The latest Pew Research Center survey on American religious trends indicates the Christian share of the U.S. population continues to decline.
Will this pattern continue until we become a religion-neutral or agnostic nation? Surely not. But a similar transition is going on in Europe where although 91% are baptized and 71% claim Christianity, less than 22% are any longer church-connected.
American Catholics, Jews and mainline Protestants are experiencing the greatest losses. This downturn is nationwide and affects most all denominations and ethnic groups. A trend of non-affiliation is particularly pronounced among millennials and other young adults and crosses most educational and income boundaries.
While the U.S. continues to be home to the world’s largest Christian population, recent surveys show the percentage of Americans identifying themselves as Christians has dropped by eight percentage points in just seven years. During this same period the percentage of atheists, agnostics and “nones” rose by more than six percentage points. But the number professing non-Judeo-Christian beliefs (Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Bahais et. al.) has grown only slightly. The L.D.S. (Mormon) denomination and Seventh Day Adventists continue to report gains, but these are largely outside the continental U.S.
Some observers might still attribute Christian losses to the Supreme Court ban on religious activities in public places, mainly school prayer. But Catholics are experiencing losses at about the same rate while their kids get daily religious instruction and prayer in their parochial schools. Personally, I think our losses begin with a growing failure to instill religious traditions and values in our homes. Today there are too many competing activities for the church and religion to any longer be major guiding forces in young peoples’ lives. But there is another significant point I would like to make.
I am a believing, practicing Christian with evangelical leanings. I believe in a spiritual/psychic experience that makes Jesus and His teachings a vital part of one’s life. I have known of these conversions taking place in regular Sunday church services, revivals, street corner testimonials and even in bar rooms. But I know of none having taken place in public-school classrooms or during prayer before a football game.
Is this decrease in religious influence adversely affecting our society in general? Not in all aspects. In fact, we are currently witnessing a significant decline in most all types of violent crime: homicides, assaults, rapes, armed robberies, etc. I realize this is correlation rather than causality, but it’s a significant fact.
The decline in America’s Christian numbers has also been accompanied by a transition to a more ethnically and racially diverse society. Today 41% of Catholics, 24% of evangelical Protestants and 4% of mainline Protestants embrace ethnic and racial minorities. Demographers predict that by mid-century the Caucasian race in America will have become a minority. Will we then truly be the world’s melting pot?
One of the most interesting changes, I think, has been the increase in intermarriage between the different denominations and religions without the couple necessarily embracing the same beliefs. Not many years ago interfaith marriages were severely discouraged and frowned upon. But today, to the consternation of some Orthodox and Conservative Jews, almost half of American Jews are marrying outside their faith. Is there a message here?