When A Religion Dies

The two religious groups with the largest influence over our domestic policy continue to die:

The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing, according to an extensive new survey by the Pew Research Center. Moreover, these changes are taking place across the religious landscape, affecting all regions of the country and many demographic groups. While the drop in Christian affiliation is particularly pronounced among young adults, it is occurring among Americans of all ages. The same trends are seen among whites, blacks and Latinos; among both college graduates and adults with only a high school education; and among women as well as men.


The drop in the Christian share of the population has been driven mainly by declines among mainline Protestants and Catholics. Each of those large religious traditions has shrunk by approximately three percentage points since 2007. The evangelical Protestant share of the U.S. population also has dipped, but at a slower rate, falling by about one percentage point since 2007.

Not coincidentally, these are the two groups who have been screaming the loudest over domestic issues like education, marriage equality, abortion, and women’s access to birth control. These are the people who sued over the Obamacare birth control mandate. These are the people trying to exert even more influence over our state legislatures and federal government.

Of course they are dying. This flurry of activity in the public arena is a symptom of a dying religion. They are trying to regain their influence over American public life through legislative activity, because they are losing the battle on the cultural front.

This is what happens when a religion dies. And this chart should send shudders through the Republican Party, so closely intertwined with the Christian/evangelical faith that the two are practically indistinguishable. Unaffiliated, up 6.7% in the past seven years. That’s atheists, agnostics and “nothing in particulars.” Non-Christians, up 1.2% in the past seven years. That’s Muslims, Hindus and “other.” Christians, down 7.8% in the past seven years.

These are the trends, and I don’t seem them reversing any time soon.


Filed under religion, religious right

29 responses to “When A Religion Dies

  1. Jim in Memphis

    “The drop in the Christian share of the population has been driven mainly by declines among mainline Protestants and Catholics.” What other Christian denominations are there besides Protestant and Catholic?

    • It said “mainline Protestants” not “Protestants.”

      There are a gazillion types of Protestants.

    • If you would follow the link, you would see that they have Christianity broken down into Protestant (further subdivided into Evangelical, Mainline, and Historically black), Catholic, Orthodox Christian, Mormon, Jehovah’s Witness, and “Other Christian”.

      • Interestingly, they listed Unitarian Universalist under “Other Faiths.” LOL.

      • I don’t think it’s unreasonable to list UUs under “Other Faiths”. My grandfather was a UU, and I got a lot more of an other faith vibe than a Christian one. My brother likes to tell the story of going to services with my grandfather and hearing somebody complain afterward about their minister (or whatever she was called) using “the G word”.

  2. hamletta

    Mainline Protestants aren’t the ones doing the screaming, because they’re the Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists, etc. So the whole premise here is wrong.

    • That is, sadly, correct. The decline is among the more centrist and even liberal denominations more than among the evangelicals. They seem to be staying steady — and please remember that it is a rule that the more fundie a group is — Christian, Jewish, or Muslim — the larger families they have, so they may not be dropping off as much over all.

      And one other thing about any type of survey — it is limited by the characteristics of the people you can get to take the time to answer. (That’s why tv ratings ‘skew old.’ Older people are more likely to have the time to answer a 20 minute survey to qualify, and to watch tv in the ‘old-fashioned way’ — watching shows when they are broadcast, spending most of their time with the broadcast channels, etc. I refused to participate in one myself because it had no relation to the way my wife and I actually watch tv, taping everything but sports and news and watching them depending on our mood at the time and not caring whether it is within the ‘live plus 3 days’ or ‘live plus a week’ windows. In fact, I am more likely to watch a show I only moderately enjoy — or one I am watching destroy itself, like the parody THE GOOD WIFE has become — sooner than a show I really enjoy, like NCIS, (possibly the best use of the tv medium of any drama series I’ve seen in 60 years of watching tv) because I want to be in the mood to enjoy the better show and not merely be looking for a time filler.)

      Sorry for wandering, back to my point. I believe the survey you quote is somewhat accurate, but I am always suspicious of surveys that show the younger generation as far more liberal-atheist-pro GLBTQ than anyone else. Maybe it is so — though remember that the horrible oldsters (my age) that everyone wants to ‘hurry up and die and get out of the way’ — yes, I’ve heard progressives say just that — are the group that happened to be the same people who marched with Martin and made Stonewall into a national idea.

      But — to FINALLY get to my point — the group that is being ignored and uncounted is the ‘homeschooled generation’ (referring to religious homeschooling) and something tells me that they are far too paranoid to let themselves be counted by some anonymous telephone voice. But they do show up, knuckle-dragging and fire-breathing, at the polls.

    • Catholics are the ones who sued over the birth control mandate and gays. If that’s not a “scream” I don’t know what is. And the screamers (fundiegelicals) are declining, too. So no, the whole premise here isn’t, in fact, wrong.

      • hamletta

        Actually, yeah, you’re still wrong. Catholic bishops were screaming, sure. The pew-warmers, not so much.

      • How am I wrong here? Plaintiffs in the lawsuit over the birth control mandate included Freshway Foods (Catholic), Feltl and Company (Catholic), Annex Medical, Inc. (Catholic), SMA, LLC, (Catholic), American Mfg Co. (Catholic), Doboszenski & Sons (Catholic), Stinson Electric (Catholic), etc etc etc. These are private employers, not bishops. And if the “pew warmers” really don’t care about birth control and gay marriage then maybe that’s why they’re leaving their religion in droves. I don’t really see your point.

      • @hamletta,

        I think you’re missing SBs point. Hearing the bishops screaming about gays and birth control is exactly what’s driving parishioners out of those pews. People don’t want to go to church to hear stuff that’s totally out of touch with their lives.

      • Well also, the more I think about it, the more I realized that having Catholic institutions file lawsuits on cultural issues EXACTLY proves my point. Which is, they are reacting to their waning cultural relevance by turning to legislative and judicial solutions. They are, in fact, trying to legislate a religious doctrine that they’ve been unable to sell their “pew warmers” doctrinally. Or as I wrote back in the beginning of this whole charade:

        “… what we really have here is the Catholic church using the United States government to enforce a doctrine it has been unable to get its followers to abide by on its own.”

        And perhaps people are voting with their feet.

      • Of course they’re also trying to legislate their religious doctrine for all of the non-Catholics, as well as their own parishioners. While you wouldn’t think that trying to affect people outside their faith would have much effect on their popularity, it actually does. Lots of people change faiths or denominations at least once in their lives, and making a public ass of yourself isn’t going to help convert the unbelievers.

      • Right, and people who aren’t Catholic are certainly employed in places like Freshway Foods and even at Catholic schools and universities. It’s a sign of the whole “individual liberty” thing — “I’m not a Catholic, just because I work for a Catholic, why should I have to pay more for my health insurance? Screw that shit, I’ll work somewhere else and also, I think your religion is a bunch of intolerant BS.”

      • 1%. LOL. And a generation ago the Democrats had 50-50 of these guys. Now they hate your guts and are replacing themselves at a decent clip. Their kids will vote 89% of the time statistically like their parents.

        White liberals going bye bye. Your pets can’t vote. Your Starbuck or indie coffee can’t vote. Your downtown condo can’t vote.

        I guess you see what you want to see.


      • Nice little stereotype you have there, too bad it’s not true. As this survey you are so desperate to ignore proves. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Enjoy your increasing cultural irrelevance. Buh-bye, white conservatives clinging to your guns, religion and pickup trucks. #SeeWhatIDidThere #TwoCanPlayTheStereotypeGame

  3. And while I agree, SB, I believe that former life-long Republicans have become so sickened and embarrassed by the GOP/TEA PARTY actions, outward hatred of President Obama which is reflected in elected GOP officials’ statements twisting THEIR Christian religious beliefs, THAT is why young people especially are leaving the Churches of their parents. And older ‘faithful’ have walked out of churches when their ‘pastors’ proclaim hate, not love, from their pulpits. They just do not want to be considered a member of a political party that has NO conscience, that hates the sick, that hates the hungry, especially hungry schoolchildren, that supports guns on every street and in every park. And young women do NOT want ignorant politicians to climb into their bodies and forbid these girls and women what they can and can not do…medically!

  4. Would it be appropriate to exclaim “Hallelujah!”?

  5. Shutter

    Hah! Even the christians are getting as sick of themselves as we are.

  6. screech

    Christianists in decline? Thank doG.

  7. Bitter Scribe

    Meh. There are still 10 times as many Christians as there are agnostics/atheists, which is why I never understand why so many of the former get all pissypants over the latter.

    • If they’re losing 10% every 7 years, then just do the math.

      • LOL. And you think that’s going to accelerate ? Maybe one day we’ll drop into the negative.

        At any rate what I gather from your survey is that white liberal christians are fading away and evangelicals, who hate your guts and procreate pretty danged well, are holding on. Shit .. if you seriously think that loads of Episcopalians and Catholics were holding the Conservative base together you’ve got another thing coming.

        No .. it’s self-hating white liberals that are going bye bye. They have their Starbucks coffee, two dogs, and no kids.

        As far as no affiliation I’d gather that a good bit of those that have been lured are just disgusted by large institutions. I doubt they’ll immediately jump ship and vote (D).

        I’m not really scared by your survey.

      • It’s not MY survey. It’s Pew’s. And it’s been showing this trend for years now. But by all means, continue to ignore the reality of how increasingly out of touch the Republican Party is from modern American demographic trends. This denial has worked really well for us liberals!

        You get extra points for ignoring how the survey says the drop in Christian affiliation is across all ethnicities, age groups and education levels.

  8. Holy Shit! Russ played the Reproduction Card. The Duggars are going to save America!

    • It’s funny cuz my wingnut relatives keep sending me that video talking about how the evul Moooooslims are out-breeding good white Hatriot Americans (cue Psycho strings ….).

    • It’s funny cuz my wingnut relatives keep sending me that video talking about how the evul Moooooslims are out-breeding good white Hatriot Americans (cue Psycho strings ….).

  9. “Which is, they are reacting to their waning cultural relevance by turning to legislative and judicial solutions. ”

    Pity about the social unacceptability (currently) of pitchforks, torches and various forms of KKKristian persuasion.

    “Holy Shit! Russ played the Reproduction Card. The Duggars are going to save America!”

    Not if the Wahabists and other moooooooooooozlims have anything to say about it. Let’s not forget the Chinee devils, btw!

    Russ, buddy:


    “No .. it’s self-hating white liberals that are going bye bye. They have their Starbucks coffee, two dogs, and no kids.”

    Project much, asshole?