Freedom From Religion Foundation - Valley of the Sun Chapter Message Board › Article about religious affiliation
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Fewer in U.S. profess a religious affiliation
by Cathy Lynn Grossman - Oct. 9, 2012 12:10 AM
For decades, America's majority religious brand has been "Protestant." No more.
In the 1960s, two in three Americans called themselves Protestant. Now, the Protestant group -- both evangelical and mainline -- has slid below the statistical waters, down to 48 percent from 53 percent in 2007.
Where did the Protestants go? Nowhere, actually. They didn't switch to a new religious brand, they just let go of any faith affiliation or label.
The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released an analytic study today, "Nones on the Rise," that shows one in five Americans (19.3 percent) now claims no religious identity. That's up from 15.3 percent in 2007.
This group, called "nones," is now the nation's next-largest category after Catholics and outnumbers the top Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptists. The shift is a significant cultural, religious and even political change.
Count former Southern Baptist Chris Dees, 26, in this culture shift.
He grew up Baptist in the most religious state in the United States: Mississippi.
By the time he went off to college for mechanical engineering, "I just couldn't make sense of it anymore," Dees said. Now, he's a leader of the Secular Student Alliance chapter at Mississippi State and calls himself an atheist.
One in three (32 percent) nones is under age 30 and unlikely to age into claiming a religion, Pew Forum senior researcher Greg Smith said.
The new study points out that today's Millennials are more unaffiliated than any young generation ever has been when it was younger.
Rise of the 'nones'
"The rise of the nones is a milestone in a long-term trend," Smith said.
"People's religious beliefs, and the religious groups they associate with, play an important role in shaping their worldviews, their outlook in life and certainly in politics and elections."
Updated figures for Arizona are not available, but statistics from other sources suggest Arizona has been under 50 percent Protestant for some time, while the numbers of non-churchgoers have been growing.
According to the last U.S. Religious Landscape Survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, in 2008, Protestants made up 40 percent of the Arizona population; Catholics, 25 percent; and unaffiliated people, 22 percent.
A separate survey, the 2010 Religious Census taken by the Association of Religion Data Archives, places the numbers in 2010 at 14.8 percent Protestant, 14.6 percent Catholic and a staggering 62.7 percent as "unclaimed."
The Pew report interviews more than 35,000 adults, while the ARDA report gets its information from 236 religious bodies.
According to ARDA, the total number of religious adherents has been below 50 percent in Arizona since at least 1980, the first census year for which ARDA collected numbers.
Bjorn Peterson, director of the Arizona Ecumenical Council, says there are several reasons for the Protestant decline: the changing nature of immigrants, a decentralization of society and differences among Protestant groups.
"As the immigrant population over the last quarter-century or so has become more globally representative, so too has the religious heritage of those migrants," Peterson said.
Some Protestant groups emphasize proselytizing and conversion to Christianity, many others do not. As a result, the number of new members does not grow.
The Rev. Eileen Lindner is a Presbyterian pastor and editor of the "Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches."
She observed, "We are still twice as likely to be affiliated with a religion than Europeans, but there is strong evidence that our religious institutions, as we configured them in past centuries, are playing a less significant role in American life."
The Rev. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptists Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., sees a welcome clarity in the report, even if he didn't like the picture.
"Today, there's no shame in saying you're an unbeliever, no cultural pressure to claim a religious affiliation, no matter how remote or loose," Mohler said. "This is a wake-up call. We have an incredible challenge ahead for committed Christians."
The Rev. Martin Marty, a historian of religion and professor emeritus of the University of Chicago, has long thought that religious cohesion "has long been overstated."
"The difference is now we have names for groups like
Republic reporter Michael Clancy contributed to this article.