Nuns vs. “Nones”: God on the Decline in the U.S.


You know how religious conservatives are always nattering on about how America is turning into a society of godless heathens? Turns out, they’re right. The new American Religious Identification Survey shows that Americans identifying themselves as belonging to a religious group is down across the board, with self-identified Christians down 11% in the last 18 years. The change is the greatest in the Northeast and the West, but in all 50 states, Americans saying they have no particular religion are on the rise.

According to today’s release of the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), “despite growth and immigration that has added nearly 50 million adults to the U.S. population, almost all religious denominations have lost ground since the first ARIS survey in 1990,” reports USA Today.


• A whopping 15 percent of those surveyed (up from 1990’s 8 percent) claim no religion at all, making people who don’t subscribe to any formal organized religion the largest category behind Catholics and Baptists. Concludes the report: “The challenge to Christianity … does not come from other religions but from a rejection of all forms of organized religion.”

• Meanwhile, Baptists’ numbers are in decline. In 1990, 19.3 percent of respondents identified as Baptist; the 2008 survey found just 15 percent. “Mainline Protestant denominations, once socially dominant, have seen sharp declines: The percentage of Methodists, for example, dropped from 8% to 5%.”

• American Jews are dwindling. In 1990 just 1.8 percent ticked this box; in 2008, that figure slide to 1.2 percent. The Muslim population, while slim, has doubled — from 0.3 percent in 1990 to 0.6 percent today. “Analysts within both groups [Jews and Muslims] suggest those numbers understate the groups’ populations.”

And as for the Catholics:

Catholic strongholds in New England and the Midwest have faded as immigrants, retirees and young job-seekers have moved to the Sun Belt. While bishops from the Midwest to Massachusetts close down or consolidate historic parishes, those in the South are scrambling to serve increasing numbers of worshipers. […]

Anger and dismay over the clergy sexual abuse scandal, which erupted in Boston in 2002, may be reflected in declining rates of Catholics across New England. But the total percentage of Catholics in the USA declined only slightly from 1990 to 2008, from 26.2% to 25.1%. Analysts say immigration and other demographic shifts account for most of the changes.

“It’s not that everyone in New England lost their Catholic faith since 1990. It’s not the same people in New England,” says sociologist Mary Gautier, senior researcher at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, the research arm of the Catholic Church in America.

Membership in New England’s Catholic churches is shrinking as older Catholics have died or moved to sunnier climates. Young adults are choosing non-Catholic partners, having civil weddings and skipping baptism for their babies. And those moving in to areas served by the churches are young adults who often find their communities of work and friendship online, not in parish halls.

Read Queerty‘s analysis on how this shift in New England affects gay rights.