There’s a grandmotherly American adage about religion—that it’s impolite to talk about faith in public. It’s as much a self-fulfilling prophecy as a social convention. If people decline to discuss religion out of a fear of being impolite, their collective silence might make it easier to think talking about religion is, in fact, impolite.
A significant number people in the U.S. do seem to feel this way. According to a new Pew Research Center study, only a third of Americans say they talk about religion with people outside of their families at least once or twice a month. Evangelical Protestants and people who attend historically black churches are far more likely than other religious groups to talk about faith with friends, colleagues, and strangers, but only about half of each of those groups tends to do so with regularity. Jews, Catholics, and mainline Protestants don’t talk about religion much—only a quarter or slightly more of each group said they did so once or twice a month. Atheists, agnostics, and non-religious people were the least likely to discuss religion, with only a tenth or slightly more of each of those groups doing so regularly. All of these groups, outside of those who aren’t religious, said they’re much more likely to talk about religion in private with their immediate families.
For some people, it’s possible religion just doesn’t come up or doesn’t seem relevant. As with any survey, it’s impossible to read any kind of firm causality into these numbers, particularly since the study doesn’t go into why people do or do not talk about religion in public. But the researchers did ask one fascinating follow-up question: What should people do when they disagree about religion?