American Religious Trends: Decline of Non-Christian Faiths?

THE percentage of Americans who identify as “Christian” declined between 2007 and 2014. What’s happened with other religions? Have they declined as well?

This week, we’ve examined the end-of-religion theme that has accompanied the release of Pew’s report on the American Religious Landscape. We considered whether there’s a seismic shift in the landscape, or the headlines are just journalistic hyperbole, the fact that some Christian groups are growing, how most of the religiously unaffiliated say “nothing in particular” when asked to describe their religion, and that many of the unaffiliated actually do have religious and spiritual beliefs. Today, we consider the fates of non-Christian religions.

Click this Pew graphic to read the entire report.

Click this Pew graphic to read the entire report.

Non-Christian faiths are small minorities in America. But many grew during the same period that Christian faiths declined.

About 1.7% of the American population identified as Jewish in 2007, growing to 1.9% in 2007. Not a big change, but it’s statistically significant.

Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus are even smaller minority religions. But Muslims and Hindus increased as percentages of the American population between 2007 and 2014. Buddhists were stable.

Overall, minority faiths increased from 4.7% of the American population in 2007 to 5.9% now. Pew notes that they may have underestimated this numbers, since their survey was conducted only in English and Spanish.

Are you surprised at the growth of non-Christian religions?

Does the decline in Christians as a percentage of the American population signal the end of Christianity?

What’s your conclusion about the changing American religious landscape?

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American Religious Trends: Are the unaffiliated really unreligious?

THE “end of religion” is a newsy theme that the new Pew survey on religious trends has given new momentum. A key finding, heralded in the media, is the rising number of Americans who indicate “none” when asked about their religious affiliations. What can we learn about the meaning of “none”?

In 2007, 16.1% of American adults self-identified as religiously unaffiliated. In 2014, 22.8% indicated the same. From Pew’s study, we know that many of the “nones” are young adults: over a third of Millennials say they do not affiliate with a specific religion. As these unaffiliated Millennials replace the religiously affiliated older generations, prognosticators predict the end of religion in America.

Click this Pew graphic to read the entire report.

Click this Pew graphic to read the entire report.

How accurate is this prediction? Often lost in the headlines about the decline of religions, Pew’s report also says: “many people who are unaffiliated with a religion believe in God, pray at least occasionally, and think of themselves as spiritual people.” Affiliation with religious institutions may persist, but it doesn’t seem like the unaffiliated are unreligious.

“The ‘nones’ are ‘someones’ in [our] vibrant U.S. religious landscape,” writes David Briggs.   His conclusion? “The end is not near for religion in America—or elsewhere in the world.”

Briggs reports on a recent symposium at Baylor University, “The End of Religion.” There, scholars cited evidence that the world may be more religious now than it was a century ago. And, America is the same: few Americans were church members at the time of the American Revolution, and the “churching” of America has increased ever since. The only deviation was a drop after the Civil War.

The problem might be the surveys themselves. As a survey researcher, this is an issue of which I am keenly aware. Survey questionnaires tend to be conservative—not in the political sense, but in the sense that they lag behind contemporary changes in how people think and believe when it comes to religion. Maybe surveys are clumsily capturing what Briggs calls “a reordering of beliefs and practices in younger generations.”

Are we witnessing the “end of religion” in America?

Or, is this a time of change, dynamism, and exploration?

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American Religious Trends: Is “nothing in particular” your religion?

WHAT is the fastest growing religious category in America?

It’s the religiously unaffiliated, also called the “nones” because they check the “none of the above” box when asked to choose from a list of religious affiliations. But “none” is a vague designation. What does it really mean?

The religiously unaffiliated category grew from 16.1% of the American adult population in 2007 to 22.8% in 2014, according to Pew’s new survey. More than two of ten Americans now say they do not have an affiliation with an established religion.

Some of the “nones” are atheists. They disbelieve in God. Only 1.6% of the adult American population claimed to be atheists in 2007. This group almost doubled by 2014 to 3.1%.

Click this Pew graphic to read the entire report.

Click this Pew graphic to read the entire report.

Some of the “nones” are agnostic. Agnostics don’t believe or disbelieve in God. Agnostics outnumber atheists. In 2007, 2.4% of American adults claimed to be agnostic. This figure rose to 4.0% 7 years later.

Most “nones” say “nothing in particular” when asked to describe their religion. In 2007, 12.1 of American adults said “nothing in particular,” which rose to 15.8% in 2014.

 Is “nothing in particular” your religion?

Is the rise of the religiously unaffiliated good, bad, or indifferent for American society?

Do atheists and agnostics have a place in American society?

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American Religious Trends: Are any Christian groups growing?

Pew Research Center study of America's Changing Religious Landscape

CLICK either of these Pew charts to read the full Pew report.

The overall number of Americans who self-identify as “Christian” decreased from 178.1 million in 2007 to 172.8 million in 2014, according to Pew’s survey of the American Religious Landscape.

Not all Christian groups are shrinking, however. Which ones are growing? The answer depends on how you look at it.

Mainline Protestants and Catholics have experienced the biggest declines from 2007 to 2014. As a share of all American adults, mainline Protestants have decreased by 3.4 percentage points and Catholics by 3.1 percentage points.

Evangelical Protestants are growing in absolute numbers, according to Pew. The number of Evangelical Protestants has increased from 59.8 million adults in 2007 to 62.2 million in 2014. As a percentage of all American adults, however, this still represents a small decline. Evangelical Protestants were 26.3% of American adults in 2007, but now are 25.4%.

Pew Research Center study of America's Changing Religious LandscapeThe number of adults in historically Black Protestant traditions is up slightly from 15.7 to 15.9 million. As a share of the American population, there hasn’t been any change. (The percentages are within the margin of error.)

Other Christian groups—such as Orthodox Christians, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witness—have been stable over the 7-year period.

If we look at absolute numbers, one Christian group is clearly growing: Evangelical Protestants. But if we look at shares of the adult population, no Christian group grew since 2007.

Looking at these facts and figures, are Christians in America on a long-term trend toward oblivion?

Or, are these facts and figures simply indicators of shifting religious preferences?

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American Religious Trends: Seismic shift—or hyperbole?

Newspaper headlines about Pew religion research

CLICK this graphic to read religion scholar Peter Manseau’s commentary on the Pew report in Sunday’s New York Times.

Are American Christians doomed?

If you read the headlines, that’s what many reports imply about the just-released Pew survey on the American religious landscape.

Join us this week as we discuss various findings and their interpretations from this historic survey of the American Religious Landscape. As a sociologist, I invite you to read along, Monday through Friday—and share this series with friends for discussion.

Here are two provocative questions, sure to get a lively discussion started:

Is there a seismic shift in America’s religious landscape?

Or, is it journalistic hyperbole?

And, here are a few of the headlines in recent days:

In a sense, all of these headlines are correct—there is a national shift in people who are willing to identify with the “Christian” label. In 2007, 78.4% of Americans self-identified as Christian. In 2014, 70.6% of Americans said the same, according to Pew’s massive survey of the American Religious Landscape. Mainline Protestants, Catholics, and Evangelical Protestants all experienced declines and the percentage of religiously unaffiliated Americans increased from 16.1% to 22.8%. Much of the decline occurred among young Americans, though decreases were evident throughout the age pyramid.

These are significant changes, to be sure, but how substantial are they?

America remains hugely Christian, overall, and declines among young adults are trends that always are with us. Pew notes in its Overview that “the United States remains home to more Christians that any other country in the world, and a large majority of Americans—roughly seven-in-ten—continue to identify with some branch of the Christian faith.”

Yet the headlines in the media—and the coverage itself—imply that Christianity is “over.” Could it be that what’s actually happening is historic and dramatic, but more of a case of Americans redefining what the “Christian” identifier actually means?

Join us this week as we discuss various findings and their interpretations from this historic survey of the American Religious Landscape. For now, consider these questions:

What do you make of the shift in the percentage of Americans who self-identify as Christian?
Is a seismic shift taking place, or are reports of the end of Christianity just journalistic hyperbole?

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Why Bad Roads Are Good For Us, Part 5: Smaller Government?

Kathleen Gray story in the Detroit Free Press on Republican plans to fix roads

CLICK this snapshot from Kathleen Gray’s Detroit Free Press story to read her entire report.

Is our conundrum about bad roads really a stealth plan to shrink the size of government?

If we don’t fund road repair by raising taxes, state and local governments would have to take money from other programs, such as education and social services. Some think this was the plan all along, with the ultimate goal of smaller government.

Do you agree?

This week, we’ve taken a contrarian view about our bad roads—that they may actually be good for us. We started with the psychological principle that failure to address something we continually complain about implies that the issue serves some function. Bad roads are good for us because the topic is a great cultural unifier, adversity builds character, we may exercise more, and we hone our driving skills.

Today, we consider what Michiganders think about the theory of a stealth plan to reduce the size of government. It’s a timely question because Detroit Free Press writer Kathleen Gray has just reported: “A Republican plan to fix the roads depends heavily on future growth in the state economy, as well as a shifting of restricted funds and taking money away from the working poor.” Such a proposal has a long way to go before it is enacted, but Republicans do dominate our state’s government at the moment.

What do Michigan residents think? The majority of Michigan voters don’t want to use the road problem as a way to shrink government, according to an analysis reported in Bridge Magazine from The Center for Michigan. In their words, “Michigan residents who participated in an Epic-MRA poll in April said that they were against cuts to education, social services and revenue sharing to local governments to pay for road repairs. A majority of Michigan residents are willing to pay more for better roads, according to the findings of community conversations and polls conducted by The Center for Michigan.”

Are you willing to pay more for better roads?
At the end of our week, do you agree or disagree that bad roads are good for us?

Talk with friends …

The OurValues project is designed to spark healthy, civil discussion on tough issues related to our values. We invite readers to share these columns to spark civil discussion. You’re free to print out this column or share it via email or on social media.

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Why Bad Roads Are Good For Us, Part 4: Better Driving Skills?

Test of a Google Driverless Car

A human still sits inside this Google “driverless” car as it navigates a test course.

Defensive driving is defined as “driving to save lives, time, and money, in spite of the conditions around you and the actions of others.” Those conditions include our bad roads.

Can driving bad roads make us better defensive drivers?

The National Safety Council developed its first defensive driving course in 1964 and now offers a wide range of courses online and onsite to improve knowledge and skills. We all know that there’s no teacher like experience. Many hours behind the wheel, navigating many different conditions, make many people better drives. Navigating bad roads make us better defensive drivers, but the jury is still out on that—I don’t know of any rigorous studies on the topic.

Driverless cars may be the answer, based on a study of Google’s autonomous cars in Nevada and California. Their conclusion: “Data gathered from Google’s self-driving Prius and Lexus cars shows that they are safer and smoother when steering themselves than when a human takes the wheel.”

Bring the driverless cars to Michigan, I say—that’s where the real test would be!

Do bad roads make us better defensive drivers?

How would Google’s autonomous vehicles do on the streets in your area?

What do your friends think?

The OurValues project is designed to spark healthy, civil discussion on tough issues related to our values. You’re free to print out this column or share it via email or on social media. Remember: Your opinion matters!

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