About 5 million fewer Americans identified themselves as Christians in 2014 than in 2007, and the percentage of self-identified Christians declined by nearly 8 percentage points.
The decline was most noticeable in the Millennial generation—those born in the period from 1981 to 1996. Only 56 percent of this group identified themselves as Christian in Pew’s 2014 poll.
Evangelical Protestants are the strongest segment of American Christianity. They grew in absolute numbers from 2007 and 2014, and declined only slightly as a percentage of the U.S. population.
But they are growing at a less rapid rate that the religiously unaffiliated. And growth in that segment comes from the “nothing in particular” group, not the avowed atheists or agnostics. I suppose this includes a lot of people who say they are spiritual, but not religious.
I don’t claim to know why this is so.
I can think of possible reasons. One is the sexual revolution and the decline in the belief that marriage is a sacrament received through a church wedding. Another is the growing awareness that scientific belief is incompatible with the literal belief in the Bible. A third is the identification of Christianity in the public mind with conservative politics. The so-called religious right, which is strongest among evangelical Protestants, is a backlash against these trends.
I would be interested in your thoughts.
For the full Pew report, click on America’s Changing Religious Landscape.
Remember that numbers are one thing and percentages are another. The following charts are not from Pew.
Voltaire is supposed to have said that the best thing for a nation, from the standpoint of liberty, is to have many religions, and the worst thing is to have just two. The great danger for American religious liberty, as I see it, is a cultural war between the conservatives and fundamentalists of all the diverse U.S. religion groups and the liberals and modernists of all groups.
American religious diversity comprises more than just Protestants, Catholics and Jews.
Tags: Agnostic, Atheists, Black Churches, Catholics, Catholics and Protestants, Christian America, Evangelical Protestants, Mainline Protestants, Pew Research Center, Protestants, Roman Catholic Church