Murphy's Law: June 1, 2004


The old adage that there are no atheists in foxholes does not appear to apply as much as it used to. It turns out that the active duty troops in the American armed forces are somewhat less religious than the population as a whole. 

Americans over all are 78 percent Christian, 1.3 percent Jewish, .5 percent Moslem, .4 percent Hindu, 13 percent unknown or none and the rest various other sects and faiths. But the troops are 55 percent Christian, .3 percent Moslem, .27 percent Jewish, .04 percent Hindu, .24 percent Buddhist and 34 percent unknown or no preference. Part of this may be a generational thing, as the troops are younger than the population as a whole. People become more religious as they get older. Another factor is probably education, as the high education standards for recruits means those in uniform have several years more formal education than their civilian peers. More literate too, as people in uniform read at a level a full year ahead of civilians. As people become more educated, they tend to be less religious. 

While most religions are underrepresented in the military, there are some exceptions. The Mormons (Latter Day Saints), represent 1.3 percent of the American population, and 1.1 percent of the troops. Catholics, which are 25 percent of the population, are 22 percent of the troops. The Mormons are recruited energetically by the military. Mormon families emphasize education and clean living for their kids, which makes them ideal candidates for enlisted or officer slots. Because nearly all Mormon men spend two years as missionaries, and many do this in foreign countries (after learning the local language at Mormon schools), Mormons are particularly sought after for intelligence, translation and Special Forces jobs. The largest concentration of reserve Military Intelligence units is located in Utah, a state with a majority Mormon population. If Mormons cannot be enticed into active duty, the armed forces makes it easier for the well educated and multi-lingual Mormons to join these reserve units.

Even so, when American troops work with those from other countries, the foreign soldiers are surprised at how religious the U.S. troops are. Thats because the United States has the highest rate of religious participation in the industrialized nations. 


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