Saturday, October 19, 2019

The Latest Update on America's Religious Decline

The latest Pew Research Center update on America's religious decline appeared last week - ironically just in time for World Mission Sunday! What seems so striking about this latest study is both the fact of the decline of Christianity in the United States and the rapidity of that process, both of which suggest a significant transformation of American society and its political culture - significantly transformed from the way American religiosity was widely seen just a decade or two ago as different from the secularization so evident elsewhere.

According to this latest study, 65% of American adults describe themselves as Christians - down 12% from a decade ago. Simultaneously, the religiously unaffiliated are now 26% - up from 17% a decade ago. The Christian decline applies to both Protestantism and Catholicism. Protestants are now 43% - down from 51% a decade ago. Catholics are now 20% - down from 23%. The data also show that rates of church attendance are declining, just like rates of religious affiliation - something significant enough to be noticeable in our weekly attendance statistics. The Pew Study suggests that this reflects not so much Christians attending Church less often as fewer Christians as a share of the American population.

Meanwhile only 22% of Millennials attend weekly services, while another 22% say they never attend.

Particularly ominous is the news that 47% of American Hispanics now describe themselves as Catholics - down from 57% a decade ago. Meanwhile the religiously unaffiliated share of Hispanics is now 23% - up from 15% a decade ago.

Also the religious gender gap, while still real, has diminished, and the share of women who identify as Christians has dropped from 80% to 69%. 

Geographically, the pattern holds in all four regions of the U.S. In the Northeast, Catholics have dropped from 36% to 27%. In the South, Protestants have declined from 64% to 53%. Politically, "nones" and infrequent churchgoers are growing in both political parties, although more evidently so in the Democratic party. Among white Democrats, fewer than half claim to be Christians, more than 40% are "nones," and just 30% regularly attend religious services. Of course, Blacks and Hispanics - key Democratic constituencies - remain more likely to identify as Christians, although they too seem less so.

However sobering, such statistics are really not so surprising. Much more research needs to be done to explain these phenomena in fuller detail. Even so, to paraphrase Marx, having understood the phenomenon, the task now is to change it.

(Photo: Pew Study Cover Photo Sungjin Ahn photography/Getty Images)

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