Apparently, the US has become a plurality minority Protestant country, and nobody noticed until now.
U.S.'s #1 Religion Loses Ground: (CBS, DALLAS, Aug. 24, 2004)
It is a sign of the times: Baptists, Presbyterians and Methodists worshipping together in Valley, Nebraska. As CBS News Correspondent Bob McNamara reports, not enough of them are around any longer to support a church of their own faith.
"There's more strength in numbers," says Cindy Matteo, a Methodist. "We can do more as a group. We can reach out to more people."
But finding more members could be a long reach. A University of Chicago research center study says the number of Americans who still identify themselves as Protestants is dropping to a historic low. "They're very close to falling below 50 percent, which would be the first time in American history that the majority of Americans are not Protestant," says Tom W. Smith of the National Opinion Research Center.
Though the elderly are more apt to practice the oldtime religion, in the last decade, nearly 10 percent of younger adults who were raised as Protestants, now identify with no religion at all.
NORC survey finds America’s Protestant majority is shrinking (University of Chicago Chronicle -- NORC is a UC-supported research center): The increasing secularization of American society has taken a particular toll on Protestant identity, presenting the prospect that after more than 200 years of history, the United States may soon no longer be a majority Protestant country, according to a new study by the National Opinion Research Center.
The percentage of the population that is Protestant has been falling and will likely fall below 50 percent by mid-decade or may already be there, the study showed. Between 1972 and 1993, the Protestant share of the population remained stable, but then a decline set in. In 1993, 63 percent of Americans were Protestant, but by 2002, the number was 52 percent, the NORC research found. During the same time, the number of people who said they had no religion went up from 9 percent to nearly 14 percent. [...] The survey shows continual erosion on many measures for Protestants in the past generation, while the proportion of people who report they are Catholic has remained fairly steady at about 25 percent of the population. People who said they belong to other religions, including Eastern faiths and Islam, Orthodox Christianity, interdenominational Christianity, and native-American faiths increased from 3 to 7 percent between 1993 and 2002, while the number of people who reported they were Jewish remained stable at slightly under 2 percent.
PDF - The Vanishing Protestant Majority (NORC report, Adobe Acrobat required.)
The CBS article, for what it's worth, is mistitled, if you think about it; Protestants aren't one monolithic religion. But anyway.
Perhaps the shrinking numbers explain some of the increasing shrillness and stridence of the religious right's attempts to inject religion into public life. They're vanishing, and think that their best shot at holding onto prominence is to make certain that they do their level best to make the entire country more like them. Otherwise, they may simply disappear from public awareness and life. (No fear. But anyway.)
Of course, it may well be that said shrillness and stridence are contributing to the decline. Granted, there's the pressure and pace of everyday life, work, etc. People do want to have more time to themselves for relaxation, to be with their families without anyone else around, to pursue other interests. That said, life was always busy, one way and another, and yet people still made time to go to church. I wonder if part of what's happening as well is that people are finding other social outlets. One of the reasons that people go to church or espouse a particular creed is for the social aspects -- to be with other people with the same interests, ethical systems and beliefs. A type of community, if you will. It may be that with other social outlets, people are discovering that they no longer need the church to fulfill that communal aspect, or that they no longer want it to do so. And given the insistence of more conservative factions on announcing their particular beliefs, people may be finding that their ethical systems are no longer aligned with the religions in which they were raised.
It will be interesting to see if and when these changes filter out enough to make a difference. Will we go back to the days when politicians did not profess a religion in public because, simply put, it was none of the public's business? Will the public, in fact, move to feeling more strongly that religion should be moved out of the forefront on public life?Posted by iain at August 25, 2004 04:33 PM