Poll Says Christianity Declining in America

The American Religious Identification Survey conducted by Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut has revealed that the number of Christian believers is on the decline in the United States.

According to the report, “The percentage of Christians in America, which declined in the 1990s from 86.2 percent to 76.7 percent, has now edged down to 76 percent.”

“Ninety percent of the decline comes from the non-Catholic segment of the Christian population, largely from the mainline denominations, including Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians/Anglicans, and the United Church of Christ, according to the survey report. These groups shrank from 18.7 percent of the population in 1990 to just 12.9 percent today.”

While continuing to grow as a group, Catholics face many challenges as once flourishing Catholic regions decline, and other regions get new life. “The decline of Catholicism in the Northeast is nothing short of stunning,” said Barry Kosmin, a principal investigator for the survey. “Thanks to immigration and natural increase among Latinos, California now has a higher proportion of Catholics than New England.”

Most of the growth in the Christian population occurred among those who would identify only as “Christian,” “Evangelical/Born Again,” or “non-denominational Christian,” according to the survey report. The last of these, associated with the growth of megachurches, has increased from less than 200,000 in 1990 to over 8 million today. These groups grew from 5 percent of the population in 1990 to 11.8 percent in 2008. Significantly, 38.6 percent of mainline Protestants now also identify themselves as evangelical or born again.

The percentage of Americans claiming no religion jumped from 8. percent in 1990 to 15 percent in the current survey. Northern New England has now taken over from the Pacific Northwest as the least religious section of the country, with Vermont, at 34 percent “Nones,” leading all other states by a full 9 points, the report said.

Other key findings as reported by American Religious Identification Survey:

• Baptists, who constitute the largest non-Catholic Christian tradition, have increased their numbers by two million since 2001, but continue to decline as a proportion of the population.

• Mormons, which many think is a non-Christian religion, have increased in numbers enough to hold their own proportionally, at 1.4 percent of the population.

• The Muslim proportion of the population continues to grow, from .3 percent in 1990 to .5 percent in 2001 to .6 percent in 2008.

• The number of adherents of Eastern Religions, which more than doubled in the 1990s, has declined slightly, from just over two million to just under. Asian Americans are substantially more likely to indicate no religious identity than other racial or ethnic groups.

• Those who identify religiously as Jews continue to decline numerically, from 3.1 million in 1990 to 2.8 million in 2001 to 2.7 million in 2008–1.2 percent of the population. Defined to include those who identify as Jews by ethnicity alone, the American Jewish population has remained stable over the past two decades.

• Only1.6 percent of Americans call themselves atheist or agnostic. But based on stated beliefs, 12 percent are atheist (no God) or agnostic (unsure), while 12 percent more are deistic (believe in a higher power but not a personal God). The number of outright atheists has nearly doubled since 2001, from 900 thousand to 1.6 million. Twenty-seven percent of Americans do not expect a religious funeral at their death.

• Adherents of New Religious movements, including Wiccans and self-described pagans, have grown faster this decade than in the 1990s.

The survey was conducted between February and November 2008 and released on March 9, 2009.

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