May 13, 2015

Christianity in Decline

Abandoned church at Pilgrim Hot Springs

 The Pew Research Center released their 2014 U.S. Religious Landscape Study to much fanfare this week. You have almost certainly seen the results mentioned on every atheist blog you read and all over every atheist-oriented social media account you follow. The reason the survey has been receiving so much attention is not difficult to understand when one considers the first sentence of Pew's summary of the report:
The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing, according to an extensive new survey by the Pew Research Center.
Yep, the number of adults in the U.S. identifying themselves as Christian decreased by roughly 8% between 2007 and 2014. At the same time, those reporting no religious affiliation increased by about 6%. That sounds like more evidence of progress to me.

The most surprising part of the study, perhaps, was that the decline in those identifying as Christian was not limited to the Millennials we keep hearing so much about (although it was larger there) but was observed across all age groups. Moreover, the decline was evident not just for Whites but also for Blacks and Latinos. Similarly, the decline was observed among both women and men and even showed up across different levels of education.

The increase in those identifying as religiously unaffiliated must be interpreted carefully. Most of these people do not identify themselves as atheists. In fact, only 31% of this group identified themselves as either atheist or agnostic. If we atheists are interested in growing our numbers in the U.S., outreach to this group of religiously unaffiliated persons who do not identify themselves as atheists seems like a good place to start. Of course, the political diversity found among the religiously unaffiliated may require us to be a bit more open to working with those who have varying political orientations than some of us have been up to this point.

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