When it comes to religion, the USA is now land of the freelancers.
The percentage. of people who call themselves in some way Christian has dropped more than 11% in a generation. The faithful have scattered out of their traditional bases: The Bible Belt is less Baptist. The Rust Belt is less Catholic. And everywhere, more people are exploring spiritual frontiers — or falling off the faith map completely.
These dramatic shifts in just 18 years are detailed in the new American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), to be released today. It finds that, despite growth and immigration that has added nearly 50 million adults to the U.S. population, almost all religious denominations have lost ground since the first ARIS survey in 1990.
“More than ever before, people are just making up their own stories of who they are. They say, ‘I’m everything. I’m nothing. I believe in myself,’ ” says Barry Kosmin, survey co-author.
Among the key findings in the 2008 survey:
So many Americans claim no religion at all (15%, up from 8% in 1990), that this category now outranks every other major U.S. religious group except Catholics and Baptists. In a nation that has long been mostly Christian, “the challenge to Christianity … does not come from other religions but from a rejection of all forms of organized religion,” the report concludes.
Catholic strongholds in New England and the Midwest have faded as immigrants, retirees and young job-seekers have moved to the Sun Belt. While bishops from the Midwest to Massachusetts close down or consolidate historic parishes, those in the South are scrambling to serve increasing numbers of worshipers.
Baptists, 15.8% of those surveyed, are down from 19.3% in 1990. Mainline Protestant denominations, once socially dominant, have seen sharp declines: The percentage of Methodists, for example, dropped from 8% to 5%.
The percentage of those who choose a generic label, calling themselves simply Christian, Protestant, non-denominational, evangelical or “born again,” was 14.2%, about the same as in 1990.
Jewish numbers showed a steady decline, from 1.8% in 1990 to 1.2% today. The percentage of Muslims, while still slim, has doubled, from 0.3% to 0.6%. Analysts within both groups suggest those numbers understate the groups’ populations.
Ihsan Bagby, associate professor of Islamic studies at the University of Kentucky-Lexington, says that most national telephone surveys such as ARIS undercount Muslims, and that he is conducting a study of mosques’ membership sponsored by the Hartford (Conn.) Institute for Religious Research.
Meanwhile, some Jewish surveys that report larger numbers of Jews also include “cultural” Jews — those who connect to Judiasm through its traditions, but not necessarily through actively practicing the religion.
Meanwhile, nearly 2.8 million people now identify with dozens of new religious movements, calling themselves Wiccan, pagan or “Spiritualist,” which the survey does not define.
Wicca, a contemporary form of paganism that includes goddess worship and reverence for nature, has even made its way to Arlington National Cemetery, where the Pentagon now allows Wiccans’ five-pointed-star symbol to be used on veterans’ gravestones.
Alongside the report USA TODAY provides an interactive graphic and videos: Compare states, dates, religious groups and non-religious numbers
The ARIS research also led in quantifying and planting a label on the “Nones” — people who said “None” when asked the survey’s basic question: “What is your religious identity?”
The survey itself may have contributed to a higher rate of reporting as sociologists began analyzing the newly identified Nones. “The Nones may have felt more free to step forward, less looked upon as outcasts” after the ARIS results were published, Keysar says.
Oregon once led the nation in Nones (18% in 1990), but in 2008 the leader, with 34%, was Vermont, where Nones significantly outnumber every other group.
Meabh Fitzpatrick, 49, of Rutland, Vt., says she is upfront about becoming an atheist 10 years ago because “it’s important for us to be counted. I’m a taxpayer and a law-abiding citizen and an ethical person, and I don’t think people assume this about atheists.”
Not all Nones have made such a philosophical choice; most just unhook from religious ties.
The percentage of Americans who call themselves Christians has dropped dramatically over the past two decades, and those who do are increasingly identifying themselves without traditional denomination labels, according to a major study of U.S. religion being released today.
The increase in people labeling themselves in more generic Christian terms corresponds strongly with the decline in people identifying themselves as Protestant, the survey found. People calling themselves mainline Protestants, including Methodists and Lutherans, have dropped to 13 percent of the population, down from 19 percent in 1990. The number of people who describe themselves as generically “Protestant” went from approximately 17 million in 1990 to 5 million.
Meanwhile, the number of people who use nondenominational terms has gone from 194,000 in 1990 to more than 8 million.
“There is now this shift in the non-Catholic population — and maybe among American Christians in general — into a sort of generic, soft evangelicalism,” said Mark Silk, who directs Trinity’s Program on Public Values and helped supervise the survey.
The survey substantiated several general trends already identified by sociologists: the slipping importance of denomination in America, the growing number of people who say they have “no” religion and the increase in religious minorities including Muslims, Mormons and such movements as Wicca and paganism.
The only group that grew in every U.S. state since the 2001 survey was people saying they had “no” religion; the survey says this group is now 15 percent of the population. Silk said this group is likely responsible for the shrinking percentage of Christians in the United States.
The survey’s principal investigator, sociologist Barry A. Kosmin of Trinity College in Connecticut, described the overall trend as an erosion of the “religious middle ground.”
He said many people appeared to be rebuffing denominations altogether or favoring more conservative evangelical groups that have boosted their relatively small memberships by offering emotional and personalized religious experiences.
Kosmin said the changing religious outlook also reflected an increasingly diverse and complex culture that emphasized greater tolerance for diversity while eschewing respect for authority.
He pointed to one sign of religious detachment — the fact that 27% of Americans do not expect to have a religious funeral.
“Even the people in the pews are more rebellious than they used to be,” said Kosmin, founding director of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture. “Those you would call ‘the religious’ don’t look like what their grandparents did in terms of their worship style, their ritual behaviors.”
Meanwhile, the number of atheists, while still small, has nearly doubled from 900,000 to 1.6 million. Kosmin says that people may feel more comfortable admitting their lack of faith at a time when atheist books, like Christopher Hitchens‘ “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything” and movies are getting a lot of attention. Comedian Bill Maher took aim at religion in his documentary film “Religulous,” saying that he preaches “the gospel of ‘I Don’t Know.'”
But researchers point out that just because people are dropping out of organized religion, that doesn’t mean they’re abandoning faith. In an informal poll on Twitter today, we heard similar sentiments.
(CNN) — America is a less Christian nation than it was 20 years ago, and Christianity is not losing out to other religions, but primarily to a rejection of religion altogether, a survey published Monday found.
Three out of four Americans call themselves Christian, according to the American Religious Identification Survey from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. In 1990, the figure was closer to nine out of 10 — 86 percent.
At the same time there has been an increase in the number of people expressing no religious affiliation.
The survey also found that “born-again” or “evangelical” Christianity is on the rise, while the percentage who belong to “mainline” congregations such as the Episcopal or Lutheran churches has fallen.
One in three Americans consider themselves evangelical, and the number of people associated with mega-churches has skyrocketed from less than 200,000 in 1990 to more than 8 million in the latest survey.
The rise in evangelical Christianity is contributing to the rejection of religion altogether by some Americans, said Mark Silk of Trinity College.
“In the 1990s, it really sunk in on the American public generally that there was a long-lasting ‘religious right’ connected to a political party, and that turned a lot of people the other way,” he said of the link between the Republican Party and groups such as the Moral Majority and Focus on the Family. Watch author on mixing religion and politics »
“In an earlier time, people who would have been content to say, ‘Well, I’m some kind of a Protestant,’ now say ‘Hell no, I won’t go,'” he told CNN.
Silk also said the revelation that some Catholic priests had sexually abused children — and senior figures in the church hierarchy had helped to hide it — had driven some Catholics away from religion.
And, he said, it is now more socially acceptable than it once was to admit having no religion.
“You’re not declaring yourself a total pariah. The culture has changed in a way that makes it easier to say, ‘No, I don’t have a religion. Even in the past year, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama feel obliged to talk about ‘those of no faith,'” he pointed out. Obama mentioned people without faith in his inaugural address in January, making him the first president to do so.
In the survey, one in five Americans said they have no religious identity or did not answer the question, and more than one in four said they do not expect to have a religious funeral.
The rise in what the survey authors call “nones” is the only trend reflected in every single state in the study, Silk said.
“We don’t see anything else in the survey that is nationwide,” he told CNN.