Good news for rational people: A new study shows Americans are abandoning Christianity in record numbers while the number of Americans who identify as religiously unaffiliated continues to surge.
According to a comprehensive new study released Tuesday by the Pew Forum on Religion in Public Life, every demographic group in the U.S. has seen a significant drop in people who call themselves Christians.
The survey of 35,000 American adults shows the Christian percentage of the population dropping sharply. In 2007, the last time Pew conducted a similar survey, 78.4% of American adults called themselves Christian. In 2014, 70.6% of Americans called themselves Christians, reflecting a drop of nearly 8%.
Pew also reports that the religiously unaffiliated, which includes atheists, agnostics, and those who claim “nothing in particular,” now make up 22.8% of the American population, up from 16.1% in 2007, reflecting a growth rate of nearly 7%.
Leading the exodus from Christianity is the millennials. Pew reports more than one-third of millennials now say they are unaffiliated with any faith, up 10 percentage points since 2007.
Greg Smith, Pew’s associate director of religion research and the lead researcher on the new study, said:
We’ve known that the religiously unaffiliated has been growing for decades. But the pace at which they’ve continued to grow is really astounding.
Explaining the sharp decline of Christianity and the surge of those identifying as religiously unaffiliated, David Silverman, president of American Atheists, said:
It’s because we’re right.
Noting that the stigma of coming out as an atheist is lessening, Silverman continued:
More people know the facts, and more people realize they are not alone. It’s now impossible for an atheist to think he is alone in this world. They are automatically empowered.
Commenting on the new numbers, Ronald A. Lindsay, President and CEO of the Center for Inquiry, said:
America is transforming before our eyes. We are witnessing a tectonic shift from a nation nearly unified in its religiousness a generation ago, to an America where increasing numbers of Americans are rejecting religious doctrines and are living lives largely free of religious influence.
Lindsay registered one note of disappointment:
In a nation with 23% of the population unaffiliated, with many of these individuals atheists or agnostics, it is striking and regrettable that so few politicians are openly nonreligious. This is a testament to the stigma still attached to atheism. In time, however, that too should change, as Americans become more accepting of their many neighbors, friends, and relatives who are not religious.
Both Silverman and Lindsey speak to the stigma that is still attached to openly identifying as an atheist or agnostic in contemporary American society. But as Bob Dylan reminds us: “The times, they are a-changin.”
Bottom line: the new study from Pew is cause for celebration as Americans become less Christian, and more secular.