Is America in a Religious Identity Crisis?

Is America in a Religious Identity Crisis?

In 2008 a survey was conducted by Barry A. Kosmin and Ariela Keysar of Trinity College of Hartford, Connecticut.  Results of this American Religious Identity Survey (ARIS 2008) were released in 2009. The researcher’s conclusions were based on random phone calls in the 48 contiguous United States where they spoke to more than 54,000 willing respondents in either English or Spanish. The primary question they asked was simple and open-ended; “What is your religion, if any?” The researchers then compared the 2008 results to earlier surveys made in 1990 and 2001.

Here are a few of the main highlights (the full Summary Report of the survey is available online at ) .
The number of American adults identifying themselves as Christians (by any definition) was down from 86% in 1990 to 76% in 2008.
1.    Those identifying themselves as “none” (no religious preference) nearly doubled from 8.2% in 1990 to 15% in 2008.
2.    70% of Americans said they believed in a personal God, 12% were atheistic or agnostic, and 12% were deistic (no personal God).
3.    A few other significant 2008 percentage results as compared to 1990 were as follows:
a.    25.1 % – Catholic (down from 26.2%)
b.    15.8% – Baptist (of any kind) – (down from 19.8%)
c.    12.9% – Mainline Christian (down from 18.7%)
d.    14.2% – Christian Generic (down from 14.8%)
e.    3.5% – Pentecostal/Charismatic (up from 3.2%)
f.    1.4% – Mormon/Latter Day Saints (no change)
g.    .8% – Jehovah’s Witnesses (no change)
h.    .6% – Muslim (up from .3%)
i.    1.2% – Religious Jewish (down from 1.8%)

These results revealed much about the current religious landscape of our nation and the changing trends over the past two decades . Unfortunately, the trends are not good with fewer people identifying themselves as Christians in any sense of the word.   In 1990 about 86% of Americans called themselves Christians. In 2008 it had dropped 10 full percentage points.

Perhaps the most telling statistic was the dramatic increase in the “nones” category (and we’re not talking about ladies who wear big-brimmed hats).  About one-sixth of all Americans claim no religious identification at all.  The number of outright atheists and agnostics is up to nearly one-eighth of the population. Altogether about one-third of Americans either don’t believe in a personal God, don’t know, or don’t care.

The study also showed the shrinking impact of some major denominations.  The percentages of those calling themselves Catholics, Baptists, mainline Christian (Protestant), or generic Christian (nondenominational) all decreased. The only Christian designation that increased was among Pentecostals/Charismatics.

Two unorthodox groups that managed to maintain their American population percentages were the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  It is well known in both cases, however, though not discussed in the survey, that those two cult’s greatest growth in the past two decades have been outside of the United States.

Perhaps the most dramatic increase shown by the survey was among Muslims. The percentage of those claiming Islam as their faith, though still relatively small, has more than doubled in the past two decades. No doubt increased immigration from predominantly Muslim countries along with some American converts has contributed to the growth.

The percentage of those identifying themselves as religious Jewish also dropped considerably. This may mean that the decades-long trend of ethnic Jews distancing themselves from religious faith has continued in recent years.   It’s a bit ironic that many Jewish leaders get alarmed when young Jewish people accept Jesus as their Messiah, yet they express little or no concern about the far greater number of their people who abandon all faith.

So what’s the bottom line? Just that  America continues to slide into secularism and lostness.  The Christian worldview has lost its grip on American society.  As Evangelicals, obviously we must recover our zeal for evangelism.  We also need to teach our people (especially children and youth) why Christian belief is intellectually reasonable and how adequately to engage those of other faiths (or no faith) and worldviews with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

© 2012 Tal Davis