The blockbuster new American Religious Identification Survey from Trinity College reports that the fastest growing “faith group” is the one claiming “no religion.” (Full study here.)
Look at USA Today’s stunning visual depiction of the flight from Catholicism and “Other Christian.” Then click on the slide for “no religion.” A jarring difference.
Cathy Grossman of USA Today summarizes thusly:

“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. “

A few other bits struck me.

  • Evangelicals for years could mock mainliners for their lethargic growth numbers. It’s more complicated than that. Baptists, the largest evangelical denomination, dropped from 19.3% in 1990 to 15.8%. What has grown is the group called “non-denominational Christian,” often associated with megachurches which grew from 200,000 people in 1990 to 8 million today — from 5% of the population in 1990 to 11.8% in 2008.
  • The two regional strongholds for non-believers: New England and the Pacific Northwest.
  • Catholics have “moved” South (actually, it’s that Hispanic immigrants represent the growing part of Catholicism). The Catholic portion of the New England states fell from 50% to 36% from 1990 to 2000; while it rose in California from 37% to 44% and in Texas from 23% to 32%.
  • The Jewish population continues to decline (from 3.1 million in 1990 to 2.7 milion in 2008).
  • The Muslim slice of the population has grown from 0.3% in 1990 to 0.6% now.
  • The ethnic group most likely to have no religious identity: Asians. 27% say they have no religion (compared to 16% in 1990)
  • Only 59% of Hispanics are Catholic now, down from 66% in 1990. Biggest winners? “Christian generic” (rising from 8% to 11%) and “None” (doubling from 6% to 12%).
  • Only 1.6% call themselves atheist or agnostic, though ARIS concludes that based on their beliefs 12% are either atheist or agnostic. 27% expect that when they die, they won’t have a religious service.
  • 12% of the population believe in a higher power but not a personal God.
  • Still, from 2001 to 2008, the percentage of the population that’s Christian remained stable at 76%. 34% now call thesmelves “Born Again or Evangelical Christians.”
  • 82% say they believe in God.
  • Best educated faiths (% of college graduates): Muslim, Other Religins, Eastern Religions, Jews, Mormons and Mainline Christian.
  • Least educated: Pentecostal, Baptist, “Protestant Denominations”
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