Religious Groups Losing Members, Atheists Gaining

An article posted today on USA Today cites the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) that will be released today. The statistic we're most interested in, 8% of Americans surveyed claimed no religion in 1990; 18 years later the response is up at 15%.

Now only Catholics and Baptists are higher percentage-wise; and Baptists just barely at 15.8%. Even the 'generic Christian' group only ranked 14.2%.

It appears that the ARIS has taken the largest sampling ever asking the questions about religion. So although we all know surveys don't tell the whole story; the larger the sampling, the more accurate we can assume it to be.

Barry Kosmin (the survey co-author) says "religion has become more like a fashion statement, not a deep personal commitment for many." He also attributes more "no religion" responses to previous surveys published indicating a growth in agnostic or atheist views; people feeling they are less likely to be "looked upon as outcasts."

Congratulations to Vermont (the highest percentage), where 34% answered "none" when asked "What is your religious identity?"

How Americans describe their religious identity, 1990 — 2008:
Religious tradition 2008 estimate (in millions) Estimated % of population 1990 Estimated % of population 2008 Change
Catholic 57.2 26.2% 25.1% -1.1%
Baptist 36.1 19.3% 15.8% -3.5%
No religion 34.2 8.2% 15.0% 6.8%
Christian, generic 32.4 14.8% 14.2% -0.6%
Mainline Protestant 29.4 18.7% 12.9% -5.8%
Don't Know/Refused 11.8 2.3% 5.2% 2.9%
Pentecostal/Charismatic 8.0 3.2% 3.5% 0.3%
Protestant denominations 7.1 2.6% 3.1% 0.5%
Mormon/latter-day Saints 3.2 1.4% 1.4% 0.0%
Jewish 2.7 1.8% 1.2% -0.6%
New movements (such as Wiccan), other religions 2.8 0.8% 1.2% 0.4%
Eastern religions 2.0 0.4% 0.9% 0.5%
Muslim 1.4 0.3% 0.6% 0.3%
Note: "Catholic" includes Roman, Greek and Eastern Rite Catholics. Christian generic includes non-denominational, unspecified Christian and Protestant, evangelical/born-again. Protestant denominations includes Churches of Christ, Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh-day Adventist.

Source: American Religious Identification Survey 2008, based on 54,000 interviews in 2008, margin of error +/- 0.5 percentage points.

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Tags: america-athiest, american-non-believers, american-religion, atheist-growth, religion-survey

Comment by Johnny on March 9, 2009 at 2:02pm
Something about the USA Today link creates some weird corruption in the HTML, so here is the link: http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2009-03-09-american-religion-ARIS_N.htm
Comment by AtypicalAtheist on March 9, 2009 at 2:15pm
We need to be careful of who we embrace. It wouldn't be a good idea to embrace everyone simply because they aren't religious or are atheists. With more people coming to atheism, many more atheists will be complete idiots devoid of any original or profound thoughts, sheep like everyone else. Sheep that don't believe in God are still sheep.
Comment by James on March 9, 2009 at 3:49pm
Very good point AA. This has to be viewed as a step in the right direction though. Sure, there will be toughs that become Atheist to rebel or be trendy. But I'd like to think that it's an inevitable step for mankind to step out of the shadows. I would have to think that the percentage of 'fad' Atheists would be lower than Christians who never actually read most or all of the bible, though.

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