Religious Affiliation Dropping

The big religious news of the day comes from the American Religious Identification Survey 2008 from a group out of Trinity College. The AP put out a story on the results, as did USA Today and other publications.

From the highlights of the survey:

86% of American adults identified as Christians in 1990 and 76% in 2008.

The historic Mainline churches and denominations have experienced the steepest declines while the non-denominational Christian identity has been trending upward particularly since 2001. …

34% of American adults considered themselves “Born Again or Evangelical Christians” in 2008. …

Based on their stated beliefs rather than their religious identification in 2008, 70% of Americans believe in a personal God, roughly 12% of Americans are atheist (no God) or agnostic (unknowable or unsure), and another 12% are deistic (a higher power but no personal God).

The fact that 70 percent of people “believe in a personal God” while 34 percent call themselves evangelical means that the United States continues to be an overwhelmingly Christian nation. If we combine atheists, agnostics, and deists, that totals only 24 percent of the population — a large figure, but one still surpassed by evangelicals.

In Colorado, the only big shift has been for “Nones” (no religion), which has grown from 13 percent to 21 percent from 1990 to 2008. Of course, for those of us interested in politics, the survey results don’t reveal much of the interesting information. Some Christians endorse the separation of church and state; some are more open to political economic and social controls (and those two groups partly overlap).

And the decline of religion does not indicate what is on the rise. What do people believe instead of religion? Some secular philosophies are at least as bad as any popular religion. What is most important is what people believe, not what they don’t believe.