Imagine Less Religion

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A new poll conducted by Connecticut’s Trinity College helps resoundingly confirm our answer to what Ken Ham has asked audiences for years at seminars: is America growing more Christian or less?

The survey of 54,461 American adults in the 48 contiguous states confirmed that the United States is less Christian (at least in numbers, if not also in influencing society) than in the past, with a dramatic decline in mainline Protestant denominations accounting for 90 percent of the drop in total number of people identifying themselves as Christians..

The United States is less Christian.

That prompted Mark Silk, director of the Public Values Program at Trinity, to state that “it looks like the two-party system of American Protestantism—mainline (generally theologically liberal) versus evangelical—is collapsing.” He continued, “A generic form of evangelicalism is emerging as the normative form of non-Catholic Christianity in the United States.”

Meanwhile, the percentage not identifying with any religion—including atheists, agnostics, humanists, and other irreligious—has seen dramatic growth of 193 percent since 1990. Of course, evolution-based secular humanism (and similar beliefs) are, themselves, religious.

Among the survey highlights (both official and what we saw):

  • Although Catholicism has held nearly constant as a proportion of the U.S. population, it is quickly losing adherents in the U.S. northeast who are being replaced by Latino immigrants. California now has a higher proportion of Catholics than New England, and Catholics comprise a third of the population of both California and Texas.
  • The only religious identification to increase in every state are the irreligious. Vermont is now by far the least religious state, with over a third identifying with no religion, and northern New England has surpassed the Pacific northwest as the least religious U.S. region.
  • When asked whether they identify as “born again” or “evangelical,” 18.4 percent of Catholics, 38.6 percent of mainline Protestants, and 60.2 percent of other Christians said yes.
  • To a question asking about the existence of God, 69.5 percent said that there is definitely a personal God, with 12.1 percent saying there is a higher power, but not a personal God. Less than 10 percent each answered that there is no God, there is no way to know, or that they were not sure.
  • Asian Americans are the most likely group to disavow religion; as a group, they also account for effectively all the adherence to Eastern religions and nearly all of the adherence to Islam (with black Americans accounting for a small percentage).
  • The gender distribution for all Judeo-Christian religious groups was greater toward females. Males account for more of those in Eastern religions, Islam, and new religious movements. The identity with the greatest disparity between men and women is the irreligious, composed of 60 percent men.
  • Most Judeo-Christian groups have an age distribution older than that of the overall United States population. Conversely, adherents of Eastern religions, new religious movements, Muslims, and the irreligious all have age distributions that are younger than the overall U.S. population. Muslims have the youngest age distribution of all groups, with 87 percent of American Muslims below the age of 50 and 42 percent below the age of 30.
  • The two religious groups tied for the highest rates of divorce are Pentecostals/Charismatics and those in new religious movements (defined in note 8 below). Surprisingly, Muslims had both the highest percentage who identified as “single never married” and the second-highest percentage (after those in new religious movements) “single living with partner.”
  • The share of college graduates has risen for each religious group with the exception of Muslims and those in new religious movements.

We’ve summarized the main table from the poll results (PDF) showing U.S. religious identification (in estimated percentages of the total population):

Religious identification 2008 2001 1990 Category definitions
Total “Christian” 76.0 76.7 86.2
  1. Roman, Greek, and Eastern Rites.
  2. Methodist, United Methodist, African Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopalian/Anglican, United Church of Christ/Congregational, Reformed/Dutch Reform, Disciples of Christ, Moravian, Quaker, Orthodox (Greek, Russian, Eastern, Christian)
  3. Southern Baptist, American Baptist, Free-Will, Missionary, and African-American denominations
  4. Christian, Protestant, Evangelical/ Born Again Christian, Born Again, Fundamentalist, Independent Christian, Missionary Alliance Church, Non-Denominational Christian
  5. Pentecostal, Assemblies of God, Full Gospel, Four Square Gospel, Church of God, Holiness, Nazarene, Salvation Army
  6. Churches of Christ, Seventh Day Adventist, Mennonite, Brethren, Apostle, Covenant, Christian Reform, Jehovah’s Witness, Christian Science, Messianic Jews
  7. Buddhist, Hindu, Taoist, Baha’i, Shintoist, Zoroastrian, Sikh
  8. Scientology, New Age, Eckankar, Spiritualist, Unitarian-Universalist, Deist, Wiccan, Pagan, Druid, Indian Religion, Santeria, Rastafarian
  9. None, No religion, Humanistic, Ethical Culture, Agnostic, Atheist, Secular
Catholic1 25.1 24.5 26.2
Mainline2 12.9 17.2 18.7
Baptist3 15.8 16.3 19.3
Christian generic4 14.2 10.8 14.8
Pentecostal/Charismatic5 3.5 3.8 3.2
Other major denominations6 3.1 2.9 2.6
Mormon 1.4 1.3 1.4
Other religions 3.9 3.7 3.3
Jewish 1.2 1.4 1.8
Eastern7 0.9 1.0 0.4
Muslim 0.6 0.5 0.3
NRM/Other8 1.2 0.9 0.8
No religion9 15.0 14.1 8.2
No answer 5.2 5.4 2.3

The survey results pretty well speak for themselves. The United States continues to grow less Christian, with compromising mainline denominations on a path to almost disappear completely within the century. (Next week, we will be reviewing another new survey that examined the attitudes of mainline Protestant clergy.) What is clear is that for long-term success, the church needs to reaffirm God’s Word as its starting point—then repent and pray for God’s wisdom and blessing as we try to take back the culture for biblical truths..

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