Perhaps you’re concerned about the rise of Islam in American life. Or the rising influence of evangelical Christians who express concern about the rise of Islam. It may surprise you to learn that America’s fastest-growing religious demographic is people who just don’t give a shit.
According to a new in-depth study by the Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life, the first such survey since 2007, the popularity of Christianity has plummeted by 8 percent in the United States. At the same time, the share of unaffiliated Americans—those who identify as agnostic, atheist, or “nothing in particular”—has risen sharply, by nearly 7 percentage points. It’s not just a young-people trend; it’s an everybody trend:
While the drop in Christian affiliation is particularly pronounced among young adults, it is occurring among Americans of all ages. The same trends are seen among whites, blacks and Latinos; among both college graduates and adults with only a high school education; and among women as well as men.
Pew’s survey of 35,000 people found that 70.6 percent of Americans still consider themselves Christian, but that’s pretty low, historically speaking. The unaffiliated have jumped up from 16 to 23 percent of America in less than a decade. (The U.S. Muslim population has doubled since 2007, too; it now constitutes a whopping 0.9 percent of Americans.)
Of course, this growing secularization may be news to Americans who see a political landscape dominated by evangelical conservatives and their allies—from Congress to hordes of statehouses to the general acceptance of a Jesus-inflected defense of tax-free capitalism. If their numbers are trending south, why is that the case? Part of the answer is that most of the falloff has come not from born-agains but from aging, upper-crust, non-evangelical, “mainline” denominations of Protestants and Catholics.
Interestingly, the survey found those denominations to be more ethnically diverse and tolerant of intermarriage than ever. In other words, mainline Christians are getting more inclusive and having a hard time holding on to their liberalized adherents as a result. More regimented and conservative evangelical denominations are holding their own—circling the wagons, as it were, against the onslaught of culture.
Religion Dispatches writer Sarah Posner also points out that, “politically speaking, evangelicals, and in particular white evangelicals, have been highly politically organized for decades,” and that trend’s not stopping anytime soon. Those evangelicals can point to the demographic trends as evidence that they need to redouble their efforts in the culture war; depending on where you stand, their cause is either more urgent than ever, or the sound of a prolonged political death rattle.
[Photo credit: AP Images]