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Faith Losing Ground in the U.S.?

A new survey released today has found that the percentage of people who call themselves Christian has dropped more than 11 percent in one generation. The American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) was conducted last year between the months of February and November, and the findings are based on over 54,000 interviews in that time period.

The survey is part of a landmark series by the Program on Public Values at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, and was conducted by Barry Kosmin and Ariela Keysar of Trinity’s Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture. See USA Today and The Christian Post. The study finds that the percentage of people who claim no religion has nearly doubled since 1990. Further, the non-religious population, or “Nones” has shifted away from the Pacific Northwest to Northern New England.

Vermont has become the least religious state in the country with 34 percent of “Nones,” leading all other states by 9 percentage points. Between 1990 and 2008, the Green Mountain State had the largest percentage increase of non-religious people (21 percent), beating out New Hampshire (20 percent), Delaware (16 percent) and Massachusetts (14 percent). “Many people thought our 2001 finding was an anomaly,” Keysar said. “We now know it wasn’t. The ‘Nones’ are the only group to have grown in every state of the Union.” According to the survey, while only 1.6 percent of Americans call themselves atheist or agnostic, a review of their beliefs reveals that 12 percent are deistic and 12 percent are atheist or agnostic. Since the last survey of its kind in 2001, the number of atheists has doubled from 900,000 to 1.6 million. Meanwhile, the number of Christians in the U.S. is declining, and that is attributed to the decline in the non-Catholic segment of the population, including Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopalian/Anglican and United Church of Christ denominations.

In constrast, non-denominational Christians jumped to over 8 million today, which accounts for 11.8 percent of the population today, compared to 5 percent 18 years ago. It also looks like many mainline Protestants are shifting to evangelicalism, since 38.6 percent now call themselves evangelical or born again. “It looks like the two-party system of American Protestantism — mainline versus evangelical — is collapsing,” commented Mark Silk, director of the Public Values Program. “A generic form of evangelicalism is emerging as the normative form of non-Catholic Christianity in the United States.” Here is a graph of how Americans describe their religious identity, 1990 — 2008, courtesy of USA Today:

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