Unbelief and unconventional belief are on the rise. The number of Americans who do not consider themselves to be religious more than doubled in the past decade, according to a major new national survey that also found significant growth in non-Christian faiths.
The proportion of the population that considers itself Christian fell from 86 percent in 1990 to 77 percent this year, revealed the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) produced by The Graduate Center at the City University of New York.
Over the same time period, the number of adults who classified themselves as belonging to non-Christian religious groups grew from about 5.8 million to 7.7 million, a slight rise to 3.7 percent. The number that said they did not subscribe to any religious identification grew from 14.3 million (8 percent) to 29.4 million (14 percent).
The ARIS study of more than 50,000 people also revealed that 16 percent of the population has a "secular" outlook on life, and that 23 percent of those who now say they have no religious identity once had some sort of belief.
Although their overall totals were still comparatively small, there were sizeable increases in the numbers of people who identified themselves as Hindu, Native American, Buddhist, Taoist, New Age, Sikh and Wiccan. "The USA is a greenhouse of religion, with the number of options appearing to soar," commented the co-director of the study, Barry Kosmin, said "USA Today." "Even if you are cautious about the leap [in rate of growth] because groups like Wiccans are still very small numbers of people, we can still see that people don't feel embarrassed or frightened about saying who they are."
The sobering report did contain some encouraging news for churches. While those who profess no religion made up one of the three groups seeing the biggest gains over the past decade, the other two comprised those identifying themselves as evangelical and non-denominational Christians--subsets of the overall Christian total, which was 52 percent Protestant and 24.5 percent Catholic.
The ARIS study said that analysis of the patterns of changes in religious affiliation pointed "as much to the rejection of faith as to the seeking of faith among American adults."
While media reports across the country focused on the rise in church attendance and greater religious openness following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, one newspaper has now reported that the events could have sparked a spiritual backlash, rather than a renewal.
In communities most affected, the deaths of thousands at the World Trade Center "unleashed a fury of questions, doubts and anger," reported "The Philadelphia Inquirer." Clergy ministering to families in Lower Makefield, Bucks County repeatedly were questioned about why the attack happened and where God was, said the newspaper.
Doug Hoglund, pastor of Woodside Presbyterian Church, said that his role was not to supply answers but to pose different questions. "The real question is not why, but who--who can help me through this crisis?"
Reprinted with permission of Charisma News Services.