Belief Beat

Jews and conservative Catholics are excited about new House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (the most senior elected Jewish official in American history) and Speaker John Boehner (a Catholic like his predecessor Nancy Pelosi, but one who is staunchly pro-life).

But aside from the political shift to the right, it turns out that the new Congress looks a lot like the old Congress, in terms of overall religious demographics. From the Pew Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life:

The 112th Congress, like the U.S. public, is majority Protestant and about a quarter Catholic. Baptists and Methodists are the largest Protestant denominations in the new Congress, just as they are in the country as a whole.

A few of the country’s smaller religious groups, including Episcopalians, Presbyterians and Jews, have greater numerical representation in Congress than in the general population. Some others, including Buddhists and Muslims, are represented in Congress in roughly equal proportion to their numbers in the adult U.S. population. And some small religious groups, such as Hindus and Jehovah’s Witnesses, are not represented at all in Congress.

Perhaps the greatest disparity between the religious makeup of Congress and the people it represents, however, is in the percentage of the unaffiliated – those who describe their religion as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular.” According to information gathered by CQ Roll Call and the Pew Forum, no members of Congress say they are unaffiliated. By contrast, about one-sixth of U.S. adults (16%) are not affiliated with any particular faith. Only six members of the 112th Congress (about 1%) do not specify a religious affiliation, which is similar to the percentage of the public that says they don’t know or refuses to specify their faith.

I suspect that last part is because of how hard it has become for someone to get elected in America without talking about his or her faith journey. It’ll be interesting to see whether that shifts in the next generation, if Americans become less religious — or will we still want our leaders to seem more devout? (Pray as I say, not as I do?)

On a semi-related note, President Obama continues to take pains to show that he is, indeed, Christian (and certainly not Muslim, God forbid).

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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