Photo by Mollie Sivaram/Unsplash/Creative Commons

To cope with pandemic, Americans choose TV over Bible

By Emily Miller

When it comes to coping with the stress and uncertainty of a pandemic, most Americans are turning not to God, but to TV. 

That’s just one of the findings of a Pew Research Center survey released Friday (Aug. 7) on how the novel coronavirus pandemic has impacted the worship habits of Americans.

The survey also found that an overwhelming majority of Americans think churches should be following the same same social distancing rules as businesses to slow the spread of coronavirus. And it found that Americans are helping their neighbors and volunteering during this crisis.

Pew surveyed 10,211 American adults online between July 13 and 19. Here’s more of what the nonpartisan fact tank found.

TV is our best friend.

To help them cope with the pandemic, most Americans said they are staying home to watch Netflix and chill: 89% reported that they are watching TV or movies daily or weekly. This includes 90% of all Christians, 87% of Jews and 88% of the religiously unaffiliated, according to Pew. 

Many Americans (84%) also are spending time outdoors or talking by phone or video with family and friends (70%), the survey said.

But fewer are turning to their faith for support.

More than half (55%) reported praying at least weekly, followed by reading Scripture (29%), meditating (26%) and practicing yoga (8%).

Those most likely to seek comfort in spirituality at least once a week — prayer, Scripture reading and meditation — are members of historically Black Protestant churches, followed by evangelical Protestants.

Churches shouldn’t get exceptions.

Months into the pandemic, some houses of worship are reopening. Americans overwhelmingly (79%) think they should be following the same social distancing rules that other businesses and organizations in their areas are, according to Pew.

That includes about three-quarters (74%) of all Christians.

And among those who attend services online or in person at least monthly, most think their houses of worship should be open with precautions (57%) to keep from spreading COVID-19, including requiring social distancing (51%) and masks (44%), restricting attendance (41%) and limiting communal singing (29%). Those numbers closely mirror what attenders say their houses of worship actually are doing.

Evangelical Protestants (82%) and Catholics (70%) were most likely to say their churches were open, with or without precautions, the survey said.

Still, among those who regularly attend services, most reported they have watched services online or on TV (72%) instead of gathering in person (33%) in the past month.

Grace Community Church, MacArthur
Congregants sing during the start of Sunday worship at Grace Community Church on July 26, 2020. Video screengrab via Vimeo

Many are helping neighbors directly.

The pandemic has brought out the best in some Americans.

Pew Americans watch TV, not Bible or prayer
Graphic courtesy of Pew Research Center

About four in 10 adults (39%) reported they have helped a friend or neighbor by delivering groceries, running errands or helping with childcare, according to Pew. About three in 10 (29%) said they had volunteered or made a donation through a nonreligious organization and 18%, through a religious organization.

Broken out by religious affiliation, Black Protestants (48%) and Hispanic Catholics (43%) were most likely to support someone directly. Jews (45%) and agnostics (41%) were most likely to support a nonreligious organization, and evangelical (32%) and Black (31%) Protestants were most likely to support a religious organization, according to survey data.

Clergy are speaking out on the pandemic and protests, not politicians.

Between a pandemic, protests against systemic racism and police brutality and a looming presidential election, Americans have had plenty to talk about in the last month.

Most (76%) who have attended or watched a religious service in that time reported they have heard sermons about the importance of taking steps to limit the spread of the coronavirus, according to Pew.

More have heard sermons expressing support (41%) for Black Lives Matter protests than opposition (25%) to the protests.

And while 40% have heard messages about the importance of voting, protesting and other forms of political engagement, few have heard President Donald Trump or his challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, called out by name.

Just 9% heard sermons supporting Trump and 7% opposing him, while 6% heard sermons supporting Biden and 4% opposing him.

Giving is down.

More than half (54%) of Americans who regularly attend services say they are giving the same amount of money to their houses of worship.

About one in five (18%) are giving less, though, and just 8% said they are giving more, according to Pew data.

Emily McFarlan Miller is a national reporter for Religion News Service

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10 thoughts on “To cope with pandemic, Americans choose TV over Bible”

  1. Wonder how many believers were among those interviewed. Big difference between
    Church attenders. And believers.norse223

  2. Dawn C. Pitsch

    Just so you know, the expression “Netflix and chill” doesn’t mean watching TV and relaxing. It’s a euphemism for having sex. The author may want to change her wording. (I’ve embarrassed myself by misusing the term.)

    1. Huh? Sex? LOLOLOLOLOL
      Whenever me and my friends say “Netflix and chill”, that is what we do. We launch a Netflix Party and view a movie or binge a show together, using the comments section (or having our Facetime already on) to capture live reactions across the group.
      When my boyfriend and I agree to “Netflix and chill”, we stock up on snacks (or make pizzas together) and agree on what to watch for the next several hours. (We recently did all the Bourne movies in chronological order).
      I don’t know who you are hanging around.
      LOLOLOLOLOLOL

  3. “ Those most likely to seek comfort in spirituality at least once a week — prayer, Scripture reading and meditation — are members of historically Black Protestant churches,”

    Fascinating detail, particularly given the country’s recent reckoning with racism. Thanks for this article.

    1. This poll immediately reminded me of the book
      “Amusing Ourselves to Death” by Neil Postman. It’s about how America has numbed itself out thanks to TV/entertainment culture.

      Fascinating read.

      Yeah, it is easier to numb out by watching TV or “Netflix and chill” (pun intended) ;p but that won’t grow us or prepare us for what God’s got coming.

      So I encourage us all (me too!) Read the word, pray, talk to God when you’re tempted to numb out…it’ll fill and satisfy more than TV, etc, ever can!

  4. This poll, as many of the others, are non scientific. Anyone can make a poll, create a matrix, without OBJECTIVE definitions, And it is going to give all sorts of skewed results. All criminals eat bread for breakfast, including rapists, serial killers, and back robbers; thus, bread is bad for you. I hope you’re laughing. When the author of this article (who knows what her anthropological and theological views are) asks “meditation” how is it defined? Meditating in the Word of God, or meditating in Eastern Mysticism?. Please, take it as constructive criticism. Shalom

    1. I was trying to edit my comments, but the system, apparently, won’t let me. One of the questions is “systemic racism”. I’m sorry but I refuse to accept that term since it is based in a FALSE premise. There were 9 blacks (or Afro-Americans if you get offended) killed by police n 2019. However, in June 2020, before Mr. Floyd was killed, almost 400 blacks were shot in the city of Chicago, about 78 of them succumbed to the gunshots. And those were blacks killing blacks, not a single one of them killed by a non black person. BLM and ANTIFA so called “protestors”, where were you? So the term “system racism” is a loaded question. By the way, Chicago has the STRICTEST gun laws in the nation. The question about “meditation” as mentioned before, has to be objectively defined. The people that identify themselves as Christians, are they really Christians? Jehovah’s Witnesses call themselves Christians but their Christ is not the Christ of the Bible. The same with the Mormons. Meditation in Eastern Mysticism opens a person into an alternate state of consciousnesses, giving wide open an opportunity into demonic possession. Again, take it as constructive criticism.

      1. UWE –
        1. Your explanation for calling systemic racism fake shows you don’t know what it actually is. Systemic racism, police brutality, and gun violence are not the same.
        2. Murder is intraracial. 84% of whites murdered are killed by other whites. Where’s your outrage over that? Why isn’t that used as an excuse to ignore other ills like opioid abuse and other travesties that significantly impact white communities? You don’t hear people saying, “Until there’s outrage over whites killing whites, stop talking about preventing opiod abuse!” That’s illogical, off topic, and makes an assumption that you can’t care about more than one issue. So why is that excuse used to ignore tragedies impacting black people? It is VERY possible to care about police brutality AND gun violence AND covid19 (which is severly impacting poor and minority communities). The excuses we (as CHRISTIANS) use not to care about what’s happening to others are astounding.
        3. BTW…cops are paid to protect, not to kill. So it SHOULD matter when someone paid by YOUR tax dollars to PROTECT you actually KILLS you (or commits any other crime against you). It shouldn’t just matter to BLM or whoever…it should matter to ALL of us. What if a fire fighter actually committed arson in the area they are paid to protect? That is a GROSS injustice and violation of the oaths they took – and they should AT LEAST be fired for not doing their job, not to mention prosecuted accordingly.
        4. This was clearly a survey on how people are spending the extra time at home (or in solitude). Even if you take ALL you said into consideration, people are still spending more time watching Netflix/TV than developing or cultivating spiritual disciplines. That speaks to our priorities during quarantine, which IMO, was a “forced fast” of sorts. I hate that we are missing the point.

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