America more and more secular year after year
(RNS) — Christmas is just 10 days away and most Americans will be celebrating the birth of Jesus. But a new poll from Pew shows that the share of American adults who consider themselves Christians is falling.
Only 63% of Americans identify as Christians this year, a marked drop from 75% 10 years ago.
The dwindling number of Americans who call themselves Christians is offset by a growing number of people who call themselves atheists, agnostics, or non-denominationals. These unaffiliated Americans make up 29% of the US population, up from 19% in 2011.
“The secularizing changes evident in American society so far in the 21st century show no signs of abating,” the Pew researchers concluded. “The share of audiences with no religious affiliation is 6 percentage points higher than it was five years ago and 10 points higher than ten years ago.”
Although Christians are still a healthy majority, their decline is perhaps best reflected in two survey questions: how often people pray and the importance of religion in their lives. Only 45% of American adults said they pray daily (compared to 58% in a similar 2007 survey). And the number of Americans who say religion is “very important” in their lives is also down: 41% of Americans consider religion to be “very important” in their lives, down from 56% in 2007.
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Protestants account for most of the decline — down 4 percentage points from five years ago and 10 percentage points from a decade ago, with evangelical and non-evangelical Protestants declining overall to 40% of American adults. Catholics remained relatively stable at 21%.
“It’s at least partly a reaction to the political environment,” said David Campbell, a professor of American democracy at the University of Notre Dame who has written about American secularization. “Many people turn away from religion because they see religion as an expression of political conservatism or as an wing of the Republican Party. This is especially true for white Americans. The more religion is locked into a political vision, the more people who don’t share this political vision say: “It’s not for me”.
There has been no corresponding increase in the number of Americans adhering to other faiths. A total of 6% of Americans identify with non-Christian religions, including 1% who describe themselves as Jewish, 1% Muslim, 1% Buddhist, 1% Hindu, and 2% who identify with a wide variety of others religions.
But notably, the number of atheists and agnostics in the survey has roughly doubled over the past decade to 4% and 5% respectively, from 2% and 3% in 2011.
Some scholars have stated that this doubling may not have been as significant a change numerically as it was culturally.
“There’s less stigma attached to being an atheist,” said Ryan Burge, assistant professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University and author of a book on “nones,” or those unaffiliated with the religion. “It reveals what has been there for a long time, rather than a big change. People may not have answered honestly 20, 30 years ago.
But Burge said the decline of Protestant Christianity from 52% in 2007 to 40% today is very significant.
“It’s further proof that America is going to be very different,” Burge said. “Think about American history. For a plurality of Americans to say that religion is not important is a big shift in how we think about ourselves.
A survey released by PRRI over the summer found that those unaffiliated with religion had lost ground, accounting for just 23% of the country. But the Pew poll found little to support that conclusion. The number of people with no religion has steadily increased from 16% in 2007 to 29% in 2021, Pew said.
Despite the growth of secular Americans, changes in American culture and politics have not caught up, said Hemant Mehta, a popular atheist blogger who has reported on issues important to the atheist community.
“All these numbers are meaningless unless we convert them into political power,” he said, referring to the 29% of people with no religious affiliation. “Conservative Christians do it very well. They still have all the power. We are more and more numerous but we have no political power. Unless we figure out how to get politicians to care about the issues that matter to most of us, what’s the point? »
The poll was part of the benchmark national public opinion survey conducted by Pew online and by mail between May and August. The survey was conducted among 3,937 respondents, who completed the survey on their own (and not in response to a surveyor). It has a margin of error of 2.1 percentage points.
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