When I first met a friend several years ago, in the course of our initial conversation, he referred to himself as a card-carrying atheist. Of course, I never thought he meant this literally, but, in fact, he proceeded to show me his membership ID for the New York City Atheists.
Incidents like this, as well as the urban environment with its iconoclastic populace, would lead one to believe that the religious in this city must be a much smaller percentage than that found in the United States population at large. Surprisingly, the percentages are not so different. A recent 346 page report, Religious Change Around the World, was released in October 2009 by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago (if you are interested in perusing the report, you can download the document here.) The massive study - the most comprehensive analysis to date of global religious trends - reveals that religious change around the world is very complex and no simple conclusions can be drawn.
The percentage of citizens who regularly attend religious services is typically quoted as 40%, a number gleaned from surveys such as the Gallup Poll. This number is now in question, however, as individuals polled often answer in a way to reflect what they would like others to hear and perhaps believe themselves. Some studies have shown that the real number may be closer to 20%.
Although it is generally believed that scientists and doctors are less likely to believe in God or be particularly religious, the report shows, surprisingly, that the difference in religious belief between the scientific and non-scientific community is actually not that large. Also, in spite of declining church attendance and religious affiliation, studies show that there has been an increasing number of those who consider themselves to be spiritual. Many faiths are looking to repackage their religious practices to address the changing needs of their communities.
There are thousands of places of worship in the five boroughs of New York City - churches, synagogues, mosques, etc. A small number are major attractions, such as St. Patrick's Cathedral and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Others, either architecturally and/or by the nature of an unusual amount of free land surrounding them and manicured grounds, virtually demand the attention of passersby. The Gothic masterpiece Grace Church is a good example (see here as well).
However, unless the doors are open or perhaps the scene is graced with a spring or summer wedding precession, most houses of worship remained unnoticed, competing as they do with commercial establishments. The church in the photo, although architecturally striking, lies amidst the hustle and bustle of 6th Avenue in the Village. Unusual elements made it particularly photogenic on the night it was photographed: open doors, interior illumination, Christmas trees flanking its massive columns, and everything aglow, including the rooftop crucifix. In spite of changing definitions and practices, in New York City, like the rest of America, we got religion...
About the Church: St. Joseph's Church in Greenwich Village is the second oldest Catholic church in Manhattan. The Greek Revival structure was built in 1834. In 2005, NYU merged with St. Josephs, and the church is now known as the University Parish of St. Joseph & the Catholic Center at NYU. The Catholic Center at New York University, previously housed in the Holy Trinity Chapel on West 4th Street, has been demolished. The property, previously owned by the Archdiocese, was sold to NYU.