Is the trend irreversible?
A new study has taken a closer look at data reported earlier this year by Trinity College in its American Religious Identification Survey 2008, and it shows that Americans who claim no religious affiliation are, on average, more likely to be male, younger, living in the West and politically independent. The new report also finds that most of those who claim no religion don’t have antagonism toward religion but “embrace philosophical and theological beliefs that reflect skepticism.” Only 7 percent of those in the no-religion camp identify themselves as atheists, and 27 percent say they believe in a personal God. However, the numbers do not bode well for organized religion. The initial survey estimates that as of 2008, there were 34 million adult "nones” in this country, a huge increase from 1990, when the figure was 14 million. The people who have no religious ties now account for 15 percent of the American population. I'm not sure when the last time was that the country saw an increase in the percentage of the population with links to organized religion, but I'm guessing it’s been a long, long time. And I have to wonder whether we are amid a slow, inexorable shift to a point at which there will be more non-religious folks than church folks in this country. In fact, the Trinity College study projects that about one-quarter of the U.S. population could be unaffiliated with religion within two decades. I have two questions: Why has the desire to embrace organized religion dropped so precipitously over the past 20 years? And, what can the major religions do, if anything, to reverse the trend?