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U.S. Has Become Notably Less Christian, Major Study Finds

Lifestyle Top News Tribune News Service

U.S. Has Become Notably Less Christian, Major Study Finds

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Religion, Lifestyle, Top News, Americans, Identity, Belief, Protestants, Catholics, Christian, Faith, Pew Research

By David Lauter, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. has become significantly less Christian in the last eight years as the share of American adults who espouse no systematic religious belief increased sharply, a major new study found.

For what is likely the first time in U.S. history — certainly the first since the early days of the country — the actual number of American Christians has declined. Christianity, however, remains by far the nation’s dominant religious tradition, according to the new report by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.

The rapid increase in the number of adults without ties to traditional religious institutions has strong implications for other social institutions and for politics.

Whether a person attends religious services regularly is among the strongest predictors of how he or she will vote, with traditional religion strongly tied to the Republican Party, at least among white Americans.

The decline in traditional religious belief adds to the demographic challenges facing the GOP, which already faces difficulties because of its reliance on white voters in a country that has grown more racially diverse.

The interaction between religion and politics may work both ways. Some scholars believe that close ties between traditional religion and conservatism, particularly on issues such as same-sex marriage, have led many younger Americans to cut their ties with organized religion.

Almost one in five American adults were raised in a religious tradition but are now unaffiliated, the study found. By contrast, only four percent have moved in the other direction.

Because the U.S. census does not ask questions about religion, the massive religion surveys by the Pew Research Center have become a chief source of information on the U.S. religious landscape.

The current survey questioned 35,071 U.S. adults last summer. Its huge size allows detailed analysis of even fairly small religious groups. The margin of error for the full sample is plus or minus six-tenths of a percentage point.

The U.S. still remains far more religious than most other economically advanced countries, but the significant increase in the share of Americans who do not follow a traditional religious belief mirrors trends in Europe and elsewhere.

Just short of one in four Americans now describe themselves as being agnostic, atheist, or simply “nothing in particular,” up from roughly one in six in 2007, according to the new study. The ranks of the “nones,” as the study labels them, have grown in large part from people abandoning the religion in which they were raised.

By contrast, Christian ranks have eroded. Roughly 173 million adult Americans identify as Christian, just under 71 percent of the U.S. population. That’s down from 178 million, or 78 percent of the U.S., in 2007. The total U.S. adult population grew by about eight percent during that eight-year period.

Protestants, who once dominated the U.S. population, no longer form a majority, the study found. About 47 percent of the U.S. population identifies with some Protestant denomination, down from just over half in 2007.

The decline has been uneven, with mainline denominations, such as Methodists and Presbyterians, shrinking more quickly than evangelical churches.

Slightly fewer than one in six adult Americans identify with the mainline Protestant churches, according to the survey. Evangelicals, by contrast, make up about one-quarter of the adult U.S. population. They now form a majority among those who identify as Protestant.

Another seven percent of American adults identify with historically black Protestant churches, a share that has remained relatively stable.

Catholics, about one in five Americans, have also seen some decline in numbers since 2007, the study found, although some other studies have found a more recent uptick. Almost 13 percent of American adults are former Catholics — the largest single group of people who have left a faith in which they were raised.

Among non-Christian faiths, Judaism remains the largest in the U.S., although only about two percent of the U.S. population identifies as Jewish. The number is up very slightly from what the survey found in 2007.

Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism each have less than one percent of the U.S. population, although the Muslim and Hindu population have both grown rapidly, reflecting immigration from Asia.

Photo: Mor via Flickr

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12 Comments

  1. Insinnergy May 12, 2015

    About time.
    Win for Science. End to “Faith-based” thinking.

    Reply
  2. Un Ruley May 13, 2015

    I think the more correct observation is that the U.S. has become notably less religious. Roughly half the population professes no strong religious convictions, yet all of the elected officials claim God and church are part of their lives. Sure.

    Reply
    1. The lucky one May 13, 2015

      But it is, their god is money. I’d like to think traditional religions are fading because finally we are maturing past the need to believe in fairy tales but I’m not that naïve.

      Reply
  3. Eleanore Whitaker May 13, 2015

    The reality of religion in the US today is that examples of fundamentalists are a turn off to most Americans. No one wants to spend their entire lives non-productively on their knees, wearing sack cloth and flagellating themselves. More importantly, most American recognize why the Bible Thumpers are so “conversionist:” GUILT.

    Guilt is a funny thing. On one’s death bed, guilt can out long held truths and reverse many lies of omission. On impact with human mortality, guilt can make anyone suddenly feel the need to “repent.”

    What most of us see among the too too too fanatical religious is their hidden proclivities toward sinfulness they can’t admit, mostly and only to themselves. So, it’s far easier to convert others to fanatical religious operatives so that the guilty party feels less so and feels some measure of repentance at having others as miserable as they are.

    Reply
  4. Buford2k11 May 13, 2015

    yeah, even the selfproclaimed Christians are getting less Christian…the gop is full of ’em…our public airwaves are saturated with ’em, and the evangelicals are so far removed from GOD they can’t see it…blinded by their own Dogma…The One Who Is Not Named, has won them over….

    Reply
  5. Whatmeworry May 13, 2015

    That’s bad news for the poor and those needing help. The left wing Dem’s will NEVER use their OWN $$$ to assist them

    Reply
    1. Daniel Max Ketter May 13, 2015

      If they were represented by a union, then they wouldn’t be poor and need help. We should increase tax money for welfare, food stamps, HUD, and everything to help these poor folks out, and yet decrease global warming. This is what happens when you vote republican and sell out your country.

      God bless our labor organizations for their service to our country.

      Reply
  6. Whatmeworry May 13, 2015

    That’s good news for the poor and those needing help. The left wing Dem’s will ALWAYS use their OWN $$$ to assist them

    Reply
  7. Dominick Vila May 14, 2015

    The reason organized religious organizations are still so influential in the United States and the Islamic world is because of the effectiveness of fear. At the risk of sounding naive, I would say that I doubt most of our “believers” actually believe the concepts of Creationism and Divinity, and accept the allegories used by our early ancestors to explain what they could not because of scientific limitations, and the subsequent influence of superstition.
    In my opinion, the influence of religion in all facets of life in America is declining because religious organizations have evolved from institutions dedicated to preaching the word of prophets to materialistic, greedy, and often ruthless organizations that stop at nothing to achieve their material goals. The merchants were once thrown out of the Temple, hopefully it will happen again in the not too distant future.

    Reply
  8. 13observer May 15, 2015

    I believe that the faith based organizations will become even more popular in the near future as taxpayers are tired of paying the way for shiftless, no-account, lazy*ss frauds reproducing like rabbits for their own piece of the pie. As a result of drastic future CUTBACKS to welfare programs, only faith based organizations will be able to feed, clothe and shelter these misfits! Can anyone say “I Believe” now? Can I get an “AMEN”?

    Reply
    1. Allan Richardson May 17, 2015

      Reproducing like rabbits? You mean reproducing like Duggars? At a time when the world needs birth control more than ever, the religious “right” are promoting intentionally oversize families with their “full quiver” movement (among their OWN, that is), and making birth control harder than ever for women who are TRYING to control their fertility without disappointing their husbands to do so. And promoting a form of sex education which omits birth control (like driver’s education saying not to use seat belts, lest you be tempted to get into an accident) and has been PROVEN not to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

      Then you have the world’s second largest faith saying it is IMMORAL for even married couples to use birth control methods which actually WORK; only the one that is not very reliable is moral. I’m glad they have a new Pope, but even he is afraid to correct that problem.

      Reply
  9. dpaano June 19, 2015

    Gee, do you think maybe the so-called “evangelical” Christians have SO embarrassed regular Christians to the point that they have “turned off” most people from religion entirely?

    Reply

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