By James A. Haught
Sociologists are amazed by the swift disintegration of Christianity in America. It’s a stunning cultural transformation, confirmed by dozens of surveys and studies.
A Gallup Poll found that fewer than half of Americans (47 percent) now belong to a church or mosque or temple – down from seventy percent at the start of the 21st century. Today, more than half of Americans are churchless.
Tall-steeple “mainline” Protestant faiths – once the pillar of WASP respectability – suffered worst, dropping so severely they’re dubbed “flatline” Protestantism. Born-again churches followed. Southern Baptists lost two million members since 2006.
Now a brand-new finding by the Barna religious polling service says Christianity is being erased by “Don’ts – people who say they don’t know, don’t care, or don’t believe that God exists.” Chief George Barna calls the church wipeout “the most rapid and radical cultural upheaval our nation has ever experienced.”
A June 8 report from Arizona Christian University, where Barna is located, cited his findings this way:
“The number of U.S. adults who qualify as “Don’ts” has nearly tripled in the past decade, rising to 34 percent in 2021. Millennials (ages 18 to 36) are driving much of that shift, with 43 percent rejecting the existence of God….
“As recently as 1980, more than 90 percent of Americans claimed to be Christians. Since that time, there has been a steady decline…. By 2010, three out of four Americans claimed to be Christian, and currently, just under two out of three make the same claim.”
The ACU report added:
“Belief in the existence of God as the all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the universe who still rules the world today: Down from 86 percent in 1991 to 46 percent in 2021.”
“Belief that the Bible is the accurate and reliable word of God: Seventy percent in 1991; 41 percent in 2021.”
“The percentage of U.S. Hispanic adults who self-aligned with the Catholic Church has been sliced in half, from 59 percent to 28 percent, in the last thirty years. And those former Hispanic Catholics are not flowing into Protestant churches, but are leaving Christian institutions altogether.”
I’m impressed by the frankness of Barna and Arizona Christian. Instead of trying to whitewash the ruinous survey results, they admit there’s “a precipitous decline in Christianity, and reduced confidence in religion nationwide.”
Since I’m a progressive liberal, this theological tsunami gives me political hope: White evangelicals who dominate the Republican Party – electing Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Donald Trump – have shrunk to a mere fourteen percent of the populace. Their power to swing elections may fade further.
Meanwhile, America is turning more honest. Sincere people don’t claim to know supernatural things that nobody can know. They reject religion’s magic claims that lack any evidence.
Religious scholar Thom Rainer predicts: “Denominations will begin their steepest decline in 2021.” I hope he’s correct.
(Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail, and a senior editor of Free Inquiry magazine.)