social science researchers -and pastors, spouses, and friends- can ask questions about belief, but can they ever be confident the response offered is true? It is easy and convenient to answer the question, “Do you believe in the teachings of the church/god?” in the affirmative, but how often is it a lie? Further complicating the issue we must also raise the question as to whether a person can lie even to themselves. I know I have.

So, social believers are many, to be sure, but how many and to what degree are open questions. If religiosity can at times be performative, how can we ever know the extent to which social believers are in our temples, churches, mosques, and other houses of worship? Our data only provide an invitation to consider these questions more deeply.

Please contact me if you have any thoughts, comments, or questions. Know any ex-SDA who have not taken the survey yet? Here’s the link.

Take a minute and Google “fake Christian memes”.  I’ll wait.

How many “Christian nationalists” seem so … un-Christian? What about those in the public eye, particularly politicians, who claim to be Christian -holding up a Bible in a photo op- who act in a way which would be abhorrent to Christ?

How many of these ‘fake Christians’ can we also define as social believers (or vice versa)? Methinks the lofty rhetoric of religion is too easily coopted and abused by those who seek to abuse it.



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