Not really. But that’s what you’d think given some of the headlines.
Nevertheless, they don’t call it the Pew study for nothing: pee-euw! In the past five years, the percentage of Americans who identify as some kind of “Christian” has dropped by 5 percent, from 78% of the population to 73%. If this trend continues, by the year 4050, Christians will be a scant 64% of the population although I may be mistaken about that.
Here’s the chart so you can glean numbers at a glance:
Where did the dip in Christians come from? Protestantism. The most fissiparous ism of them all. Prot self-identifiers fell from 53% to 48%. Way to go, team!
Catholics dropped a percentage point, from 23% of Americans to 22%. Mormons and Eastern Orthodox held steady at 2% and 1% respectively.
The supposedly big story here is the number of “unaffiliated” — which grew from 11.6% to 13.9%. Yet, the overwhelming majority of the Nones are either convinced of the existence of God, or a Higher Power, or at least open to the possibility. So these folks are not to be construed as atheists — whose numbers, by the way, have grown minutely: from 1.6% of Americans to a whopping 2.4%, which is to say, from nothing to next to nothing. You would think they were half the population with all the attention they get.
Tthis chart describes the Unaffiliated/Disaffiliated/Nones in broad categories:
Also worth noting: 45% of the Nones attend worship services weekly, while another 35% attend monthly or annually. Only 18% described their attendance as “never” or “seldom.” (And 1% “didn’t know.” How do you not know? Are you awake? Earth to unaffiliated…)
So we are still a Christian nation to the extent that an overwhelming majority still self-identify as Christian. But we are no longer a Protestant nation. Except that more Americans identify as Protestant than as anything else. So we still kinda are. (Do only 6% of Americans really comprise “Other Faiths”? Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Scientologists, Jedi Knights, and, yes, Zoroastrians?)
To what can we attribute the disaffection from Protestantism? Whom can we blame? There’s always Satan and his minions. And the pope and his minions. And miserable filthy communists and their minions. And then there’s always the freelance minions who just like to cause trouble.
Personally, I blame Flannery O’Connor. Those stories of hers have been scaring off children now for more than half a century.
But do we need a scapegoat, really? Sure, it’s always fun to single out one person or group upon whom we can heap scorn and project our own inadequacies. Who doesn’t like that? But where does it get you in the end? Court dates and soiled khakis.
Perhaps Protestants need to craft a PR campaign before the next Pew Forum study, one that will both attract and retain.
Protestants: Busting Up the Joint Since 1517
Protestants: Protesting Means Never Having to Say You’re Semipelagian
Protestants: The Original Nonconformists
Protestants: No Longer Your Grandfather’s Mayonnaise Sandwich
Protestants: 33,000 Denominations and Counting!