Average Americans are using as much weekend time on religion as they were a decade ago, according to government data crunched by Catholic statistics guru Mark Gray.
But whatever they mean by religious activity, far fewer of them are doing it than who claim to go to church in other surveys.
Mr. Gray worked off the American Time Use Survey, which is produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics by calling people up and asking what they did with their time the day before.
The findings might cheer or dismay those who believe the culture is heading in a more secular direction, because they show that 16 percent of Americans reported religious activity the most recent weekend, and those who did spent two hours a day at it (or four hours per weekend).
What the numbers don't say is whether they spent the time at church, praying at home, meditating or getting a spiritual rush by gazing at the stars, or any combination of the above. It's all grouped under "religious and spiritual activities."
Whatever it is, as many people are doing it now as were doing it a decade ago, and for the same amount of time.
On the other hand, 16 percent is far, far lower than the roughly 40 percent who claim to go to church on a given Sunday, which is what they've been telling Gallup for decades. But that's when Gallup specifically asks if they've gone to church. This raises the obvious question of whether people are answering yes because they think they should.
So what else are people doing with their time? Eating, sleeping, taking care of the kids and themselves, sports and leisure, including TV -- lots of TV.
On the other hand, "Americans spend more time, on average, doing religious or spiritual things on the weekend than lawn and garden care, volunteering, homework or research, caring for pets, home repair, or vehicle-related activities," notes Mr. Gray, of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.
Given the amount of screen time Americans are spending, Mr. Gray wondered if organized religion needs to compete with more and better TV of its own.
"Until then, when some Catholics (and those of other faiths) continue to tell survey researchers that they 'just drifted away' from their faith to be 'nothing' we may better understand where many really drift off to…"