The actors playing N.W.A. in the upcoming biopic "Straight Outta Compton," which Bill O'Reilly appears to think is current-day. (Jaimie Trueblood/Universal Pictures)

A new study from Pew Research shows an increase in the number of Americans who aren't affiliated with a church. Fox News's Bill O'Reilly used this tidbit to rail against an unexpected target: rap music.

"There is no question that people of faith are being marginalized by a secular media and pernicious entertainment," O'Reilly said. "The rap industry, for example, often glorifies depraved behavior, and that sinks into the minds of some young people -- the group that is most likely to reject religion. Also, many movies and TV shows promote non-traditional values. If you are a person of faith, then the media generally thinks you are a loon."

So the causality here, in O'Reilly's mind, goes like this: Young people listen to "rap music." -> They hear descriptions of "depraved behavior." -> It sinks into their minds. -> They reject religion.

We'll start by noting that O'Reilly -- like a remarkable number of pundits! -- apparently still thinks hip-hop is dominated by "gangster rap." Snoop Dogg is posing for photos with cops, guys. Kendrick Lamar, perhaps hip-hop's most respected artist, is being recognized for his community service. The '90s are over.

The corollary to that, of course: By this argument, shouldn't rates of religiosity have dropped when rap was ascendant and much more "depraved?" Hip-hop hardly got significantly more popular or significantly more crazy between 2007 and 2014, the period Pew studied.

Regardless, O'Reilly is pretty far off base. There isn't much public data on the composition of hip-hop's audience, though certainly record companies have some detailed metrics they keep close to their chests. There's a longstanding assumption that the audience for hip-hop is 70 percent white, much like the rest of the country.

That's probably incorrect. In 2012, marketing data company BIGInsight looked at the audience for hip-hop music. (We're using "hip-hop" instead of rap mostly because the latter is generally considered a subset of the former.)

Here's BIGInsight's breakdown by age and race, compared to the general public.


According to this data, the audience is more heavily black and generally younger -- though overlapping with Generation X (born 1965 to 1980) and the millennials (born 1981 and later).

That's important, because the Pew data on religion tells us two things. First, as we noted on Monday, The number of people saying that they're not affiliated with a religion climbs as ages drop.

O'Reilly is right that young people are the most likely to say they're unaffiliated with a religious tradition. But Pew points out that it's largely young white people. Christianity is becoming less white, the data show, and it is black Americans that actually have the lowest rate of rejecting religion.


Later in his soliloquy, O'Reilly explained that it wasn't so much rap music at all. "The main reason Christianity is on decline," he said, "is poor leadership and corruption within the Catholic church. The priest scandal devastated the Catholic landscape in America."

The percentage of people identifying as Catholic, for what it's worth, dropped 3.1 percent. The percentage of people identifying as non-evangelical Protestant, meanwhile, dropped 3.4 percent.

It's possible that O'Reilly simply doesn't know what he's talking about.