Rachel Zoll of the Associated Press reports on a new study from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life:
For the first time in its history, the United States does not have a Protestant majority, according to a new study. One reason: The number of Americans with no religious affiliation is on the rise.
The percentage of Protestant adults in the U.S. has reached a low of 48 percent, the first time that Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has reported with certainty that the number has fallen below 50 percent. The drop has long been anticipated and comes at a time when no Protestants are on the U.S. Supreme Court and the Republicans have their first presidential ticket with no Protestant nominees.
Among the reasons for the change are the growth in nondenominational Christians who can no longer be categorized as Protestant, and a spike in the number of American adults who say they have no religion. The Pew study, released Tuesday, found that about 20 percent of Americans say they have no religious affiliation, an increase from 15 percent in the last five years.
Michelle Boorstein of The Washington Post says that despite the name that has recently attached to them, “nones” are far from godless.
Many pray, believe in God and have regular spiritual routines.
Their numbers have increased dramatically over the past two decades, according to the study released Tuesday. About 19.6 percent of Americans say they are “nothing in particular,” agnostic or atheist, up from about 8 percent in 1990. One-third of adults under 30 say the same. Pew offered people a list of more than a dozen possible affiliations, including “Protestant,” “Catholic,” “something else” and “nothing in particular.”
Members can be found in all educational and income groups, but they skew heavily in one direction politically: 68 percent lean toward the Democratic Party. That makes the “nones,” at 24 percent, the largest Democratic faith constituency, with black Protestants at 16 percent and white mainline Protestants at 14 percent. By comparison, white evangelicals make up 34 percent of the Republican base.
The report says that 32 percent of the religiously unaffiliated are between the ages of 18-29 and 21 percent are between 30 and 49.
Among the youngest Millennials (those ages 18-22, who were minors in 2007 and thus not eligible to be interviewed in Pew Research Center surveys conducted that year), fully one-third (34%) are religiously unaffiliated, compared with about one-in-ten members of the Silent Generation (9%) and one-in-twenty members of the World War II-era Greatest Generation (5%). Older Millennials (ages 23-30) also are substantially less likely than prior generations to be religiously affiliated.
But generational replacement is not the only factor at play. Generation Xers and Baby Boomers also have become more religiously unaffiliated in recent years. In 2012, 21% of Gen Xers and 15% of Baby Boomers describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated, up slightly (but by statistically significant margins) from 18% and 12%, respectively, since 2007. The trend lines for earlier generations are essentially flat.
In addition, 88 percent of the religiously unaffiliated say they are not “looking for the religion that is right for them. “Nor are the ranks of the unaffiliated predominantly composed of practitioners of New Age spirituality or alternative forms of religion. Generally speaking, the unaffiliated are no more likely than members of the public as a whole to have such beliefs and practices,” the report said.
Among the unaffiliated, 70 percent say that religions are “too focused on money and power,” and 67 percent say that religions are too rule focused and too involved in politics. However, they also believe that religions strengthen bonds of community (78 percent) and play an important role in helping the poor and needy (77 percent), although at lower rates than the general public.
According to the executive summary, two-thirds of Americans, including 63% of the religiously unaffiliated, say religion is losing influence on American life. “A large majority of those who think religion’s influence is on the decline see this as a bad thing. But those who describe their religion as “nothing in particular” are less inclined to view religion’s declining influence as a bad thing. And atheists and agnostics overwhelmingly view religion’s declining influence as a good thing for society.”
Okay, church folks, what do we make of all of this?