Maybe there’s some reason for hope: Christianity on the decline in the U.S.

This has been an ongoing trend for a few years now and it does my heart good after listening to Theocratic minded politicians all day. The folks at have a cool chart on the decline and the corresponding up tick in the numbers of non-believers:

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.

You can bet that we’ll be seeing a lot of articles from the Religious Right over the next few days totally freaking out over this study. You can also expect to see the RR get even more shrill and defensive of their beliefs as a result. Best of all, the category of “no religion” has grown significantly. Not all of them are atheists or agnostics, but they’re not far from it I’d bet:

• 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.

If that doesn’t warm the cockles of your heathen heart then nothing will. Expect attacks from the Christians about how evil we atheists are to increase as a result of the above statistic.

• 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.

The report also shows how important it is for atheists to stand up and self-identify to help counteract the negative stereotypes about us. Those of use who are “out of the closet” are having a positive impact on those who have yet to emerge, but who are considering it:

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.”

It’s worth reading the whole article if for no other reason than to see the chart ranking “nones” as third behind Catholics and Baptists. Then pop up some popcorn and get ready for the Religious Right to freak out.

This was sent in by a whole bunch of SEB readers, often with links to various news sources.

14 thoughts on “Maybe there’s some reason for hope: Christianity on the decline in the U.S.

  1. This chart sort of confuses me.  Questions 7 and 8. 10% of Catholics don’t believe in Heaven and 27% don’t believe in hell?  Then how are they Catholic?  Actually, I consider it to be a very good thing.  The farther people get from black and white religious dogma, the safer I feel.

    Then again, maybe this just makes it easier for the religions with the most true believers—the people most likely to kill for their beliefs may be the most likely to succeed.

  2. Damn, this is great news!  Time for everyone to proudly wear the Dawkins A.

  3. That includes myself. I left for various reasons, mainly because I have been reading the Bible and I felt that my prior beliefs were no longer tenable. But, as for the general decline in Christianity, I get the sense that Bush and the religious right are themselves part of the very reason why religion in general and Christianity in particular are losing support. Every action has a reaction; rising secularism leads to a reaction of fundamentalism, and I think that growing fundamentalism in turn likely leads to a reaction of more secularism.
    And, to add thriceberg’s point, I have seen statistics in the past that have shown that 2/3 of American Catholics disagree with the Church on most serious issues, like abortion. Many conservative Catholics were fuming over the number of Catholics who voted for Obama.

  4. I wont be satisfied until they make the distinction between “no religion” and “atheist”  It’s about time that we got our numbers counted separately.  Especially since our numbers are becoming the fastest growing segment of the population.  They certainly shouldn’t be counting us among those who don’t care.

    Come to think of it, if Atheism is on the rise as much as it is indicated here, then it’s no wonder we’re seeing all these political battles over policies in the last decade or so.  The battles are always fiercest just before one side or the other loses smile

    I just hope we catch up to Denmark in these demographics before I die.

  5. Just out of interest Swordsbane- what do you understand by ‘no religion’? Atheist always sounds like I go round actively denying gods, when I don’t deny mice/teapots.

  6. No religion to me (and to some others who answer those kinds of polls) means they have no specific religion that they belong to either because they are atheist or because they just don’t think about it, or because they do think about it and haven’t ‘decided’ yet.  I think the distinction is important.  A lot of these surveys have a category for atheist/no religion.  I’d just like to see someone count atheists separately from those who either don’t know, just don’t go to church or don’t care one way or the other.  That and my innate desire not to be categorized as anything that has a slash or a hyphen in its name smile

  7. I’m OK with “no religion”, because distinguishing it from atheism suggests that atheism would be a religion.  It’s not (reference any number of analogies like “not collecting stamps” being a hobby.  Though my favorite is this: who ever answers that their religion is “theist”?

    There is some attraction to either of George Carlin’s religions, though.  First he was a Frisbeeterian; when you die, your soul goes up on the roof and you can’t get it back.  But shortly before death he converted to Joe Pesci-ism.  He’d pray to Joe Pesci because he seemed like the kind of guy who really knew how to get things done.  Every bit as effective as Christian prayer, he said.

  8. Remember: religious belief is a choice.

    It sort of has to be, doesn’t it?  On the other hand, being an Atheist, I may not have proof that God doesn’t exist, but ample evidence that he’s not only not all powerful, but a son of a bitch that doesn’t deserve to be worshiped, at least until they throw out that stupid book and start using one that’s sensible.

  9. 10% of Catholics don’t believe in Heaven and 27% don’t believe in hell?  Then how are they Catholic?

    I suspect lots of Catholics (and Protestants, and others too) go through the motions, but don’t really believe in all the tenets.  The philosopher George Santayana was a Catholic atheist.  His creed, according to one wag, was: “there is no God, and Mary is His Mother”.

    And of course there’s the Irish joke:  “yes, yes, but are you a Catholic atheist or a Protestant atheist?”

  10. [snark]Gee, I can’t imagine that the past eight years of sheer douchebaggery in the name of the Great Psychopath in the Sky had anything to do with the dip in His popularity.[/snark]

  11. Alright you ignorant atheists… if there is no god, then HOW DOES THE SUN KEEP ORBITING THE EARTH? BAM!

    You see people, that’s how you deal with atheist skum. With LOGIC! Hit that bullseye and the rest of the dominoes will come down like a house of cards… CHECKMATE!

    And on that note…

    Dunt dun duuh DAAAAHHHH!

    !!!!!!!!!MY ATHEIST STORE!!!!!!!!!

    Aristotle’s Muse

    This is my store. Maybe wearing an atheist T-shirt won’t change the world, but enough of them just might.

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