Survey sees a drift away from religion in America
The percentage of Christians in the US declined, while that of people with 'no religion' almost doubled.
Christianity's hold on many Americans is slipping, losing out not to other faiths but to "no faith."Skip to next paragraph
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Today, 76 percent of the US population call themselves Christians, compared with 86 percent in 1990, according to the third American Religious Self-Identification Survey (ARIS), released Monday by Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. Among Christians, the survey confirms that many are shedding denominational loyalties for a more generic Christian allegiance.
One in every 5 US adults chose not to identify a religious identity: 15 percent chose "no religion" and the other 5 percent declined to name one.
In the traditional Roman Catholic stronghold of New England, for instance, the number of Catholic adherents fell by 1 million between 1990 and 2008, with most of those moving to "no religion." Catholics dropped from 50 percent to 36 percent of the region's population. New York state lost 800,000 Catholics.
"The decline of Catholicism in the Northeast is nothing short of stunning," says Barry Kosmin, a principal investigator for the ARIS surveys of 1990, 2001, and 2008. "There is a correlation between the decline of Catholic identity and the rise of 'the nones,' " as the survey dubs the "no religion" group.
In a major surprise, the Northeast now surpasses the Pacific Northwest as the least religious part of the country. The "nones" represent 34 percent of the population of Vermont, 29 percent in New Hampshire, and 22 percent in Maine and Massachusetts.
The "no religion" group has gained 20 million adults since 1990 and is the only group to have grown in every state, though at a much slower pace in recent years than in the 1990s. Only 10 percent of that group explicitly identifies as atheist or agnostic.
During this same 18-year period, the number of Christians rose by 22 million, but their proportion declined. The survey found that most of that growth occurred among those who call themselves either nondenominational Christian, born again or evangelical Christian, or simply "Christian," declining to add a more specific affiliation.
Nondenominational Christians, generally associated with the rise of megachurches, increased from less than 200,000 in 1990 to more than 8 million today. Those opting for generic "Christian" account for 14 percent of the population. "Denominationalism, or Christian brands, have eroded since 1990 – even Protestant doesn't mean anything anymore," says Dr. Kosmin.