The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has released its annual U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, and it shows that Americans tend to be exiting mainstream denominations and either joining non-denominational churches or becoming unaffiliated altogether. The survey was based upon data collected from over 35,000 respondents during the period May 8th through August 13th, 2007. National stories published by the Christian Science Monitor, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and CNN. Updated 7:48 P.M. MST to include link to Salt Lake Tribune story.
Click HERE to view the entire 143-page report in PDF format.
In summary, the report shows that more than one-quarter of American adults (28%) have left the faith in which they were raised in favor of another religion - or no religion at all. If change in affiliation from one type of Protestantism to another is included, 44% of adults have either switched religious affiliation, moved from being unaffiliated with any religion to being affiliated with a particular faith, or dropped any connection to a specific religious tradition altogether.
The survey finds that the number of people who say they are unaffiliated with any particular faith today (16.1%) is more than double the number who say they were not affiliated with any particular religion as children. Among Americans ages 18-29, one-in-four say they are not currently affiliated with any particular religion.
In addition, the survey confirms that the United States is on the verge of becoming a minority Protestant country; the number of Americans who report that they are members of Protestant denominations now stands at barely 51%. Moreover, the Protestant population is characterized by significant internal diversity and fragmentation, encompassing hundreds of different denominations loosely grouped around three fairly distinct religious traditions - evangelical Protestant churches (26.3% of the overall adult population), mainline Protestant churches (18.1%) and historically black Protestant churches (6.9%). The survey also shows that Catholicism is becoming more of an immigrant religion, with immigrants now accounting for 46% of its U.S. adherents. Immigrants are also disproportionately represented among several world religions in the U.S., including Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism.
The U.S. also includes a significant number of members of the third major branch of global Christianity - Orthodoxy - whose adherents now account for 0.6% of the U.S. adult population. American Christianity also includes sizeable numbers of Mormons (1.7% of the adult population), Jehovah's Witnesses (0.7%) and other Christian groups (0.3%). Jews constitute 1.7% of the population.
Some additional highlights of interest:
- Men are significantly more likely than women to claim no religious affiliation. Nearly one-in-five men say they have no formal religious affiliation, compared with roughly 13% of women.
- Among people who are married, nearly four-in-ten (37%) are married to a spouse with a different religious affiliation. (This figure includes Protestants who are married to another Protestant from a different denominational family, such as a Baptist who is married to a Methodist.) Hindus and Mormons are the most likely to be married (78% and 71%, respectively) and to be married to someone of the same religion (90% and 83%, respectively).
- Mormons and Muslims are the groups with the largest families; 21% of Mormon adults and 15% of Muslim adults in the U.S. have three or more children living at home.
- Regional highlights: The Midwest most closely resembles the religious makeup of the overall population. The South, by a wide margin, has the heaviest concentration of members of evangelical Protestant churches. The Northeast has the greatest concentration of Catholics, and the West has the largest proportion of unaffiliated people, including the largest proportion of atheists and agnostics.
- Of all the major racial and ethnic groups in the United States, black Americans are the most likely to report a formal religious affiliation. Even among those blacks who are unaffiliated, three-in-four belong to the "religious unaffiliated" category (that is, they say that religion is either somewhat or very important in their lives), compared with slightly more than one-third of the unaffiliated population overall.
- Jehovah's Witnesses have the lowest retention rate of any religious tradition. Only 37% of all those who say they were raised as Jehovah's Witnesses still identify themselves as Jehovah's Witnesses.
Commentary: It appears that people are turning away from the excessive denominationalism which has characterized the organized religious environment in the past. Many denominations have previously not only claimed that they were the only "true" denomination, but that all others were evil.
This is increasingly - and fortunately - being rejected in favor of a more includive worldview in which all religions have differing degrees of truth, just as the stars in the sky have different magnitudes. This is a useful change, so long as it doesn't lead to outright syncretism. For example, the Bible clearly states that Jesus Christ is the only road to salvation - no exceptions or exclusions. But the Bible doesn't proclaim a particular denomination as the only true church. Consequently, as Joseph Smith was once quoted as saying, a man could worship a little white dog if he wanted to, so long as he bowed the knee and confessed the tongue that Jesus is the Christ.
And this indicates that Jews can remain Jews and still accept Jesus. The irrational Jewish hostility towards Jesus Christ must cease if we are to reduce religious ferment. And Muslims must de-politicize Islam if they want to reduce the incentive for anti-Muslim bigotry.